Feature Article - March 2011
Find a printable version here

Play It Safe

Improving Safety for Your Play Spaces

By Kelli Anderson

But, safety was key and something Learning Circle set out to implement all along the way by using a designer certified in playground safety as well as involving a certified playground safety inspector (CPSI) to consult during the beginning, middle and end of the project to make recommendations or give the seal of approval as the project progressed. The result was a playground that, while untraditional in form, applied traditional safety guidelines to all its components.

"We liked the fact that Ron was certified on playground safety and took it very seriously, as do we," Stern said. "These playgrounds are such a hit. Anybody doing this, if they're smart, are going to be responsible and do everything they can with guidelines and common sense in their back pocket to make it as safe as possible."

Even in the traditional world of play equipment manufacturing, however, designers are creating new kinds of equipment that require the guidelines to stretch, rethink and reformulate their position. That is when finding a manufacturer with a proven track record in safety-minded design is a must.

"The biggest challenge is designing equipment for which there are no specific requirements," said Randy Watermiller, president elect of IPEMA for 2012. "Usually this can create questions related to compliance. However, I think the National Playground Safety Institute (NPSI) has done a great job of training playground safety inspectors to not deem equipment unsafe or non-compliant just because they don't fit into an existing category. They recommend addressing general hazards, and if need be, contact the designer/manufacturer to gain a better perspective of the design intent."

McConkey agreed, saying that in reality, standards for new equipment designs are always lagging anywhere from six months to a year by the time new play equipment is reviewed and revised. "That's not a bad thing," he conceded, "but it means you have to balance pushing the envelope to create more exciting, engaging environments that give kids what they need and yet have the widest appeal for those owners who need to follow the standards and be compliant from a risk standpoint. What we have to do is apply the known standard to the new equipment to make sure that we can apply the standards as they exist even though it is a new piece of equipment that doesn't neatly fall into a classification."

According to McConkey, a successful result happens when safety standards are applied, and kids are engaged on multiple levels that challenge them physically, mentally, socially and emotionally. That's a tall order but one that truly safety-conscious designers and manufacturers are trying to fill.