Protective Surfacing for Your Playground

In the schoolyard, on church grounds, and around your community, playgrounds provide places for children to come together and have fun. In addition to jungle gyms, slides, and swings, your playground should also have protective surfacing to cushion falls and minimize the risk of head injuries. Use the following guidelines and information to select and maintain the right protective surfacing for your playground:

Selecting Appropriate Surfacing

  • Never use concrete, asphalt, or other hard surfaces directly under playground equipment. Grass, dirt, and compacted clay are also not considered protective surfacing.
  • When using loose-fill ground cover, only use loose-fill materials, such as pea gravel, sand, shredded/recycled rubber mulch, wood mulch, and wood chips, for playground surface material.
  • Determine the amount of loose-fill material needed based on material type and fall height. Fall height is the vertical distance between the highest designated play surface and the ground underneath. For example:
    • 6" shredded/recycled rubber: 10' fall height
    • 9" sand: 4' fall height
    • 9" pea gravel: 5' fall height
    • 9" wood mulch: 7' fall height
    • 9" wood chips: 10' fall height
  • Loose-fill materials compress at least 25 percent over time due to use and weathering, so adjust initial fill amounts accordingly. For example, if your playground requires 9" of wood chips, the initial fill level should be 12".

Maintaining Fill Material

  • Mark equipment supports with a minimum fill level to help maintain the original depth of material.
  • Measure loose-fill surfacing on a regular basis to ensure surfacing levels do not drop below the minimum depth.
  • Pay special attention to the ground under swings and at slide exits, as these are high-traffic areas. Install wear mats in these locations to minimize displacement.
  • Provide a method of containing loose-fill materials at the perimeter of the playground.

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The illustrations, instructions, and principles in this material are general in scope and, to the best of our knowledge, current at the time of publication. No attempt has been made to interpret any referenced codes, standards, or regulations nor to identify all potential risks or requirements.