Splash Pads Need Safety Surfacing: Part 1

Everyone Loves Splash Pads

Over the last 25 years, splash pads have appeared everywhere. From commercial water parks to public parks, these recreation areas have lowered water bills, prevented drownings, and provided exciting places for children to cool off in the summer heat.

Splash pads have many other names, including: splash deck, spray ground, aquatic play pad, rain deck, spray deck, spray pad, spray pool, and spray zone. To create a broad definition based on our experience, splash pads are discrete areas that contain water-play features and may contain play structures, but do not permit water to accumulate to any real depth. Splash pad users can walk, run, and jump through jets, streams, cascades, sprays, bucket dumps, and similar features that utilize recirculated water. Climbing apparatuses and play structures may also be included, but splash pads are always designed so that users interact with the water coming from the features in a zero-depth environment.

Splash pads are especially popular with families, and so cities are racing to build them in response. There are likely somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 commercial or public splash pads in the U.S., a number that is growing by an estimated 5-10 percent per year. With this impressive rate of growth, the splash pad is transforming from a novelty into a standard public amenity.

 

The Current Challenge

Unfortunately, in the rush to meet the growing demand, key safety elements and regulations have yet to be created for splash pads. While the Model Aquatic Health Code does address some issues related to splash pad surfacing—specifically regulation 4.12.8.2, “INTERACTIVE WATER PLAY VENUES shall have a slip-resistant and easily cleanable surface,”—the standards it chooses for slip-resistance are not designed for bare feet, and the regulation does not address impact attenuation at all. In many regards, the code is a placeholder waiting for a comprehensive standard to be created.

Without such a standard, splash pads are not as safe as they should be, and people are being injured. According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database, in 2014 alone, there were an estimated 20,000 injuries on pool decks, splash pads, or water parks resulting in an emergency room visit. In addition, over the past four years, we have tracked articles publicizing prolonged closures of splash pads due to injuries. Relying solely on what is reported by local news sources, we identified at least 20 splash pads that have been closed due to injuries. This is likely a significant underestimate.

Splash Pads Need Safety Surfaces

The common denominator in all these splash pad injuries and closures is the surfacing. At this time, the most common splash pad surface is broomed concrete, often treated with an abrasive coating. These splash pad injuries and closures likely could have been prevented by using a different surface—namely, a safety surface that is both cushioned and slip-resistant without being abrasive.

In response to these concerns, Life Floor has proposed that a section be added to NSF/ ANSI Standard 50, setting rigorous, performance-based safety requirements for aquatic recreation surfacing. NSF Standards are some of the most respected standards in the recreational aquatic industry. NSF Standards, published by NSF International, can smooth the way for new and innovative technologies to come into the industry and improve safety. The NSF can further help to define testing and certification requirements that health departments can turn to and depend upon.

If successful, this new section could revolutionize the splash pad, securing a safer future for the communities and families that play on them.