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Feature Article - March 2013

Protect Yourself

Effective Risk Management Needs Strategy, Supervision

By Deborah L. Vence


You never can be too careful when it comes to ensuring that your patrons are safe at your facilities, which is why having the right risk management policies and strategies in place are so important.

And yet, risk management strategies only can be effective if they are developed and supported by the highest levels in an organization, said Kevin Hoffman, director of member services for the Park District Risk Management Agency (PDRMA) in Lisle, Ill., an organization that specializes in developing, implementing and monitoring customized loss-control programs.

"This may be an agency, board of directors or agency director. To be effective, a good risk management policy is only as good as the actions and support provided by management. If they are going to 'talk the talk, you've got to walk the walk,'" Hoffman said. "Support for risk management can be shown through director attendance at safety committee meetings, budgeting for risk management programs and holding staff accountable for not following established safety practices."

Hoffman, along with other risk management experts, offered up feedback on the effective strategies recreation facilities should adopt to deal with risk management, as well as the rules or laws such facilities should know and be abiding by.

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Facilities that protect themselves from possible legal action, due to an injury, are able to do so because of formal and documented inspection of facilities, parks, playgrounds and equipment.

That is, "Scheduled safety and maintenance inspections first work to prevent injuries from occurring, as they can uncover any hazards or maintenance issues that need to be corrected. In essence, no injuries, no lawsuits," Hoffman said.

However, when an injury and corresponding litigation does occur, inspection documentation shows a conscious regard for safety in that your agency has implemented a proactive and timely system to identify hazards and correct them, thus, preventing injuries.

"Good quality and comprehensive inspection documentation can be a strong affirmative defense that can deter litigation by showing that your agency had taken reasonable steps to identify hazards on a timely basis and correct them," he said.

For example, no one can monitor the condition of outdoor playground equipment all of the time, knowing that vandalism and other hazards can be created or develop between inspections.

"Unless notified of broken equipment by the public or identified by an inspection, it is unreasonable to hold an agency (especially public agencies) liable for injuries that occur from hazards that are unknown to the agency," he said.