Feature Article - November 2016
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The Playground Checkup

Safe, Long-Lasting Playgrounds Require Standardized Maintenance Practices

By Rick Dandes

Monthly or quarterly planned inspections, Hardesty said, would cover such items as: broken equipment such as loose bolts, missing hardware or cracks in the equipment; loose anchoring; insect infestation or insect damage; problems with surfacing; vandalism; and rust, corrosion or rot.

Ulrich agreed, "To help keep a play space well-maintained, it's important to look for potential hazards such as sharp points, corners and edges, protrusions, tripping hazards, hardware and maintenance installation, among others."

With poor maintenance being responsible for some 36 percent of all playground injuries, McConkey said, it's vital that your organization develop a suitable preventive maintenance program. Manufacturers can help, suggesting that owner-operators remember these rules:

  • Be thorough. A maintenance checklist shouldn't merely say, "Check swing hanger for excessive wear." Instead, it should say, "Replace swing hanger when worn to 50 percent of original diameter."
  • Maintain records. Being able to show who did the inspections, when they were performed, what the results were, and what repairs were made can be important when you're faced with a possible lawsuit.
  • Inspections aren't just to ensure proper maintenance. They can also help you identify hazards from equipment that was improperly designed or installed in the past. Several manufacturers suggest doing a safety audit of all your playgrounds to ensure compliance with current ASTM, CPSC and ADA guidelines. Whenever possible, have such audits performed by a staff member or outside consultant who has completed the Certified Playground Safety Inspector training via the National Recreation and Park Association. (For more information on this education and certification program, visit www.nrpa.org/CPSI.)

Preventing, Recovering From Vandalism & Graffiti

Short of having 24-hour guards monitoring and securing the area, vandalism and graffiti can't always be averted, but Durand, in Alaska, said his department has a good prevention record through thoughtful design. "For example," he said, "we recently designed and installed a park that uses the synthetic turf with sand infill, poured concrete seat walls with anti-graffiti coating, stainless-steel slides, smaller-caliper powder-coated steel structures and eliminated large plastic pieces—canvases for graffiti. This was a renovated project in an area that is subject to significant vandalism and graffiti."

Start by selecting play equipment from a manufacturer that puts its products through rigorous testing, Ulrich said. "Most manufacturers' products are durable and will withstand some level of misuse and even offer some remedies for products such as repair materials or graffiti remover. The best way to prevent misuse and vandalism is supervision. However, products will likely be misused, marked with graffiti and/or destroyed. If a product is vandalized to the point that it is not safe, prevent the product from being used and call the manufacturer for replacement parts."

Nobody wants graffiti in a play area. The owner-operator will want to remove it quickly when it does happen, Hardesty said. It is important to contact the manufacturer of the piece exposed to ensure that proper materials are being used. Major manufacturers often sell graffiti removers that are not harmful to the coating of their equipment. Some store-purchased products can have corrosives that will be harmful to the equipment or users. Never apply any chemical to the equipment without checking the MSDS sheets and getting approval from the manufacturer first."

The best prevention, Spencer suggested, is to get the community actively involved at your park. Much like neighborhood watch programs, the more eyes and ears involved, the less likely someone is going to engage in vandalism.

"If it does occur," she said, "damaged equipment should be replaced to reduce the likelihood of injury. If the playground is subjected to graffiti, there are graffiti remover solvents available, as well as touch-up paint to deal with the problem. The faster graffiti is removed, the stronger the signal that this site is well cared for, and vandals may stay away. If you can utilize lighting at night, this also helps deter vandals as they prefer to work in places where they aren't readily seen."