Wood chips cushion falls, providing a safer play surface than hard ground. Wood chips often are used as a playground ground-cover material because they have good shock absorbency, which helps prevent injuries from falls, and because they shed moisture. Moisture can lead to mildew and mold. Most kinds of wood-chip products look very similar, but they may not offer the same protection. Ground-FX of Idaho only uses engineered wood fiber (EWF) wood chip to use as a playground ground cover because of its shock absorption and additional safety features.
Some of EWF safety features are that it is similar in appearance to landscape wood chips, but it is designed specifically for use as a playground ground cover. It is made from hardwood ground to a fibrous consistency. EWF’s individual chips are randomly sized but not usually more than 2 inches long. EWF is free of twig and leaf materials as well as hazardous substances, such as chromate copper arsenate, which makes it safe for use in a children’s area, such as a playground.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission tests playground surface materials to determine the amount of cushioning each provides. No matter how well a product absorbs shock, it may not be safer than a hard surface if it’s not applied properly. EWF should be applied in a layer no fewer than 9 inches deep. That depth ensures enough cushioning to prevent injuries from falls from heights up to 10 feet. Use and weathering, however, cause all loose-fill ground coverings to compact by about 25 percent over time. Therefore, an additional 3 inches of depth should be added to account for compaction. So Ground-FX of Idaho will apply EWF wood chips at a minimum depth of 12 inches to ensure its optimum cushioning ability.
Besides its previously mentioned features, EWF has other safety benefits. Broken glass and debris typically stay on top of an EWF surface, reducing the risk such materials can become hidden in the chips. Those dangerous materials can be raked easily from the playground. Wood-fiber coverings such as EWF don’t attract insects; wood-boring insects, including termites, usually prefer larger pieces of wood. Splinters can be a concern with some kinds of wood ground cover, but they typically cause a problem when they are in a fixed or rigid wood surface because EWF tends to move upon contact, splinters aren’t a problem with it’s use because EWF is a natural wood product, it contains no harmful chemicals.
Maintenance of a playground’s EWF depends on the amount of use the play area receives. Monitor the playground, and rake the EWF periodically to reduce its compaction. Pay close attention to areas that are not sheltered and that receive the most frequent traffic, such as under swings and slides. Those areas often need the addition of EWF more often than sheltered and less used areas. Landscape timbers or rubber edging should line the playground’s perimeter to contain the EWF material. EWF products typically maintain their cushioning properties for the life of a playground, as long as an EWF depth of 9 inches is maintained, because EWF doesn’t decompose as well as other wood-chip materials, it doesn’t have to be replaced every year. Using new EWF chips to top off the existing EWF chips as they’re kicked out of the playground or compacted is all that is needed to maintain the ground cover.