Maintenance is one of the greatest factors affecting the accessibility of playground surfaces. The accessibility standards require ground surfaces to be inspected and maintained regularly and frequently to ensure continued compliance with ASTM F1951-99. Therefore playground owners should have a thorough understanding of the care and maintenance required for their selected surface systems. Some surface materials may only require seasonal maintenance, while others may require weekly or daily maintenance. The frequency of maintenance is dependent on the surface material and number of users.

The NCA surface study showed there was a lack of installation/maintenance information provided by the manufacturer to the playground owner prior to purchase and there was a steep learning curve related to working with various surface systems. Each of the 16 participating municipalities had maintenance personnel trained through either the National Recreation and Park Association’s Certified Playground Safety Inspector program or the Illinois Park District Risk Management Association (PDRMA). The participating agencies recognized maintenance as a critical need in order to provide a safe environment for the public to recreate. All of the municipalities had “playground crews” responsible for visiting each playground site, making visual inspection of the area, collecting trash, and completing repairs as needed. The playground crews ranged in number from 1-3 staff, usually with one full-time employee and 2-3 seasonal staff during the summer months. At least 30 minutes was spent on site. However, the frequency of visits to each site varied among the different agencies. Large playgrounds at regional parks and sites where programming occurred were most often visited. Some were visited daily during peak summer months. Smaller neighborhood parks may have been visited 1-3 times per week or two times per month.

A close-up of a gap between the concrete and rubber surface is shown with a tape measure. 
Over time, the unitary surface may separate at the seams or from the border creating gaps, openings or changes in level that will require repair.
 A researcher measures the depth of a kick-out area at a ground level play component with a two meter straight edge laid horizontal over the surface.

Loose fill materials, like EWF, may experience undulation of the surface material and or displacement under heavy use areas with motion such as at swings, slides, sliding pools, climbers, spinners and teeter totters. This will require the surface material to be raked level, fi lled and compacted so that the clear ground space is level in all directions for a safe transfer onto and off the equipment.

Surface deficiencies were found to exist at each site regardless of the frequency of visits by the playground crew. Maintenance crews should receive training both on the accessibility standards and the care specific to the surface material. Over the course of the longitudinal study, the research team found that where the playground crews became more engaged in the study, the maintenance specific to accessibility began to improve. At least three EWF sites had improved accessibility where the surface material was observed as more level and better compacted than previous site visits. One site utilizing PIP as the primary access route and EWF as the secondary access route was assessed with less than 1 percent slope at the transition between the two surface materials. This was observed as the most improved and maintained transition between surface materials of the sample.

Poured in Place Rubber (PIP)
PIP was recorded as the surface material requiring the fewest instances of maintenance. Maintenance areas were noted where the surface had cracks, buckles, openings or a granular layer had worn away under high traffic areas like swings, transfer steps and the egress at slides. While PIP had the fewest instances requiring maintenance, it is still notable because the surface repairs can be extensive. Repairs must be done by either the original installer or professional certified by the manufacturer resulting in added costs. The patch repairs also necessitate cutting away a larger section of surfacing in order to fill and level the deficient area.

Tiles (TIL)
TIL sites were recorded with a high number of locations in need of maintenance. TIL deficiencies included punctures holes ranging from .50 inches to more than 2 inches in diameter; and instances where the seams had started to shift or buckle creating openings and changes in level along the accessible route. It was unclear whether the puncture holes were products of intentional vandalism or unintentional damage from users stepping on rocks and other foreign objects with enough force to penetrate the surface. Playground owners in the NCA study reported their maintenance crews were able to replace the TIL with puncture holes. Deficiencies were also identified at sites surfaced with a combination TIL and EWF. The intent of the playground design was to use the TIL as the primary accessible route to points of entry/egress and fill the remaining use zone with EWF. The loose fill particles of EWF were scattered throughout the play area, across the tiles, concrete walkway and in the grass. Some of the particles had started to lodge in the TIL seams causing separation at the seams. There were even instances where the particles had lodged so deep in the seams that the adhesive had degraded and the TIL had separated from the concrete subsurface. Over time, these areas would be identified with changes in level and openings requiring repair or replacement of the individual tiles.

Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF)
EWF sites were recorded in need of maintenance most frequently and earliest in the NCA study. Sites surfaced with EWF were commonly found to have an undulating surface material creating changes in level, along with running and cross slopes exceeding the maximum allowable standards. This would result in non-compliant accessible routes to play components. Large areas where the loose material had been displaced under heavy use areas with motion such as at swings, slides, sliding poles, climbers, spinners, and teeter totters were observed at all of the sample sites with EWF. A kick-out area at a swing could be as large as 3 ft. x 8 ft. with a depth of more than 5 inches. The accessibility standards require the minimum 30 x 48 inch clear floor space for transfer to/from the accessible play components to have a level surface with less than a 2.08 percent cross slope in all directions. The displaced surface material at locations such as the bottom of slides, a swing, or ground level play component rendered the accessible route to the play component non-compliant with the accessibility standards. Maintenance issues at sites began to emerge where the product was filled at the kick-out area rather than the raked level, compacted and then filled and compacted. Where the kick-out areas had been filled, the material would eventually be displaced. Over time this created higher undulating mounds at the front and back of the kick-out area and greater cross slopes within the required clear floor space.

At locations where the EWF was paired with a unitary surface, deficiencies were identified at the transition between the two surface materials. The EWF had settled by 1-5 inches creating a change in level and excessive running slope up to 16 percent at the transition. This was most prevalent at sites installed with PIP as the primary access route. At locations where TIL was intended as the primary accessible route and EWF was used as secondary safety surfacing, the EWF particles began contaminating the TIL seams.

To the layman, the terms EWF and woodchips are often, incorrectly, interchanged. The difference between EWF and wood chips are the additional processes beyond the typical landscape chipper. Unlike woodchips out of the chipping equipment, EWF is then shredded again, stamped/flattened and made pliable to the extent that the particles will weave together to create a traversable, impact attenuating surface. In addition, there is an ASTM standard specification for EWF (ASTM F2075) further distancing the material from any product made on site or purchased from a nursery or home improvement store. The ASTM standard for EWF requires the particles be small enough to pass through a series of three sieves, ¾ inch, 3/8 inch and No. 16 (0.0469 inch). The sample is considered compliant if no more than 1 percent residue is left on any individual sieve. Large wood particle chips, chunks and shredded twigs were found at all of the EWF sample sites. The observable quantity of large wood particles raised into question whether a test sample from any of the sites would comply with the ASTM standard specification for EWF and specifically the sieve test. In addition to the large particles, there were instances where vegetation and mold were found growing in the surface material.

Hybrid Surface Systems (HYB)
As tested within 12 months of installation, all three HYB surface systems were observed to have minimal deficiencies, comparable to PIP. One of the most commonly noted deficiencies among the HYB was separation at the seams that created openings and changes in level greater than ½ inch. A build-up of static electricity was also found to occur seasonally with the artificial grass hybrid system.