Playground wood chip installation

Playground Wood Chips, the Better Alternative to Rubber Mulch

It is well known throughout the playground industry that the number one cause of playground injuries suffered by children are falls, either from tripping or falling from the playground equipment itself. While there might not be much you can do to prevent eager kids from tripping while playing, as an administrator you can mitigate what occurs when they do by choosing appropriate surfacing material.

Wood chips are the most popular ground-cover material for playgrounds thanks to great shock absorbency, which helps reduce and even prevent injuries from falls. Additionally, wood chips’ ability to shed moisture is beneficial. While the material does have a shorter lifespan than rubber mulch, it is a much better alternative overall.

Why Not Rubber Mulch?

Rubber mulch has a number of troubling disadvantages, including its potential to leach colourant, volatile organic compounds, and other chemicals over time. The Environmental Protection Agency itself has acknowledged that more testing must be done before rubber mulch can be classified as wholly safe for children. Currently, Environment Canada and other organizations recommend that children playing on rubber mulch-covered playgrounds should wash their hands frequently while playing. Knowing the nature of children, and the degree to which frequent hand washing in this scenario is possible to monitor, this seems like an unlikely option.

With this understanding, it seems best to avoid rubber mulch altogether, and stick to the time-tested ground covering of wood chips, proven safe for our children.

“Children need the freedom to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity. Let’s help keep them safe when they do play.” Bill 

The Wood Chip Buying Guide

Wood chip products can look very similar, yet understanding the criteria to look for when purchasing is paramount. The most important designation to look for is wood chips labeled as engineered wood fiber (EWF).

EWF has a similar appearance to landscape wood chips, but has been designed specifically for playground use. Producers of this ground cover use hardwood, remove any twig and leaf materials, and
then grind it to a fibrous consistency, with individual chip sizes typically no larger than two inches long. It has been cleared of any hazardous substances, including chromated copper arsenate, making it a very safe choice for use by and around children.

How Much Do You Need?

Once you have chosen your product, the next step is to fill your playground. You will always want at least a minimum of 9 inches of EWF filled in. However, because loose fill compacts over time due to use and weathering, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends making an initial fill of 12 inches compacted.