Do I need safety surfacing?

It would be easy for us to say that you always need some form of safety surfacing, but rather than relying on our advice, why don’t we just tell you what the UK guidelines state?


The committee responsible for British Standard EN 1177:2008 recognise that injuries caused by falls from playground equipment occur for a variety of reasons and there are many factors that can influence injury mechanisms independent of the surfacing, e.g. body orientation, awkwardness of fall, bone density, etc, but the most severe injuries are likely to be injuries to the head.

The committee developed a method for determining the impact measurement of playground surfacing which essentially drops a headform (e.g. aluminium alloy ball) from a test height, onto the surface being tested. This allows the testers to calculate a Head Injury Criterion (HIC) value.

On the basis of available data, the HIC tolerance level of 1,000 has been used as the upper limit for the brain injury severity which is unlikely to have disabling or fatal consequences. By choosing measurement of HIC as the criterion of safety, the method considers only the kinetic energy of the head when it impacts the surface of the impact area. This is considered to be the best model available to predict the likelihood of head injury from falls.

The HIC value of 1,000 is merely one data point on a risk severity curve where a HIC of 1,000 is equivalent to a 3% chance of a critical injury (MAIS1) 5), an 18% probability of a severe (MAIS 4) head injury, a 55% probability of a serious (MAIS 3) head injury, an 89% probability of a moderate injury (MAIS 2), and a 99.5% chance of a minor head injury (MAIS 1), to an average male adult.

Once HIC values have been recorded, the testing laboratory can use this data to calculate the Critical Fall Height (CFH) which is the maximum free height of fall which repeatedly scored a value of less than 1,000 HIC.

So what does this really mean for your surfacing?

Height of equipment / CFH

When looking at possible falling distances from any playground equipment, British Standard EN 1176-1:2008 refers to the free height of the fall, which is considered to be the greatest vertical distance from the clearly intended body support, to the impact area below.

If the free height of the fall is below 60cm, then no surfacing is required unless there is forced movement.

Above 60cm or if there is forced movement, then safety surfacing is required and this is where the CFH of a safety surface needs to be considered. The CFH should always be higher than the possible falling distance.

Total Area Required

If safety surfacing is required then the extent of the falling space should always be at least 1.5m around the elevated parts of the equipment, measured horizontally and extending from the vertical projection plane below the equipment. However, this distance is extended if the height of the playground equipment is higher than 1.5 metres.

The formula to calculate this is the height of the fall multiplied by 2/3 plus 0.5 metres.

E.g. if it is a 3 metre fall height:  (3 multiplied by 2/3) = 2. 2+0.5 = 2.5. So the safety surfacing should extend outwards at least 2.5 metres from the bottom of the equipment.

Our Safety Matting

You are in good hands with Grassmats if you are looking for a safety surface on grass!

Our playground safety matting has been independently certified to have a critical fall height in excess of 3 metres when installed on grass – which we understand is the best across the whole industry!

As playground equipment should never have a free fall height in excess of 3 metres, then our matting should be suitable for all types of equipment.

A copy of our safety certificate is available to view on our website. Please note that our safety testing took place in a test environment on a mature natural grass sub-base in line with British Standard EN 1177: 2018. Every site is different and results may differ in other settings and under different conditions.

Grassmats’ playground safety matting has also been tested for slip resistance (British Standard EN 130336-4:2011) and fire safety (an ease of ignition test – British Standard EN 4790: 1987) and met the requirements for both tests.

Contact Us

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the team who will be happy to help!