Feature Article - September 2011
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Maintenance: Grounds

Playgrounds: Safety & Maintenance Go Hand-in-Hand

By Dawn Klingensmith

The pictorial collection of mishaps and mess-ups on Failblog.org includes two playground photos side by side. The first shows a tot at the top of a plastic corkscrew slide. The second is a close-up of what awaits this poor child at the bottom of the slide. It appears someone has patched a hole there with a piece of scrap wood and some nails with the heads sticking up. The headline: "Playground Maintenance Fail."

Some reader comments:

"That's got to be at least 4-ply!"

"I wood say something, butt…"

"They forgot the vat of piranhas underneath."

We laugh because the photographer—probably an incredulous parent—undoubtedly prevented the child from going down the slide and getting injured. But for parks and recreation managers, playground maintenance is no laughing matter, especially where safety is concerned. Not only can poorly maintained equipment cause injuries, but it can also lead to lawsuits, said Mark Baker, vice president of a playground design company based in Vista, Calif., and a certified playground safety inspector.

Legally, "There's a big difference between negligence and an accident," he said. And accidents will happen "unless you put each child in a rubber suit or something."

But negligence does not have to happen, especially given there are industry guidelines and published standards for playground maintenance and inspection.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and ASTM International both publish playground safety standards that address maintenance.

"From a manufacturer standpoint, our membership companies provide maintenance recommendations that come with the equipment," said Tom Norquist, marketing committee chair of the International Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) and senior vice president of corporate innovation of a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based playground manufacturer.

In addition, manufacturers that are members of IPEMA offer training on how to maintain the playground equipment and surfacing they sell, Norquist said.

Proper maintenance, in accordance with manufacturers' instructions, will help prolong the life of the equipment; however, most playground equipment is designed to last 10 to 15 years without requiring a lot of maintenance to maintain its appearance and functionality, Baker said. If longevity is important, consider a shade structure over the equipment, Baker suggested, because direct sunlight causes fading and deterioration.

"There's a big difference between
negligence and an accident."