Four Keys to Building a Safe Field

Wide receivers, outfielders, strikers - they're all athletes who give their all, ready to sacrifice their bodies to help their team win. Make no mistake, sports are dangerous enough without having to worry about the field itself adding to the risk of injury.

Unfortunately, though, it appears that there is reason to worry. In an effort to cut costs and obtain contracts, some synthetic turf companies have been compromising the safety of athletes by installing fields with insufficient amounts of infill – the cushioning layer of the turf system which absorbs impact on falls.

On a synthetic turf field, player safety starts with the infill. More infill means better shock absorption. It’s that simple. A stone or concrete base lies underneath the turf. These surfaces are very hard and can cause serious injury. That’s where the infill comes into play.

Installed between the base and the turf fibers, the infill literally is the cushioning layer of the turf system.

It’s vital to have enough infill within your turf to protect the players when they fall. In this article, we’ll take a look at what you can do to ensure that your synthetic turf field is safe for your players to play on.

Key #1

Have a minimum infill depth of 1.5 inches. Through innovation, testing and research, it’s been established that 1.5″ of infill depth is the minimum level of infill that’s safe for athletes playing contact sports such as football, soccer, lacrosse, etc. Testing shows that anything less will quickly increase surface hardness (measured as Gmax) to unacceptable levels.

Key #2

Have a minimum infill weight of 6 pounds per square foot. Safety studies indicate that the minimum infill weight for acceptable safety and long term Gmax results is 6 pounds of infill per square foot – anything less is compromising the safety of the athletes playing on the surface.

Key #3

Demand infill quantity weight from every turf company. This is the first step and probably the most important. It is important that you get companies to commit, in writing, to the infill weight they plan on installing.

This should come in the form of a Product Specification Sheet. If the infill quantity isn’t stated, ask the vendor to commit to a weight. This will remove any possibilities for your supplier to cut corners when building your field.

The reality is that very few companies list infill values on their specifications. And those that do will often list a ratio, percentage or volume – not a weight.

Most will mask infill weight with a “70/30” ratio of rubber to sand, without specifying the total weight of the system. So, for example, you could be getting 2 pounds of rubber and 0.8 pounds of sand.

Others will list an infill depth, without mentioning the material breakdown per weight. Withholding sand and placing 3.5 pounds of rubber may get competitors close to 1.5″ depth at installation, but migration will affect the stability of the field in the very near term.

Key #4

The safety of a field is set by infill and not by the quantity of fiber.

Adding more turf fibers per square foot costs fractions of a penny. For this reason, it might be very tempting for some companies to promote fiber at the expense of infill. The amount of fiber plays no part in how safe your field is. Nor will it have any effect on how your field looks.

To date, there’s not one shred of scientific data showing that adding more fiber will make your playing surface safer. There is, however, plenty of scientific data that shows that adding more infill will indeed make your field safer.

Now, adding infill to ensure your field is safer will likely add up-front costs. The good news is you’ll very likely be able to recoup a portion of those costs due to a reduction in medical bills.

A reduction in injuries will also likely have a positive impact on your team’s performance. All things considered, the increase in costs isn’t so steep – especially while considering that your mind will be at ease knowing that your players are playing on a safe surface.

Conclusion:  When building your field, specify the minimum infill weight to ensure optimal safety. It’s well worth the investment.

About the Author
Tom Wilson, an ex-football coach and player, is now regarded as a Turf expert and acts as a key contributor to the FieldTurf Blog. Tom has seen the Turf industry evolve from the original AstroTurf to the high performance products of today.