Sand surfaces make for safer playground landing: SickKids/York U study


TORONTO, December 15, 2009 -- Researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and York University have found that using granite sand as playground surfacing reduced the risk of arm fractures, compared to frequently-used wood-chip surfaces. The study is published this week in the open-access journal PLoS Medicine.


Falls on a playground may go with the territory, but many children’s spills and tumbles off playground equipment can lead to emergency room visits and hospital stays. And just how badly a child is hurt not only depends on how far they fall, but also on the type of surface they land on.


The study showed the risk of an arm fracture from a fall off playground equipment was 4.9 times higher on a wood-chip surface compared to sand. Risks of other types of injuries were also higher on wood-chip surfaces.


“Broken arms from playground equipment falls are common and can be severe. A simple sand surface, properly maintained, can prevent many of these injuries,” says Dr. Andrew Howard, the study’s lead author and SickKids orthopaedic surgeon, scientist and associate professor in the Departments of Surgery and Health Policy at the University of Toronto. “We hope these findings will help update standards to reduce the most common injuries without limiting children’s access to healthy outdoor play.”


Alison Macpherson, associate professor in York University's School of Kinesiology and Health Science, acted as senior author on the study.


“We found fewer injuries overall than we expected on playgrounds, which shows that the Canadian Standards Association requirement for playground surfaces is protecting children,” said Macpherson, “This study suggests schools could reduce the number of broken arms even further by choosing sand.”


In 2003, the researchers took advantage of a unique opportunity to conduct a real-life randomized trial. The Toronto District School Board was resurfacing a number of school playgrounds and partnered with SickKids in the research. Over a two-and-a-half year period, 28 schools joined the study and reported on the types of injuries and how they occurred.


There were fewer fractures on sand because this material has a lower friction surface and allows the hand to slide or sink limiting bending and preventing a fracture, said Howard.


The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and SickKids Foundation. Funding for the playground installations was provided by the Toronto District School Board.


For more information about playground safety, please visit the Safe Kids Canada website at


About The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)

SickKids is affiliated with the University of Toronto.  It is Canada’s most research-intensive hospital and the largest centre dedicated to improving children’s health in the country. As innovators, SickKids leads and partners to improve child health provincially, nationally and internationally through the integration of care, research and education, providing the best in complex and specialized family-centred care, groundbreaking scientific and clinical advances, sharing our expertise globally, enhancing an academic environment and championing an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. For more information, please visit


About York University

York University is the leading interdisciplinary research and teaching university in Canada. York offers a modern, academic experience at the undergraduate and graduate level in Toronto, Canada’s most international city. The third largest university in the country, York is host to a dynamic academic community of 50,000 students and 7,000 faculty and staff, as well as 200,000 alumni worldwide. York’s 10 Faculties and 28 research centres conduct ambitious, groundbreaking research that is interdisciplinary, cutting across traditional academic boundaries. This distinctive and collaborative approach is preparing students for the future and bringing fresh insights and solutions to real-world challenges. York University is an autonomous, not-for-profit corporation.




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