Feature Article - September 2011
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Maintenance: Grounds

Playgrounds: Safety & Maintenance Go Hand-in-Hand

By Dawn Klingensmith

"There are 155,000 children injured each year
on playgrounds due to falls, so you want to
make sure your surfacing is up-to-date."

Likewise, children are not deterred by broken equipment and, in some cases, may even be drawn to it, so it's important to fix things as soon as possible.

For liability reasons, Thompson recommends playgrounds post a sign stating that adult supervision is recommended. The wording is important: "Do not put 'required' because that will be interpreted by lawyers as meaning the park should have known to provide supervision," she said.

In addition, post signage indicating which ages each area and play event in the park is suitable for.

Since most parks and recreation departments are experiencing budget woes, Norquist suggests they recruit and deploy volunteers to help with playground maintenance. Many organizations host annual or semiannual volunteer maintenance events to get help to conduct a thorough cleanup, distribute loose-fill surfacing, install benches and other tasks that don't require special skills. Pirate Cove Playground, a community-built playground in Wylie, Texas, makes an event of it, encouraging families to bring picnic lunches and kids 7 and older to pitch in and get their hands dirty.

Volunteering also gives playground users a sense of pride and ownership, so they'll take better care of the park and keep a watchful eye out for vandals.

Playground owners can also reach out to corporations to see if they sponsor paid volunteer days when employees work together on a project. Through such a program, "I built a retaining wall in a playground with a bunch of lawyers," Norquist said. "They had a great time because it was something different, something they don't usually do."

Most parks and recreation departments have at least one staffer who is trained to inspect playgrounds, and a good volunteer program can help ensure the training is put to good use, Hendy said. "If you have them pulling weeds and planting flowers, it takes them away from inspecting playgrounds. Not everyone can identify hazards, but everyone can pull weeds. So, I'm not suggesting that we shift responsibility for identifying hazards onto the public, but there certainly are things they can do" to free up trained inspectors.