Feature Article - March 2013
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Protect Yourself

Effective Risk Management Needs Strategy, Supervision

By Deborah L. Vence

Know the Rules

Besides knowing the safety issues and potential risks involved in running a parks and recreation facility, many new laws have been approved that affect the industry and that facilities need to follow.

"Your staff needs to be aware of them and act to comply. Examples include AED laws, federal accessibility regulations, playground safety standards and soccer goal anchoring requirements. In most states, violations of laws or statutes can create a 'strict liability' environment that can significantly impact your agency's ability to successfully defend itself," Hoffman said.

"This is especially important for public parks and recreation agencies that commonly are afforded state governmental immunities that often cannot be raised as an affirmative defense when a loss or injury is caused by the violation of a statute," he added.

For example, the Soccer Goal Safety and Education Policy, also known as "Zach's Law," is "adopted pursuant to the Illinois Movable Soccer Goal Safety Act. The Act requires [name of park district] to create a policy to outline how it will specifically address the safety issues associated with movable soccer goals." (Zach Tran was a 6-year-old boy who died several years ago after a soccer goal fell on top of him. Less than two year ago, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation that requires all movable soccer goals manufactured and sold in the state of Illinois to be tip-resistant.)

One section of the Soccer Goal Safety and Education Policy states that "prior to the commencement of the soccer season each year, the district will place and secure movable soccer goals on its property in accordance with the safety guidelines. Only the district shall be permitted to move any movable soccer goal the district owns, installs or places on its property. It goes on to say, "Thereafter, if a movable soccer goal becomes unanchored or improperly secured, only authorized personnel shall be permitted to re-secure it in accordance with the safety guidelines."

On top of established rules and regulations, Beckner noted a few other issues that have come about in recent years that facilities should be aware of. They include:

  • An increase in revenue cost recovery has made defense of gross negligence harder to win in court.
  • Systems are more automated, leaving more opportunities for something to go wrong.
  • Use of AS standards places higher burden on providers to meet those standards in adjudicating the court cases.

And, with regulatory issues at the forefront, Gonzales said, "Whether VGB or ADA or other new regulations, our industry has had a lot to plan for in recent years. Some of these can be quite expensive, and it is important we understand the obligation to comply with the law.

"Making our facilities safer or more accessible for more people to enjoy is a good thing. But government also needs to understand the impact to the industry, how solutions are implemented in our unique environments, and make sure the spirit of the law is effectively communicated," she said.

Having safer facilities also means giving more attention to the risk of drowning for children under the age of 6, Gonzales said, noting that there are fewer places for children to learn how to swim.

"Aquatic facilities have become more shallow in pool depth to minimize risk," she said. "In turn, many parents see a shallow pool and a lot of lifeguards and think that it's OK to leave their child on their own.

"Parental supervision and teaching a child to swim not only minimizes risk, but also offers a great experience of family togetherness and provides a life skill for a child to enjoy recreation all their lives," she added. "The recreation industry can do a lot on many fronts to address this issue."