I was finding it very difficult to get a clear-cut answer to this question, so I did a ton of research and wrote this helpful article.
Here I’ll clearly explain what “Certified Playground Mulch” is, tell you what playground ground cover materials can be certified, who certifies them, and what qualifications they must meet to be certified.
The dozens of different certifications can make this information complicated and tedious; I will share only the relevant, helpful information.
A playground ground cover material that has met specific requirements set by the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials), and has been tested to ensure they meet or exceed those standards.
The IPEMA (International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association) certification process uses a third-party to test the materials, IPEMA oversees the process and validates the playground surface material to ensure it meets or exceeds standards set by the ASTM, giving the product an IPEMA certification.
An ADA (The Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant playground cover material meets standards set by the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) to determine if the material can be used in an ADA compliant playground.
Does a Certification Matter?
Yes, because it proves –most of the time-(keep reading for clarification) that the ground cover material being used in your playground area has met certain safety requirements and standards, some of the most important of these being-
- Establishing a critical fall height
- Material is free of sharp metals or other harmful debris
- Material is free of harmful chemicals
Are Some Certifications Better Than Others?
Yes. The standards are set by the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials), but anyone can “certify” their own product. Here is a direct quote from the ASTM website :
The Society, in general, does not object if an organization does their own testing/verification and represents that their product meets an ASTM standard by referencing the specific designation (e.g. complies or meets ASTM A XXX-YY)(and, where possible, the title of the relevant standard). In these instances Society logos shall not appear in connections with such representations).
This is why the IPEMA certification carries so much weight.
To get an IPEMA certification the manufacturer must have its product tested by a third-party company (TŰV SŰD America). IPEMA oversees the testing process and validates that the material meets or exceeds the standards set by the ASTM.
So if you see a product that claims it “Meets ASTM Standards” or is “ASTM Compliant” be sure to ask for the results from the ASTM tests. The test should have been done by a legitimate third-party testing company.
What Materials can be Certified?
- EWF (Engineered Wood Fiber)
- Rubber Playground Mulch
- Poured-In-Place playground surfacing
- These materials must also meet ASTM standard F1292-18 (Validates a fall height rating specified by the manufacturer)
F1292-18 Section 4.2 validates a fall height rating specified by the manufacturer. F1292-18 Determines a critical fall height.
What is ASTM F1292-18?
ASTM standard F1292-18 is a “standard specification for impact attenuation of surfacing materials within the use zone of playground equipment.
This standard provides a means to measure and compare characteristics of surfacing materials to determine whether the materials provide a safe surface under and around playground equipment“.
The important thing here is that the results of this “test” determine a critical fall height, which can vary from product to product. So if this information is not listed on a product ask for it.
Critical Fall Height – The critical fall height gives an approximate fall height in which a life-threatening head injury would occur. This information should be readily available by the manufacturer of a certified product.
Relevant ASTM Certifications for Playground Ground Cover
- ASTM F1292 Will determine a “critical height” fall rating
- ASTM F2075 EWF (engineered wood fiber mulch)
- ASTM F3012 Rubber Mulch
- ASTM F2479 Pour-in-Place
All EWF, Rubber playground mulch and Pour-in-Place playground cover materials not only have to pass the specifications set by the American Society for Testing and Materials for quality but also meet all specifications for F1292 (Determining a critical fall height).
Standards for Engineered Wood Fiber (ASTM F2075)
To be certified all EWF (engineered wood fiber) products are required to pass standards set for:
- Particle size, consistency, purity
- Ability to drain
- Heavy metal concentrations below what is considered hazardous to children (antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, selenium)
- ASTM 1292 (Determines a critical fall height)
Standards for Rubber Mulch (ASTM 3012)
To be certified, all Rubber Mulch products are required to pass standards set for:
- Particle size distribution
- Extractable hazardous metal content
- Total lead content
- Tramp metal content, Sharp tramp metal content
- Does not address – the release of organic chemicals from rubber mulch
- ASTM 1292 (Determines a critical fall height)
Standards for Pour-in-Place Playground Surfacing (ASTM F2479)
To be certified, all Pour-in-Place playground surfacing products are required to pass standards for:
- Functional longevity (Loss of impact absorption, cracking, shrinkage, heaving)
- Warranty considerations
- Use with abutting surfaces and use in combination with other protective surfaces
- ASTM 1292 (Determines a Critical fall height)
Important Information on ASTM Certified or Compliant Products
If you see a product that claims it’s ASTM compliant, It may not be 100% true, because anyone can claim their product is ASTM compliant. They can do the “tests” themselves- and do them unsupervised.
Again, this is why the IPEMA certification carries so much weight. IMPEA us a third-party company (TŰV SŰD America) to test the product.
TŰV SŰD America website (opens in new window)
Only when they pass are they given an IMPEA certification.
This is most important when buying rubber mulch because this can be the most harmful material. If not properly manufactured the recycled rubber can still contain the sharp steel wire that makes up an average of 15% of the recycled tire’s weight.
Rubber mulch can also contain harmful lead levels along with other hazardous metals.
So it pays off to get an IPEMA certified rubber playground mulch.
Final Thoughts and Important Takeaways
There are many playground surface materials to choose from, and when it comes to “Certified Products” things can get real complicated real quick. Just remember these key points
- IPEMA certified products have already determined a critical fall height. If the company does not display this important information, just ask for it
- Just because a company is a member of IPEMA does not mean they have the certification(s)
- Anyone can say their product is ASTM compliant. If this is true then testing should have been done by a third-party. Ask for the test results and what the critical fall height rating is
- Rubber playground mulch should always be ASTM/IPEMA certified as this recycled tire material can be very dangerous if not properly manufactured
- There are other great ground cover materials available. Pea gravel, natural wood chips, playground sand. You don’t have to get a certified product (except with rubber mulch, you should). These products can still provide a safe playground surface if installed properly and at the recommended depths (please read my article titled “Backyard Playground Ground Cover – 5 Best Materials to DIY” for helpful information on these materials)
I hope this article was helpful to you in some way, remember to stay safe and have fun!
What is playground mulch?
- A playground ground cover made of various materials, the most common being recycled tire rubber and natural wood that has been “milled”.
For more information on this please read my article titled “What is Rubber Playground Mulch – Rubber Mulch Vs Wood Mulch“
What is playground mulch made of?
- This question refers to Rubber Mulch and EWF (Engineered wood fiber). EWF is also known as playground chips or wood playground mulch. EFW is made from hard and/or softwood which is “pulverized” to a fibrous consistency. Rubber mulch is most often made from recycled tires.
If you want to know more about the interesting process of making wood playground mulch, and what separates regular wood mulch from playground wood mulch check out my article titled “How is Playground Mulch Made – EWF Mulch Explained“.