Feature Article - January 2014
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Managing Risk

Protect Your Patrons, Protect Your Facility

By Deborah L. Vence


Peter Whitley, programs director at the Tony Hawk Foundation, an organization that supports recreational programs with a focus on the creation of public skateboard parks in low-income communities, said communities work with risks and skateboarding in skateparks on a community-by-community basis.

"But, we're starting to see now probably 4,000 skateparks in the nation. Trends now that are developing regionally, rather than individually, tend to have more regulation and are more risk-averse, while other states might be more lenient," he said.

Some communities impose height restrictions on the built space, for instance, while others may not.

"In the Pacific Northwest, in western Washington and Oregon, in particular, there are dozens of terrific skateparks that don't engage in risk management practices," he said. "They are treated as any other recreational attraction. To my knowledge, there haven't been any problems.

"Most skateboarding injuries occur for those who have been skateboarding for a short amount of time. They will slip and land on their wrists," which can result in a sprain or fracture.

"That's pretty common. There are not a whole lot of head injuries. Fatalities occur in the street, and most involve a motor vehicle. The rest involve what we refer to as losing control of the board. What I suspect is that people will buy longboards, and cruise around town. And, then they will go down a hill and will not have developed the skills for stopping and avoiding obstacles and things like that," he said.

That's why, ultimately, one of the things communities can do is to find a legitimate place for people to skate.

Indoor skateparks will be in a building that needs to be up to code and need insurance for that attraction, with maintenance expectations, too.

Municipalities will have solid liability and solid insurance policies. But, cities are not liable on a soccer field for a sprained ankle, for example, because that's an inherent risk. Skateboarders understand it is an inherently recreational activity. Therefore, they assume some responsibility.

Indoor skateparks, being a business, require a different kind of insurance framework. The expectation is that they would keep people in that building reasonably safe. Skaters using the indoor facility will have to sign a waiver and pay to use the facility.

Moreover, when parks strictly enforce knee and elbow pads, skaters often will go into the streets, and abandon the helmets and pad laws.

So, "They've displaced those skaters and created a facility that's unattractive to the local users, [prompting skaters to] return to the streets and risk being hit by cars. Those laws work against the best interest of those communities," Whitley said. "We do recognize that strict enforcement in communities can lead to skaters being displaced and lead them back to the streets and make it unattractive for youth."

Whitley noted that a program called Drop Into Skateboarding involves training skateboard instructors and establishing strategies for creating safe skateboarding programs.

"What they do is work with a community that has a skatepark and trains those community leaders on how to train the staff and how to structure classes for the youth. And, they go through [training] on how to fall, how to avoid collisions [as well]," Whitley said.

"We have lots of resources for people to explore skateboard development further," he added. "There are a lot of factors, and we encourage people to investigate the issue before they start launching into the design or policy decisions."