safe spaces for play

Many members of the public and professionals in the industry are not aware of the minimum playground safety standards and requirements and the legal ramifications if a child gets injured, maimed or even die on a playground. The penalties for non-compliance are severe and the legal recourse is substantiative. 

Jeremy Stewart, chairman of the South African Sports and Play Industry (SASPI), the responsible party for playground flooring legislation and compliance, confirms: “The need for safe play areas in cities has never been greater, as the law protects children against careless and non-compliant play surfaces.” 

 Playground statistics 

Statistics show that injuries, which occur during play and leisure activities, account for 36% of non-fatal home and leisure accidents. The implementation of playground safety standards internationally has proven to reduce accidents and deaths by as much as 80%. 

 “This cannot be ignored, and the local built environment needs to pay heed to the reality of serious injuries and deaths on playgrounds in South Africa,” says Stewart. 

 Causes and types of accidents 

It is estimated that there are approximately 40 000 injuries to children on playgrounds each year that result in hospital visits. The accident statistics show that these accidents occur for several reasons: 


  • Poor equipment design or failure to comply to safety standards.  
  • Poor design and layout.  
  • Incorrectly specified or installed safety surfacing. 
  • Unsuitable equipment for the intended age group. 
  • Incorrect installation.  
  • Poor or non-inspection. 
  • Poor maintenance.  

 User causes  

  • Lack of supervision.  
  • “Misuse” of equipment. 
  • Unsuitable clothing worn. 
  • Weather conditions.  

That said, not all accidents are related to the equipment – perhaps only 40%, and of these 80% results in a fall to the surface. 


SANS 51176 – Playground equipment and surfacing 

The purpose of SANS 51176 is to ensure a proper level of safety when playing in, on or around playground equipment, and at the same time to promote activities and features known to benefit children because they provide valuable experiences that will enable them to cope with situations outside the playground. 

SANS 51177 – Impact attenuating playground surfacing 

The South African standard (SANS 51177:2010) for critical fall height is a direct adoption of the international EN Standard 1177:2008. The critical fall height is defined as the lowest fall height that generates a head injury criterion (HIC) value of 1 000. 

 This is a minimum standard imposed by the “Duty of Care” application of the law, which is applicable to the following: 

  • Public playgrounds. 
  • Schools. 
  • Municipalities. 
  • Entertainment centres. 
  • Nursery schools etc. 
  • Where a third party is involved, regardless of whether there is supervision.  

 Impact protection surfacing must be installed over the impact area beneath all playground equipment with a free fall height of more than 60cm and/or equipment causing a forced movement on the body of the user (e.g., swings, slides, rocking equipment, cable ways and carousels). The installed thicknesses correlate to different critical fall heights – the higher the fall, the thicker the slab needs to be. 

 Surfaces that do not comply with the Act are:  
  • Grass, artificial grass with or without sand.  
  • Cement/clay pavers.  
  • Tar surfacing.  
  • Plain natural surfaces such as ground and soil. 

 Head injury criterion (HIC) for impact protection 

 Stewart explains: “This is an international measure for the likelihood of a head injury arising from an impact.” 

 An HIC meter consists of a metal sphere resembling a dummy head, which is fitted with various certified acceleration sensors. The HIC value is calculated by measuring acceleration during a fall and measuring the impact when the sphere hits the ground. By dropping the sphere on the floor from various heights, it is possible to measure to which fall height the fall surface has a sufficient impact absorbing value. 

safe spaces for play 1

For impact protection materials on playgrounds, the maximum HIC value is 1 000. At an HIC of 1 000, there is a 90% probability of a moderate head injury to the average adult. This upper limit ensures that virtually no head injuries with permanent damage can be expected. It is important to remember: The lower the HIC value, the higher the protection for the child’s head. 

 Spatial considerations 

The proper placement of playground flooring is essential, regardless of the type of surfacing: 

  • Protective surfacing should be extended to at least two metres from the outside of the equipment in all directions. 
  • The impact protection flooring should extend in front of and behind a single axis swing, to the distance that is equal to the height of the top bar from which the swing is suspended. 
  • Surfacing should cover a radius that is equal to the height of the suspending chain or rope plus two metres in all directions, for round or multi-axis swings. 


 The code of practice (COP) for the installation and maintenance of wet-pour safer surfacing for playgrounds is the current national SASPI standard, and is being converted into the official SANS standard. Training in this COP is available through Seamless Flooring Systems. 

 PLAYSaFE Ltd., a reputable and innovative New Zealand company, has expanded its horizons through a partnership with IHSS Group South Africa, a Veers Group (Pty.) Ltd. Company, and has established a local representative company. 

 As a South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) Technical Committee member, SABS/TC 1090 Safety of Playgrounds and Playground Equipment, their vision is to set the benchmark of playground safety compliance in Africa. Dale Hartog, business development director of the IHSS Group, says: “Training and education in playground safety flooring compliance is key to stopping injuries and deaths on the playgrounds in South Africa.”   

 Designing and specifying playground surfacing has many factors to consider. Failing to address the requirements allows room for a child to be gravely injured. When in doubt, consult a specialist for advice.  


Playground flooring specification has changed and new legal requirements are in place for these types of installations. Be sure your next spec is compliant.  


For more information, contact SASPI: 

Email: or 

Website: or  

For technical and legally compliant specifications, contact Jeremy on 0861 178 2789. 

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