As Chair of the American Society for Testing and Materials Subcommittee responsible for ASTM F1487 Standard for performance requirements for public playground equipment, I am pleased to announce the latest revision of this standard.
This revision is more than four years in the making and there are several significant additions. You can order this standard online through the ASTM website (www.astm.org). I might suggest you look into the cost of joining the ASTM and compare the cost of membership to the cost of purchasing this one standard. As a member of the ASTM, you are entitled to one volume of the ASTM standards in either a paper or CD version at no charge. The playground standards are located in one of two volumes. The standard would be in either F15.07 or F15.11. Check with ASTM membership services or do an ASTM website search for ASTM F1487-11 Standard or any other playground-related standards to determine which volume is most important to address your needs.
Major Swings Section Revisions
There is a new definition for a swing that should be of particular interest to all of us. A swing is now defined as an element or seat suspended from an elevated support structure, allowing users to move freely in one or more planes, possessing a pivot point greater than 24 inches (610 mm) when measured vertically from the top of the suspended element to the pivot point. This clarifies when a suspended element should comply with all the other performance requirements of swings based on a hazard based analysis.
When we think of swings, we envision traditional to-fro belt or bench type swings or a tire swing. We have seen many new products from around the world attempt to enter the marketplace. While they may be compliant to another international standard, they did not meet the ASTM Standard. Now, however, there is some hope. Up until now, we could not clearly and totally evaluate these new swinging products by using the ASTM F1487 Standard. The ASTM F15.29 Subcommittee Working Group responsible for swings took an in-depth look at what the real hazards were regarding swinging components.
The new performance requirements are based upon the analysis of injury data related to swinging components. They concluded that swing related hazards were attributable to: falls to the surface, impact with stationary structural components, and impact with the suspended swinging components. Our goal is to eliminate known hazards with the understanding we cannot control how the users may attempt to interact with the play equipment in unintended ways. The Standard now identifies three possible types of swing configurations. They are single axis (to-fro), multiple axis (rotating) or swings with multiple motions consisting of a combination of single axis and multiple axis (combination swings).
Fall-related injuries are already addressed in the Standard by requiring compliance to the ASTM F1292 Standard from the highest pivot point. The next major impact type injury regardless the swing type is from impacting the user by the suspended components. The new standard addresses this impact hazard through a new “Dynamic Impact Test” procedure that measures impact forces created by the swinging component. This test is intended to be administered by a commercial laboratory. The application of existing clearance zones requirements to any suspended swinging component reduces the likelihood of impact injuries sustained when the user and swinging component comes in contact with the structural members or the adjacent to-fro swing. More on this test method later.
Another concern was the CPSC’s recommendation that multiple occupancy swings not be used on public playgrounds. This recommendation has been around for more than 20 years. There were legitimate concerns based on the injury data gathered over the years but times have changed and the marketplace has introduced many new products. Some argue for multi-occupancy swing seats based on new products introduced in other countries. There does not appear to be any recorded impact injury history from these new products. The dilemma is that the ASTM Standard and the CPSC Handbook allow for multi-axis swings such as tire swings and not a multi-occupancy to-fro swing.
These multi-occupancy multi-axis swing components (tire swing) move in all directions unlike the predictable to-fro action of traditional single occupancy to-fro swings. Why one and not the other? The explanation might be the fact the swinging component was a tire and somewhat flexible and impact attenuating. The CPSC Handbook even limited the swinging component weight to 35 lbs. This happened to be the average weight of an automobile tire. The real hazard and injury in question is Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) through impact to the child’s head or body. But what really causes the injury and at what point does Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) occur? During the October 2011 ASTM F8.63 Subcommittee meeting in Tampa, FL, Rolf Huber, of the Canadian Playground Advisory Group, reported the results of a 10-year injury analysis conducted by the NHTSA. The study showed a 10 percent reduction in TBI and death after an implementing a reduction in automobile industry impact thresholds.
This study demonstrates real injury reduction related to a measurable reduction in industry impact threshold used to design automobiles. This study supports our new threshold for the “Dynamic Impact Test” on swinging components and therefore addresses the impact injury to the head and, for the most part, other body parts. The primary cause of serious impact injuries has always been heavy solid swinging components such as metal animal swings, bench swings, and the two-person glider swings. By implementing the new “Dynamic Impact Test” for suspended swinging components, we can mitigate the impact hazard for any swing component.
