Pools already use concrete floors. Aren’t splash pads just low-depth pools?
They are not. From the beginning, splash pads have often been built adjacent to, or even on top of, public pools and wading pools, and so they have traditionally maintained the hard concrete “floors” of these pools. However, the practice of treating splash pads as a literal extension of the pool category is both inaccurate and dangerous. Even if splash pads began in the pool and fountain space, they have developed beyond those categories and now require a different set of safety regulations.
The first movements toward public splash pads likely began when municipalities started adding Rain Drop’s “mushrooms” to pre-existing wading pools. Then, in the 1990’s, Vortex, Water Play, and Water Odyssey (The Fountain People) were formed. Simultaneously, with drowning being the leading cause of accidental death for children ages one to four according to the CDC, wading pools became much less attractive from a safety perspective. Requiring significant vol- umes of water, and suffering from a lack of interest, wading pools were increasingly phased out as the public became more interested in fountains.
Eventually, fountains transformed into themed play features and steps and platforms were introduced. Significantly, both wading pools and fountains typically had concrete or other hard floors. Since water volume could break a fall in a wading pool, and fountains weren’t initially designed for play, builders continued to use concrete. Thus, as wading pools and fountains gave way to splash pads, the depth of the water continued to decrease while the features were enhanced. Through it all, the concrete floor remained.
Standard swimming pools are an especially poor analogy to splash pads. Pools are basically containers designed to hold a volume of water that is used for swimming and immersion. For this reason, the main risk for pools is drowning. Because the primary risk for pools is drowning, concrete is an acceptable (if not ideal) surface for the bottom of the container. It is difficult to run on the floor of a pool, and if you slip and fall while immersed in a pool, the water generally stops you from receiving serious impact injuries.
If the first splash pads were designed today, independent of the custom of concrete pool floors, we believe concrete—and other similarly hard materials—would never have been considered for surfacing. Concrete may be an invaluable construction material, but as a play surface it is essentially a legacy technology, a hold-over material from public pools that increasingly demonstrates its obsolescence, inadequacy, and sheer menace to public health when used on splash pads.
Despite the shared presence of water, pools and splash pads are two fundamentally different kinds of venues, with different uses, designs, and safety concerns. In short, while some pool floors may not need safety surfacing, all splash pads absolutely do.
What can be done to require safer surfacing?
We need a standard for Aquatic Recreation Surfacing in NSF 50.
There is not currently a section in NSF 50 for splash pads surfaces, or indeed for any active aquatics area surfaces, including pool decks and water parks. As a result, we are proposing that a new section be added to NSF 50 that addresses the above concerns.
The new section should stipulate that any aquatic recreation surface must absorb im- pact from a vertical fall while also preventing injury during a horizontal skid, and must provide a dynamic coefficient of friction of >40 without being so abrasive as to cut skin. The section should also ensure that the surface is easily cleaned by requiring impervious- ness (to avoid microorganism growth within or underneath the floor) and durability (to avoid dangerous breakdown of the material, the surface should also posses chemical resistance and UV stability).