School Activity Spaces – Are you offering the best and safest sports, dance and activity floors to your students?

Activity floors in schools, including sports halls, dance and drama studios, PE and assembly halls and gymnasiums, are more often than not put through their paces with high usage and foot traffic to be expected. As well as selecting a floor with a long lifespan and low life cycle costs, safety is a hugely important factor for schools.

Schools may be held liable for accidents that occur on their premises. Floors in sports halls, dance spaces and other activity halls need to firstly, be chosen correctly when new, and then properly maintained throughout their lifespan to reduce the likelihood of accidents. Keeping the floor clean and in a good state of repair takes them a long way, but today it is important that the floor complies with EN 14904, the European standard for multi-purpose sports halls.

Floors are designed to provide a safe surface, allowing users to perform at their best, but suitability and safety can change over time due to wear and tear and is also dependent on the way the floor is maintained and repaired. Different types of flooring will have different lifespans, will wear in different ways, and can be more or less easy to repair and maintain according to type. Loss of performance and risk of injury often go hand in hand and school building managers need to be aware of the condition of their floors.

Scenarios where floors can fail include – Wear and tear causing loss of slip resistance resulting in slips, falls and injuries

Synthetic floors, e.g., vinyl and linoleum, will wear smooth resulting in loss of slip resistance. There is no practical way to restore this. A solid hardwood floor which is periodically resealed ensures the slip resistance will be largely constant through the floor’s life.

Failure of welded or glued seams in synthetic sheet floors (e.g., vinyl and linoleum)

Seams within synthetic floors are usually a weak point and can be a trip hazard if they fail. Repair needs to be done by a specialist contractor. This is often expensive, and the repair will rarely be as strong as the original seam. Hardwood floors do not have seams – tongue and grove wooden floors cannot fail in this way. Generally, hardwood floors are easier and cheaper to repair than synthetic floors and they can be fully refurbished.

Loss of strength through long-term impact – risk of the floor breaking under impact

Many “system” floor suppliers selling synthetic floors will use components from multiple sources which means it can be very difficult to be sure exactly what has been installed on any given project. Synthetic floor system “manufacturers” (they are usually purchasers of other company’s products and don’t manufacture anything themselves) usually do not publish detailed specifications of their materials so they can have flexibility of price and supplier when pricing floors. However, this means the client has little quality assurance. For load bearing parts of the floor such as the timber deck and battens, long term impact resistance will vary, and deck repairs to vinyl floors are a major undertaking. Rubber pads etc. can vary in quality resulting in permanent compression. Solid hardwood floor manufacturers will supply a floorboard all made from the same material and the better manufacturers will provide a detailed specification of all materials within the system, including the undercarriage. Therefore, what is supplied to the client will be very consistent and more clearly defined.

Older floors may not comply with current safety and performance standards

Activity floors will usually comply with EN 14904. Compliant floors offer levels of safety for users including the right level of slip resistance, shock absorption, surface deformation, and other performance related criteria. It is not mandatory for floors to comply with this standard, but in our experience, it is almost unheard of today for a designer to specify an activity floor that does not comply with this standard. Many client bodies, including the Department for Education, insist on this standard for all sports and activity spaces in schools and colleges in England. The floor manufacturer should be able to produce a test report from an independent lab that proves the floor complies with all relevant parts of EN 14904.

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