Public Playground Safety Guidelines & Specifications

The surfacing under and around playground equipment is one of the most important factors in reducing the likelihood of life-threatening head injuries. A fall onto a shock absorbing surface is less likely to cause serious body or head injury than a fall onto a hard surface.

However, some injuries from falls, including broken limbs, may occur no matter what playground surfacing material is used.

Appropriate Surfacing

  • Any material tested to ASTM F1292
  • Engineered wood fiber
  • Pea gravel
  • Sand
  • Shredded/recycled rubber mulch
  • Wood mulch/chips (not CCA-treated)

Inappropriate Surfacing

  • Asphalt
  • Carpet not tested to ASTM F1292
  • Concrete
  • Dirt
  • Grass
  • CCA treated wood mulch (chromated copper arsenate)

Loose-fill surfacing materials

Engineered wood fiber (EWF) is a wood product that may look similar in appearance to landscaping mulch, but EWF products are designed specifically for use as a playground safety surface under and around playground equipment.

 Important tips when considering loose-fill materials:

  1. Loose-fill materials will compress at least 25% over time due to use and weathering. This should be considered when planning the playground. For example, if the playground will require 9 inches of wood chips, then the initial fill level should be 12 inches. See Table 2 below.
  2. Loose-fill surfacing requires frequent maintenance to ensure surfacing levels never drop below the minimum depth. Areas under swings and at slide exits are more susceptible to displacement; special attention must be paid to maintenance in these areas. Additionally, wear mats can be installed in these areas to reduce displacement.
  3. The perimeter of the playground should provide a method of containing the loose-fill materials.
  4. Consider marking equipment supports with a minimum fill level to aid in maintaining the original depth of material.
  5. Good drainage is essential to maintaining loose-fill surfacing. Standing water with surfacing material reduces effectiveness and leads to material compaction and decomposition.
  6. Critical height may be reduced during winter in areas where the ground freezes.
  7. Never use less than 9 inches of loose-fill material. Shallower depths are too easily displaced and compacted.
  8. Some loose-fill materials may not meet ADA/ABA accessibility guidelines. For more information, contact the Access Board (see §1.6) or refer to ASTM F1951.
  9. Wood mulch containing chromated copper arsenate (CCA)-treated wood products should not be used.

Table 2. Minimum compressed loose-fill surfacing depths


Inches of (Loose-Fill Material) Protects to Fall Height (Feet)
6 Shredded/Recycled Rubber 10
9 EWF Wood Chips 10
9 Wood Mulch (Non-CCA) 7
9 Pea Gravel 5
9 Sand/td> 4

Table 2 shows the minimum required depths of loose-fill material needed based on material type and fall height. The depths shown assume the materials have been compressed due to use and weathering and are properly maintained to the given level.

Handbook for Public Playground Safety
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Saving Lives and Keeping Families Safe

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