A New Splash Pad Surfacing Standard

Guest Post By Life Floor


By: Briana Massie, Marketing Manager for Life Floor ([email protected])

Playgrounds and splash pads are designed with very similar intentions in mind. Both provide play features and open spaces that encourage imaginative exploration, running, and risky play opportunities. Playgrounds feature spring riders, slides, and play panels whereas splash pads feature spray jets, dump buckets, and water slides. Where playgrounds are generally dry, splash pads feature constantly flowing water. However, where playgrounds require safety surfacing, splash pads are still being commonly surfaced with concrete, tile, or stone. If splash pads are essentially wet playgrounds (leaving visitors more prone to accident and injury), how are hard, slick surfacing options still permitted?

Why Don't We Often See Safety Surfacing at Splash Pads if They're Playgrounds too?

The aquatics industry is so accustomed to seeing concrete and other surfaces at pools that it has turned a blind eye to the problem with using it at splash pads. Many people believe that concrete isn’t an issue at all and that it’s perfectly safe for aquatic play areas. Forty years ago, concrete was considered perfectly safe for dry playgrounds too. It took 78 years from the time dry playgrounds were first introduced in 1903 for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to publish the Handbook for Public Playground Safety in 1981. 

78 years of avoidable injuries.

Let’s not make that same mistake with splash pads. 

A Splash Pad Safety Surfacing Standard Does Exist

In 2019, after four years of research, testing, and careful deliberation, NSF International passed NSF/ANSI/CAN Standard 50:26. Recognizing that splash pads function as wet playgrounds, this is the first standard to address the safety of surfaces at interactive water play venues. 

The standard cites 6 criteria that products must meet to become certified:

Slip Resistance
Slip-and-fall accidents are one of the top injuries that aquatic facilities report. Most injuries are due to slippery surfacing such as concrete or ceramic tile. Slip-resistance was included in the standard as a feature that certified surfaces should have in order to reduce the number of injuries as a direct result. Certified surfaces are slip-resistant to minimize slip-and-fall injuries. Meeting the criteria requires a 40 British Pendulum Number (BPN) and a P4 on the Australian Standard. 

Impact Absorption
It’s inevitable that falls will happen regardless of slip resistance since tripping or becoming unbalanced and falling also happens. To address this, impact absorption (also known as cushioning), was added to the standard to protect falls. The standard requires a Head Injury Criterion (HIC) maximum value of 750, with a 0.20 meter (0.66 ft) minimum fall height. 

Impermeability is important so that foreign substances such as sunscreen, fertilizer run-off, and other hazardous substances do not absorb into the surface and cause issues. 

Having an easily cleanable surface is important for many facilities since it directly impacts the guest experience. 

UV Resistance
Resistance to UV radiation is essential, as many splash pads experience intense, year-long sun exposure.  During testing, erosion is not acceptable if it compromises the surface’s traction and impact attenuation. 

Chemical Resistance
As part of the standard, certified surfaces must remain slip-resistant and impact attenuating properties after undergoing exposure to high chemical shock periods without showing signs of erosion. 

Complying to NSF/ANSI/CAN 50:26 is a best practice that can be followed at facilities to reduce risk, improve guest experience, and benefit communities. Since certified products are third-party tested through the internationally recognized standard, specifiers and operators have peace of mind knowing that these options are reputable and validated through accredited sources. Even though the standard isn’t a code requirement, it has the potential to influence codes and is recognized as a standard for operational excellence.

Here’s a free resource for facilities in the U.S. and Canada to help understand what different states and territories mention in their official codes. To purchase the standard for your city’s use, visit the official NSF International website here.

All views and opinions expressed by Life Floor in this blog post are solely their current views and opinions. They do not reflect the view and opinions of WRPA, its affiliates, staff, members, or employees. Life Floor's opinions are based upon information they consider reliable, but neither WRPA nor its affiliates, staff, members, or employees, warrant its completeness or accuracy, and it should not be relied upon as such.


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