The arrival of spring stirs a desire for all of us to get outside and head to local parks and playgrounds. For years, OneBeacon Government Risks has posted spring reminders for local governments to inspect their parks and playgrounds ahead of the busy season. Inspections are a great time to take care of issues that may have occurred during the winter. However, public entities should be sure to inspect playgrounds and parks throughout the year. Inspections should be thorough enough to identify and fix underlying issues that cause continued problems, as well as to identify maintenance to equipment and surfaces.
Why aren’t inspections happening?
Public play facilities often receive heavy use but are afforded only marginal (quantity and quality) inspections and maintenance. The reasons might be budget cuts, personnel hiring freezes or downsizing of staff; generally it comes down to manpower.
“The price tag for the new composite play equipment looked very manageable along with the utilization of engineered wood chips in the use zone around and under the equipment. What was not planned for was the long term commitment of additional manpower needed to frequently rake the wood chips back under the swings, at the end of the slide and anywhere else feet pound the surface frequently. This redistribution of ground cover material is essential to maintain the shock absorbing quality as originally installed and required. Some shock absorbing mats in these high frequency traffic locations can help reduce the large manpower demand for re-raking and allowing for manpower to be redirected to inspections.”
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says falls are the most common hazard pattern (44% of injuries) followed by equipment-related hazards, such as breakage, tip over, design and assembly (23%). Other hazard patterns involved entrapment and children colliding with other children or stationary equipment.
Playground safety starts during the acquisition phase. And, since falls are a very common playground hazard pattern, the installation and maintenance of protective surfacing under and around all equipment is crucial to protect children from severe head injuries. It is important to consider manpower and budgetary needs for upkeep when choosing equipment type, etc. Ensure there is enough manpower to handle both inspections and maintenance when designing a playground, as well as budget reserves to fund repairs. Because of these reasons, engineered wood chips may need to be paired with other alternative such as poured rubber or rubber safety tile, especially if your manpower is lacking.
When considering manpower needed for inspections, know this:
- Annual inspections should be performance-based rather than objective in nature. In other words, the in-depth inspection process should include verification that equipment meets the various measurements included in CPSC’s Public Playground Safety Handbook
- The more frequent inspections can be objective and may identify worn parts, vandalism, raking needs of loose-fill surface materials, as well as your success or failure in area cleanliness efforts.
- In the event of a serious injury, reports from past inspections will be requested by lawyers on both sides. Each side will be looking for evidence of negligence or proficiency.
- Having a Certified Playground Safety Inspector on staff can help you develop programs to identify and document conditions (good as well as deficiencies) and recommend upgrades in the overall playground safety program.
For more information on playground safety, see the below additional resources. Whether or not you were able to intercept the planning for safety and maintenance during the design of the playground, inspections still need to happen frequently and consistently in order to ensure a safe play environment.
If you have questions on how to better manage your risk regarding playgrounds, contact us at OBGRRiskControl@onebeacongov.com.
“Playing it Safe: Are Your Community Playgrounds Adequately Protected?” By Kenny Smith, CSP