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.
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.