Outdoor playgrounds and climate change: Importance of surface materials and shade to extend play time and prevent burn injuries

Elsevier, Building and Environment, Volume 223, 2022, 109500
Sebastian Pfautsch, Agnieszka Wujeska-Klause, Judi Walters

Surfaces in outdoor playgrounds get hot in the sun and can cause serious skin burns in children. In-situ measurements from 10 playgrounds in Sydney showed that the maximum and average surface temperatures of sun-exposed playground equipment and flooring surfaces were frequently above skin contact burn thresholds. Black and dark-coloured wet pour rubber and synthetic turf were the hottest floor materials, all having maximum surface temperatures (Ts_max) > 80 °C. A blue rubber dolphin was the hottest piece of play equipment, with a Ts_max of 91.8 °C. A systematic assessment of common synthetic flooring materials exposed to full sun showed notable differences in Ts_max between material types and colour-tones. Synthetic turf with 40 mm long grass blades (STlng-GR) was the hottest material (Ts_max = 84.5 °C), followed by dark blue styrene butadiene rubber (SBRD-BL, Ts_max = 81.1 °C), dark green ethylene propylene diene polymer (EPDMD-GR-2, Ts_max = 77.8 °C), dark brown thermoplastic vulcanizate (TPVD-BR, Ts_max = 71.8 °C), and intermediate blue thermoplastic polyolefin (TPOI-BL, Ts_max = 65.0 °C). All these materials were hot enough to cause contact burns on typical, warm summer days when children are likely to visit outdoor playgrounds. Surface temperatures were significantly reduced in the shade and never reached burn threshold temperatures. Selection of appropriate material type and colour-tone, together with the provision of shade can remove the hazard risk for contact skin burns from outdoor playgrounds. Results of this work will assist playground designers and managers to provide safer places for our children to play longer in increasingly warmer summers.