Feature Article - January 2018
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Play It Safe

Staying Educated & Knowing Best Practices Key to Playground Safety

By Deborah L. Vence

Playground Maintenance

The types of maintenance that are best for playgrounds can entail a lengthy list, but the short answer is that "it depends on what equipment and type of surfacing you have," Burton said.

"Pick up trash, check for loose or worn hardware, pits under swings and slides, etc. The CPSI course is recommended, but still hire that third party for reasons stated earlier," he said.

Constant maintenance and periodic inspections are crucial in order to maintain a safe playground.

Mainella praised the Eppley Institute for its maintenance courses. "These are [for] folks that work in play areas, in general, how to keep it safe, how to keep it maintained," she said.

The Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands offers Playground Maintenance Technician (PMT) training nationally.

"This training focuses on practical playground maintenance practices, inspection principles and best practices in making repairs targeting the park maintenance technician who is in the field daily," Wolter said.

"The curriculum, developed by the Park District Risk Management Association (PDRMA)," he added, "explores maintenance challenges associated with the common materials found in playgrounds. PMT trainees learn about the types of playground inspections, how to repair damaged equipment and associated legal considerations. A virtual playground offers participants the opportunity to apply newly learned skills."

The PMT differs from and complements the CPSI.

"PMT empowers an agency's front-line staff to identify and correct hazardous situations before they result in an injury. The PMT curriculum teaches staff the skills necessary to address maintenance issues quickly and efficiently, resulting in safer play structures in real time," Wolter said. "The CPSI certification focuses on evaluating a playground's compliance by judging equipment and surfacing against current AS™ standards and the CPSI handbook. Each agency really needs both types of trained personnel."

Mainella added that "It's meant to train the regular workers that are out there on the playground."

But, in general, she said, "it's important that the leadership of departments of communities and schools observe the children playing, observe play on the equipment. Be a casual observer."

For example, "What do you notice about the flow of use of equipment? Or where are they fetching up on the surface?' It's important to do regular re-inspections to make sure that it is meeting the standards," she said.

Always check for hazards, for instance. Know how to make repairs in a safe way. What's also important is doing the inspections on a systematic basis—a weekly basis. And, consider how often playgrounds are used, as well as weather conditions.

"People need their play areas so much more after a crisis. [It's important] to somehow [find a way to] make those play areas safe as quickly as possible, so they can be out there. I saw the stress on the people here [referring to the aftermath of Hurricane Irma]. They needed their play areas back again," Mainella added.

Common Mistakes

Sometimes playground owners make mistakes, with some of the most common ones being "Assuming their playgrounds are safe when they may not be, lack of maintenance and adequate audits and inspections, lack of proper signs or labels. Leaving things go until a lawsuit appears, then they need expensive lawyers and expert witnesses," Burton said.

Yet another mistake is becoming too complacent and not checking things on a regular basis and the condition of the playground, Mainella said.

"Don't wait for the complaint call to come in," she said. "You might have to be replacing equipment. Don't become complacent. Make sure you are regularly looking at the equipment and meeting the needs of the community, being safe. You might have to understand those needs and understand the fact that there is always some risk.

"Even though someone gets hurt—take a deep breath and, again, remove the hazards," she added. "There is always going to be some risk and there is some incident with risk."