Many reputable associations have grown out of a need for playgrounds to be well built and safe for our children. In the 80s the American Standard for Testing Materials (ASTM) responded to the efforts of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) by providing testable standards to support the new safety guidelines in CPSC’s Handbook for Public Playground Safety. The ASTM collaborated with many playground experts and used the CPSC’s statistics on playground safety to develop ASTM Standard F 1487, Standard Specifications for Playground Equipment for Public Use. These standards were created to force the identification and elimination of playground hazards. Manufacturers now had detailed specifications on which to test their equipment. The International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) was formed around this same time to assist their members in adhering to the new standards, and to provide a third-party product certification process that validates the compliance efforts of the manufacturers.

IPEMA has over 50 members worldwide, and their seal of approval is widely recognized by play equipment consumers. The IPEMA Equipment Certification Program is a voluntary program that ensures alignment with the standards set forth in ASTM F 1487. The process for certification involves several steps. First, a manufacturer of public playground equipment must have their testing and manufacturing facilities inspected. Program validators of the Detroit Testing Laboratory (DTL) do these inspections. IPEMA contracts with the Detroit Testing Laboratory, an independent, accredited, testing lab that offers technical and developmental services. DTL administers the IPEMA certification program.

During the initial inspection by the validator, calibration procedures, test procedures, test equipment and knowledge of proper playground layout are all reviewed. Once the participant’s facilities and procedures pass inspection, the participant may proceed in providing their own testing and certification—insuring their products comply with the appropriate standards. The participant is provided detailed forms to complete annually to ensure they continue to meet the specifications of the validation process. All products must be tested for compliance every five years, and the manufacturer’s facility is reviewed annually. 

These stringent guidelines certify that play equipment products meet safety standards. These standards address the appropriateness of the surfacing, height requirements, structural integrity, safe zones and hardware hazards—such as those that could cause protrusions, strangulation, pinching, etc. Members of IPEMA who participate in the certification program are proud to offer their certification seal of approval to potential clients. This seal validates their efforts to produce safe play equipment.

Besides a discount on the certification program, there are other benefits to membership in IPEMA for play equipment manufacturers. IPEMA is a not-for-profit group of professionals in the playground industry that gives a global voice to the ideas and concerns of its members. IPEMA actively contributes to the ongoing development of CPSC guidelines and ADA guidelines for play areas. They provide their members with “timely, in-depth information on key economic and governmental issues affecting the industry” and “promote relationships with other related organizations to enhance the strength of the marketplace,” as stated in their goals.

Perhaps most importantly, IPEMA continues the dialogue on viable efforts to ensure playground safety worldwide, from a play equipment manufacturer’s viewpoint. Tom Norquist, a founding IPEMA board member and senior vice president of GameTime asserts, “Customers can rest assured when they purchase play equipment and safety surfacing products that are IPEMA certified. However, even with all these improvements in the safety of public play equipment, correct product installation, age-appropriate design, proper supervision and frequent maintenance of the equipment and environment are necessary to ensure the best possible experience for children.” 

It’s been said that “It takes a village to raise a child.” One might add, “It takes a multitude of organizations to provide safe play areas.” The diligence of all stakeholders in the playground industry—manufacturers, owners, builders, caretakers, and users—will ultimately ensure that playgrounds are enjoyed safely.