After a long, frigid winter across much of the United States, the official first day of spring this week is a welcome sign that warmer weather is in our near future! As we transition from winter to spring, it’s likely that your entity’s playgrounds and equipment will soon enjoy the return of little sneakers on your play sets, squeals of laughter in your air and nearby adults supervising their youngsters.
To keep these visitors safe, it’s important to ‘spring clean’ your playgrounds and ensure surfaces, equipment and animal pest protection are all up to par.
The first part of your playground that should be inspected is the condition of the fall and landing surfaces. Heavy snow, rainfall, and ice accumulation during the low-use winter months may result in compacted surfaces typically comprised of natural materials such as wood fiber, sand and pea gravel.
These surfaces should be turned, tilled or raked to loosen the material and instill air into the material which will provide greater efficiency and cushion to minimize injury. Most likely, additional material will be required to bring the fall surfaces up to the specified depth as outlined in the Handbook for Public Playground Safety.
Hardware, Fasteners and Fittings
After playground surfaces have been appropriately inspected and filled as needed, playground equipment should be checked for missing, loose or worn hardware, fasteners and fittings such as nuts, bolts, washers, S-hooks and chains. Remember that any replacement items MUST be identical to the original hardware – as well as installed in the same manner and direction – in order to preserve protections to the children from impalement, entrapment or strangulation hazards.
If there is any doubt regarding replacement hardware requirements, contact the manufacturer of the playground equipment and/or the installation contractor.
Stinging Insects, Poisonous Spiders and Other Pests
Activity areas, enclosed spaces (such as tube slides) and areas underneath playground equipment are often overlooked aspects of playground maintenance. These are places where undesirable creatures frequently tend to find refuge during the winter months and it is not uncommon to find nests for wasps, hornets or bees in or around playground equipment structures. Likewise, poisonous spiders such as the Black Widow or Brown Recluse are attracted to the same areas.
Rodents such as rats, mice and squirrels also choose to take up temporary residence in or under playground structures. The likelihood of rodents presenting an immediate danger to children is small, as they most likely will flee. However, their nests, urine and feces deposits do create a health hazard and should be thoroughly cleaned from all playground equipment.
Should you need to apply pesticides on, in or around playground equipment, the playgrounds should be placarded as “Closed due to pesticide application,” making sure that multiple signs are posted with a date the playground will return to service. Check with your local health department for suggestions on proper pesticides for use where children are present.
When inspecting your playground equipment and surfaces, it’s recommended that you work with a Certified Playground Safety Inspector. If your entity doesn’t have a Certified Playground Safety Inspector on staff, the National Recreation and Parks Association provides a registry of CPSI’s by state where you can find someone in your area.
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