Guide to Certified Playground Mulch 2021

Safety and Certified Mulch – What You Need to Know

Certified playground mulch or not, that is the question. When it comes to the playground where your children play, safety is the foremost priority. The surface the kids play on is just as important to keep safe.

Fortunately, the playground industry has seen a renaissance in safety measures in the past few decades, making public playgrounds safer for kids and standardizing the installation of equipment such as playground mulch depth.

However, even the most stringent measures don’t ensure safety. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are around 200,000 playground injuries in the age 5-14 category, with falls leading major causes of injury.

That’s why it’s crucial for manufacturers and municipalities to ensure that their landing material, particularly rubber mulch, meets the highest standards.

That’s why we have created the authoritative guide to playground certified mulch. In this guide, you will see what certifications are offered, what those certifications indicate, and where the certifications fall short.

In other words, by the time you finish this post you’ll know if certified playground mulch is something that you should consider in your search, or if it’s just industry hype, or somewhere in-between.

What is the purpose of certified mulch?

Buying certified rubber mulch for a playground ensures that the surface meets a certain level of standards, but that doesn’t ensure that your playground will be free from injuries.

According to the American National Standards Institute, lack of supervision is associated with 40 percent of playground injuries. That means that even if your play equipment reaches the highest level of safety, it’s still important to ensure children are actively supervised during play.

However, the current standards – particularly on play surfaces – follow a long history of playground manufacturers attempting to prevent injuries to children on playgrounds.

Beginning in the 1990s, a wave of new studies revealed that falls onto playground surfaces accounted for a majority of injuries reported, increasing the need for standardized safe padding.

With the rise of information on much-needed safety, commercial manufacturers stepped in with materials like Engineered Wood Fiber and Pour-in-Place surfacing that helped prevent injuries. By the 2000s, standards of surfacing continued to coalesce around a few guidelines.

Where does IPEMA step in?

One standard for play equipment certification is offered by IPEMA, which provides a product certification program that validates a product in accordance with a group of standards from ASTM International and one from the Canadian Standards Association.

Upon completion of IPEMA’s course, manufacturers are provided a certification that can be applied to the certified product.

As noted above, the certifications do not ensure that the product is 100 percent safe, only that the product meets the standard guidelines established by ATSM.

What do the certifications mean?

Currently there are five levels of certification that ensure safety standards for a range of products.

Among the certifications manufacturers can receive include:

ASTM F1487-17 – Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use
According to the American National Standards website, ASTM F1487-17 Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use exists to limit the likelihood of life-threatening or debilitating injuries on the public playground.

This standard addresses safety and performance for different types of public playground equipment. The standard focuses on the 5th percentile 2-year-old through the 95th percentile 12-year-old. The standard excludes site furnishings, like benches, tables, and other structures not in the primary area of the equipment zone.

ASTM F1292-18 – Standard Specification for Impact Attenuation of Surfacing Materials Within the Use Zone of Playground Equipment Standard
This third-party certification validates a certification of conformances to ASTM F1292-18, which tests a manufacturer’s conformance to “critical fall height” as established by the guidelines.

Under this certification, the IPEMA uses the manufacturer’s desired fall test height “based upon its experience and knowledge of its product(s),” rather than the ASTM standard. The certification indicates that the manufacturer’s test conforms to standard.

ASTM F2075-15 –Standard Specification for Engineered Wood Fiber for Use as a Playground Safety Surface Under and Around Playground Equipment this standard certifies that an Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) product meets the ASTM’s guidelines under ASTM 2075-15.

This designation shows that the EWF used on playground surface meets a minimum standard of particle size, consistency, purity and drainability. However, it should be noted that the certification does not guarantee that injuries cannot occur, even with standard fiber.

ASTM F3012-14 – Standard Specification for Loose-Fill Rubber for Use as a Playground Safety Surface under and around Playground Equipment
This certification ensures that loose-fill rubber meets ASTM standards for particle size, “extractable hazardous metal content,” lead content, sharp metal content and more.

Of note, this certification does not include measurements for the release of organic chemicals from the material and does not establish performance measures for the accessibility of the material.

CAN/CSA Z-614-14 – The Canadian Standards Association offers a complimentary set of guidelines for playgrounds that largely mirror those of the ASTM. IPEMA offers a certification that certifies a manufacturer conforming to those standards.
The standard guide covers all aspects of playground equipment to include rubber surfacing.

What are the limitations?

As mentioned above, IPEMA’s certifications apply minimum guidelines to rubber mulch, but do not ensure that the material used is of the highest level of safety.

For instance, the ASTM guidelines do not wholly prevent the inclusion of all sharp metal and organic toxins that could be in rubber tire mulch, leaving a considerable gap in the quality of mulch that can be installed.

While the certifications do imply that a minimum standard is met, it is important to note that installers should use caution when choosing rubber tire mulch.

Jelly Bean Rubber Mulch meets or exceeds the most stringent certifications in the play industry, and is the only non-toxic, virgin rubber mulch play surface. Jelly Bean’s rubber also passes tests for indoor air quality and toxicity which is beyond the scope of playground industry testing. This creates the best of both worlds, where you have a safe play surface for when kids fall, and one that you can be sure is 100 percent wire-free, non-toxic, and safe to play on for years to come.

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