Playground safety: troubling new move from ASTM

American safety standards agency ASTM is considering a flawed new proposal – very similar to one rejected a few months ago – in a continued attempt to ratchet up requirements for playground surfacing. This in spite of growing calls for a wider, more transparent and thoughtful debate on the role and influence of playground standards.

Graffiti saying

Photo credit: Martin Maudsley

The flaws in the proposal are clear even from the limited public material on the ASTM website. Section 1.1 states that a new minimum performance requirement for surfacing is being established, while section 1.3 appears to explicitly rule this out.

Overall, the proposal appears to focus on how surfacing is safety-tested once it has been installed (so-called ‘field testing’). Members of the relevant ASTM committee tell me that a change to the head injury criterion or HIC (the key feature in the ASTM proposal rejected earlier this year) is discussed in the proposal. Even though I gather a HIC change is not a substantive feature, the proposal appears to be the latest in a series of efforts to advance this controversial position.

That said, it appears that this proposal is hardly new. Committee members tell me it is almost identical to a proposal rejected by ASTM only months ago. It comes from Rolf Huber, whose take on playground accident statistics I publicly challenged here (he has yet to reply publicly to this challenge, to my knowledge).

I would urge ASTM committee members to reject the proposal (Item 22 in the current ballot, which ends in the next few days). Even if the proposal is solely about mandatory field testing based on existing standards, this is a major move with significant implications. There are also legitimate questions about transparency and conflict of interest, given the clear commercial interests of some of those behind the proposal.

More importantly, I invite anyone concerned about playground safety standards, especially in North America (which sets the global agenda on product safety) to get behind the move for a wider debate on the topic. This latest proposal by ASTM underscores the case for a broader, more transparent discussion, as I have consistently called for in posts since February. Similar calls have been made recently by my longtime collaborator Bernard Spiegal (co-author along with Prof David Ball and me of the authoritative UK publication Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation Guide). And as I noted earlier this year, even leading North American injury prevention academics have voiced concerns about the current approach.

I am working with colleagues in the UK Play Safety Forum to build momentum for a wider debate. If you or your organisation thinks you can help with this, please contact me.

5 responses to “Playground safety: troubling new move from ASTM

  1. Pingback: ASTM and Surfacing Standards – back again, so organise | Bernard Spiegal

  2. Didn’t you just get a feeling that we were going be facing Hydra on this question? It was inevitable, but the surprise is that it came so soon after the last attempt. One questions what is the driver here – it can’t be the statistics. If we adopt a hazard based approach then these “more HIC” protagonists would be as well turning to campaigning how maintenance and ongoing structural stability (both covered in EN1176) are failing to be checked and more likely to cause nasty situations.
    Yes, we should band together, internationally, to bring some sense into this debate but, more importantly, as Tim and Bernard have both said, it is really time to challenge the process. Proportionality (as per adopted by HSE in the balanced approach) and public policy should be at the centre of our argument.. If these are to be left to the standards making bodies then they must become more representative and accountable.

  3. I have to agree that transparency is the best policy here. This seems to be your newest post on the subject. Is there any chance of another article to provide further insight into the situation?

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