Nov 17, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

Doing the groundwork: Safe surfaces at outdoor play areas

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Trips and falls are the leading cause of injury to children in outdoor play areas. To reduce the frequency and severity of their injuries, it is crucial to have certified playground surfacing. Traditionally, the preferred choice has been wood chippings. Richard Oates, Landscaping Category Manager at Travis Perkins, discusses why wood is now facing some competition.


Wood chippings are the most commonly used form of surfacing for playgrounds and outdoor play areas and for good reason. Not only a cost effective solution, they have the benefit of being environmentally friendly, whilst being simple to install and providing all year protection. However, the overall value for money can be questioned.

Regular re-investment is needed as chippings easily get scattered, especially if used in an unenclosed area, leaving play areas in need of a top up. They can be difficult to maintain and often become muddy, which isn’t ideal for domestic or commercial nursery environments, and can result in the attraction of pets and wildlife.

What’s more, all play area surfaces must meet specified depth guidelines depending on the height of the play equipment used. For fall heights over 1.9m, a surfacing depth of 200mm is necessary. This means that, as wood chippings compress by up to 25 per cent over time, there is a need to constantly ensure the play area surface is meeting the required guidelines. The time and care taken to maintain a hygienic play area at a constant depth can have serious implications for overall maintenance costs.

This had led to many contractors and landscapers to look for alternatives, namely rubber. Traditionally, rubber solutions were seen as a more expensive option, but we are now seeing a number of different options at various price ranges offering a number of benefits that wood chippings can’t, meaning rubber is increasingly becoming a popular play area surfacing option.

In the past, contractors have raised concerns over the high upfront costs associated with rubber. However, the long term benefits to be gained from rubber chippings make it a far better investment than wood chippings.

Long term investment

The biggest advantage of rubber chippings is its endurance, making it ideal for high traffic areas such as indoor and outdoor playgrounds. Rubber paving is also extremely durable and will not chip or crack and is not greatly affected by rain, snow, or ice. In addition, the rubber surfacing solution is easy to clean meaning any installation can be enjoyed for decades without the worry of incurring any further maintenance costs.

Rubber chippings also offer improved safety features. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) estimates there are approximately 40,000 injuries to children on playgrounds which result in a hospital visit each year. Rubber chippings have superior slip resistance and shock absorption, making the surface the ideal solution to help minimise injury.

Research has shown that encouraging children to play and socialise is vital for their development. Although playground safety is a critical first step in creating a positive play experience, it’s vital that the play area is also engaging and appealing. The versatility of rubber chippings allows exciting colours and patterns to be created, making them ideal for custom projects to suit any taste and requirement.

Rubber paving also has the versatility of being used in residential and commercial applications including patios and garages through to sports arenas and gymnasiums. It has all the benefits of rubber chippings and is now a regularly sourced alternative to more popular paving options such as brick or natural stone.

However, there are other key aspects to consider in addition to the chosen material. Proper installation is key whilst knowledge of the environment surrounding the playground or outdoor play area, including soil and drainage, is essential.

Once the surfacing has been installed, a post-installation safety audit must be performed to ensure the surfacing meets all the required safety standards or that any potential issues are resolved before the play area comes operational.

Ultimately, whilst wood chippings are expected to remain the market leader, there are clear reasons why rubber is an up and coming alternative surfacing material. We are seeing a growing market in families creating child safe play areas at home and the versatility of rubber as a flooring solution is beyond question. Being a viable solution across residential and commercial applications, it looks like the popularity of rubber will continue to grow.

Travis Perkins now offers a range of outdoor rubber paving and chipping landscaping solutions.

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