Splash Pads: The Non-pools

 Westfield Memorial Pool Complex, Westfield, NJ

Westfield Memorial Pool Complex, Westfield, NJ

If you spend any time around splash pad designers or parks-and-recreation professionals, you may have heard some variation of the following: 

"Splash pads are essentially low-depth or no-depth pools. They recycle water and have filtration systems like pools, and therefore they should be surfaced the same way you'd surface any other pool, with concrete." 

After more than half a decade working in this space, we've become increasingly convinced that this view point isn't only factually wrong, it's also potentially dangerous. Here's why: 

1. You can't swim on a splash pad

And you don't run in a pool. Even in a kiddie pool, the volume of water usually provides enough resistance to inhibit a little kid from running very quickly or very far. Of course, the absurdity of this position becomes apparent when you compare splash pads to a regular, Olympic-style pool. You can run -- kind of -- at the bottom of a pool, but there's not much point to it. While deeper water increases drowning risk, it virtually eliminates the kind of slip-and-fall injuries you see on a splash pad.  

Of course, concrete pool floors do cause impact injuries, especially when people dive into shallow areas. The point is your body isn't expected to interact with these surfaces constantly, so the sides and bottom of a pool don't have to be especially safe or comfortable. You're in a pool; you're expected to swim. 

2. More water isn't necessarily better.

There is actually a growing trend to making splash pads more like pools by increasing depth in certain areas. The potential hazard here is hydroplaning, a phenomenon we highlighted in a previous post. 

3. Their uses are completely different. 

Ultimately, splash pad safety standards should be determined not by superficial similarities to pools, but by considering how people actually use splash pads. Basically, kids treat splash pads as playgrounds. They walk, run, and jump on splash pads, they play tag on splash pads. The primary mode of movement around a splash pad is definitely not swimming, and the primary risk is a slip-and-fall injury, not drowning. Municipalities already know this: Splash pads are often unsupervised, whereas pools almost always use lifeguards. 

At Life Floor, we believe the splash pad = playground analogy is an important one. To be honest, we're often frustrated that the wider industry has yet to adopt this understanding. We'll elaborate this concept in another blogpost, but in the meantime, we recommend taking precautions appropriate to the actual risk and using safety surfaces on splash pads.