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Synthetic & Safety Surfaces

by editor

Most surfaces in the industrialised world are made from synthetic materials. That is, they don’t have a natural origin like concrete, rubber, steel or composite materials. Safety surfaces are also synthetic but provide us with secure footing to reduce the risk of slipping and falling.

We can treat existing surfaces to mitigate this hazard or carefully consider it when designing an area. For instance, heavy industrial machinery on a sloped, polished concrete floor could slip when loaded unless we coat the surface with a slip-resistant sealant. By using manufactured materials we impact our natural environment less by not extracting natural materials (the big exception being concrete) and using materials which don’t deplete our natural resources in their manufacture.

Artificial surfaces always look their best and therefore provide a greater aesthetic appeal all year long. They reduce maintenance costs because they are quicker to install and are immediately available to users after installation. In the sporting and recreation area they provide sure, stable surfaces, which help minimise the risk of injury and enhance sporting performance.

We could construct pathways and entertainment areas using concrete pavers, recycled concrete, porous pavers, artificial grass, road base and rubber to name but a few synthetic materials. The ongoing maintenance of concrete is minimal, runoff is easily managed and it has a long lifespan.

One example of porous paving is using recycled glass consisting of bonding processed post-consumer glass with a mixture of resins, pigments and binding agents. The product provides a permeable paving material that also reuses materials that would otherwise be disposed of in landfills.

If we decided to install a soft, durable surface such as rubber, we would use wet pour rubber because it does not need a flat surface for installation because it will follow the natural gradient of the land and is simple to lay. Various thicknesses can be applied to suit the purpose and site. This type of surface is popular indoors and outdoors in childcare centres, preschools, schools, sporting clubs, aged care facilities, residential sites, pool surrounds and walkways, gym floors; and between pavers, apartment common areas and apartment balconies.

An excellent example of this sustainable approach is the products produced by A1 Rubber (www.A1rubber.com.au) who upcycle stripped rubber from old tyres. It’s Australia’s leading manufacturer of commercial rubber flooring and ramps; playground, recreational, sports and equine surfacing; acoustic underlays; and general safety matting.

Similarly, if we need to create a playground for children, the surfaces would consist of soft fall materials such as environmentally friendly recycled rubber tyres, shock absorbing pads of synthetic grass, washed and screened certified playground sand and different purpose-made mulches, such as Port Stephens pine mulch and Playbark. The degree and type of soft fall required is determined by several factors including the height of the play equipment.

The creative possibilities are endless. Rubber mulch can be used in a variety of ways for the base of playground equipment and general play areas. We can use soft-fall loose mix similar to the way garden mulch is spread and it fits into any space or it can be used in interlocked pieces, much like carpet tiles that fit together.

Using all kinds of bright colours in rubber, you can incorporate everything from running tracks to four square and hopscotch activities in the same area. Other options include extra line markings for mini football, cricket, netball and tennis.

Some surfaces assist the less able people in our community to be more mobile and safer in their journeys. Tactile paving is a system of textured ground surface indicators to indicate stairways, ramps, changes of direction, overhead obstructions below a height of 2000mm and hazards within a circulation space or adjacent to a path of travel. They can be found on many footpaths, stairs and train station platforms to assist blind and vision impaired pedestrians. AS1428 is the Australian Standard for access and mobility for the visually impaired in our community.

We can also help ensure the surfaces we use are non-slippery and safe. Cheap and easy to install safety devices include antislip self-adhesive tapes and floor marking tapes to help guide pedestrians. Existing surfaces can be made safer by applying liquid agents. There are several anti-slip liquids on the market that you can apply to existing vinyl, concrete and terrazzo surfaces. After allowing it to dry, a clear invisible slip-resistant film remains, making floors safer to walk on.

There are tile and stone treatments which make surfaces safer by providing excellent slip resistance when wet. Using a penetrative material, the process prevents a film of moisture occurring between the foot and the tile, providing a permanent, safe solution to the problem of slippery tiles. Some distributors even offer insulating and sound deadening effects in their penetrating agents.

Self-adhesive mats are used in low visibility areas (inside and outside) where there is a risk of slipping or falling. They are also quick and easy to apply and are used in commercial kitchens, at entrances, to help reduce fatigue when standing in the one spot for hours and in wet areas.

To better manage the risk of falls and possible injury using stairs, we minimise those risks.

We could entirely cover steps with a rubber surface or cover the nose of each step. Stair nosings are installed to warn people of the impending edge and provide better grip.

Other choices could be a tactile surface made from high-grade stainless steel, luminous anti-slip self-adhesive tape, or a metal-coated carborundum insert. Most of these products come in a range of colours. Most will not wear away, peel, chip, crack or fade for many years. Go to www.floorsafe.com.au or ring 1300 369 689 for all the answers.

All those electrical leads that lie on the floors of our home, office and workshops can cause us to trip or fall if we are not careful. Again, to minimise risk of injury to ourselves and others, think about covering them using purpose-built cable covers, which are also available in a range of materials and colours to suit. Try www.floorsafe.com.au for answers.

Even the ubiquitous Aussie lawn may be under threat these days from synthetic materials because we recognise how much energy, time, water and money it takes to install and maintain one. With artificial grass there is no mowing, no watering, no pesticides, no fertilising. You have the perfect lawn all year round. The UV protection means no fading and it tolerates heavy traffic. It’s the perfect solution for shaded areas where plants will not grow. An average backyard can be covered in a day over flat and sloping ground ready for immediate use.

Safety on our roads, in our carparks and near schools is of paramount importance to our communities. One of the contributing factors to road safety is the road surface itself. Skidding results in many crashes, particularly on the approaches to intersections and pedestrian crossings when the road is wet.

OmniCrete (www.omnicrete.com.au) uses specialist synthetic-coloured aggregates for application to bus, transit and cycle lanes; and school and pedestrian crossings, roads, highways and bridge pavements. Their product is very durable and skid resistant for the design life of the product in wet conditions. This surfacing system is comprised of 75 per cent recycled content. This, combined with the fact that the resin binding system contains no solvents and minimal Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), also makes this surfacing system compliant with the specifications of the Green Building Council of Australia.

Newly developed photo luminescent paints light up roads for up to 10 hours helping to guide drivers. Temperature responsive paints produce patterns on the road to warn drivers of slippery conditions.

Whether we are walking through a landscape, relaxing in it or using it for recreational purposes, we all like to think that the surface of that landscape is secure, environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing to us. The built environment uses synthetic materials for different purposes and to help us evoke different emotions in us.

So, the next time you’re walking along, be mindful of the composition of the material on which you are walking and ask yourself, could it be made safer, more long lasting, more aesthetically pleasing or more environmentally friendly? If the answer is yes, voice your opinion to the decision makers in your community and help improve life for our next generation.

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