The logic of this recommendation was of major concern to our group. Head impact injuries resulting from falls to a hard surface should have been addressed through compliance with ASTM F1292 thresholds for impact attenuation of less than 200g and 1000 HIC. These thresholds were not intended to address fractures but the risk of death from a serious head injury. It was unknown at what impact threshold we can achieve a significant reduction in broken bones. Based on the new research related to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) we are seeing significant reduction in TBI in automobile accidents. The new swing impact test thresholds more closely follow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) automobile safety standards as related to our scope of intended users, especially the pre-school age group and the results of studies of concussed NFL players during the late 1990s. The standard requires test compliance of all swing seats and swing components located less than 84 inches from the surface during its full range of motion. The test method requires the suspended elements be brought back to a point, 60 degrees from its position at rest and released to strike an instrumented head form imparting a force less 100 g and 500 HIC. Mr. Huber’s research of studies on the subject of TBI and bone fractures support this conclusion for a significant reduction in these types of playground injuries when these new impact thresholds are not exceeded.
The same impact performance requirements for clearance and use zones apply to a traditional single-user to-fro single-axis swing set, with no more than two swings per bay, however, multi-occupancy and multi-axis swings have some different performance requirements. Both multi-occupancy and multi-axis swings are limited to one swinging component per bay and have specific clearance requirements related to their designed path of travel. These requirements eliminate impact by adjacent swing elements and their structural components.
The combination swing is a new type of product being introduced around the world. It represents a combination of to-fro and multi-axis swings and is used by more than one person. Taking the same hazard-based approach, the Working Group came up with some similar, yet quite different, performance requirements. The clearance and use zone requirements combine the side and overhead clearance zones and use zone requirements for each type of moving (swinging) component. These requirements are too difficult to address in this article without including many illustrations. I suggest that you acquire the new ASTM F1487-11 standard and study that section in detail.
Signs And Labels
The Subcommittee also dedicated a significant amount of time on signs and labels section of the standard based upon recent injury data and requirements for warnings found within the 2010 U.S. CPSC Public Playground Safety Handbook.
The Sign and Label Section of the new standard entails significant changes that should be read very carefully. The new standard states the owner/operator of the play equipment shall be responsible for the content and location of all signs. What does this mean? The information regarding the intended ages of the users shall be provided by the manufacturer, designer or consultant. The final location of these signs and warnings shall be placed where the manufacturer, designer or consultant states, however, for lack of any guidance on location for posting these signs, the owner/operator shall place them so they are readily visible to the intended viewer and alert the viewer to the potential hazard in time to take appropriate action.
The message may be put on either a sign or a label and be located on the equipment or be freestanding. Freestanding signs must be located outside the use zone. The question for all of us is, “Where do we locate the warnings so the viewer has time to act prior to coming in contact with the hazard?” Currently, there is no specific wording for many of the warnings now required. Information communicated on the sign or label, or both, shall address, but not be limited to, the following messages:
Information message communicating age appropriateness as determined by the manufacturer/designer.
Information message communicating, at a minimum, supervision recommendation.
Warning message communicating the removal of helmets, drawstrings or accessories around the neck which are all known to create head entrapment or entanglement hazards.
Warning message communicating hot play surfaces and/or ground level protective surfacing, when applicable. These surfaces are known to reach temperatures high enough to cause serious burns to children generally less than four years of age but because of the many variables affecting how and when a surface becomes a safety concern, it was not possible to find a one-size-fits-all approach that the subcommittee could agree upon.
Warning message communicating the hazard of play equipment located on hard surfaces, when applicable. This warning message is no longer required to be plastered on each and every piece of free-standing equipment.
Specification for all warning signs or labels, or both, should conform to ANSI Z535.1 and either ANSI Z535.2 or ANSI Z535.4 in the following areas: legibility, type of lettering, clarity of message and symbol, color specifications and word message and visibility. The labels or signs should be durable and conform to UL 969. It has been and continues to be the responsibility of the owner/operator to replace signs or labels, or both, should they become illegible, destroyed or removed.
The Subcommittee has agreed to continue to work on the Sign and Label Section to seek better solutions if any can be found. Anybody who is interested in working on this subject may contact me; however, membership in ASTM is a prerequisite to be on a Subcommittee’s Working Group. I can forward your suggestions to the appropriate Working Group.
Two New Reference Documents
The Standard has added two reference documents that must be followed by the manufacturer, designer, consultant and owner/operator. Regardless of the material or the treatment process, the manufacturer/designer/fabricator shall ensure that the users of the playground equipment cannot ingest, inhale, or absorb any potentially hazardous amounts of substances through body surfaces as a result of contact with the equipment. All materials content shall comply with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA). This Act pertains to but is not limited to, coatings and substrate of the materials used within the play environment.
As with previous versions of this Standard, this specification does not address accessibility, except as it pertains to safety issues not covered in the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) 2010 Standard for Accessible Design: Title II (28 CFR 35) and Title III (28 CFR 36).