Feature Article - January 2014
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Play It Safe

The Latest Playground Safety Trends

By Chris Gelbach


Selecting the appropriate surface is only possible when the equipment and playground layout it accompanies is also taken into account. "When people are verifying or installing a new piece of equipment, the mistake I see is that they don't consult a professional to ask them where to put their equipment or what kind of surfacing to use with the type of equipment they're buying," said John Damyanovich, a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) and the owner of Playground Police in Mesa, Ariz.

A variety of programs exist to certify this professional knowledge, including the CPSI Certification from the National Recreation and Park Association (www.nrpa.org) and the Outdoor Play Inspectors Programs from the National Program for Playground Safety (playgroundsafety.org).

Damyanovich recommends bringing in such a consultant at the beginning of the process. "The CPSI should be consulted when you decide you're going to buy a piece of equipment," he said, "so you know that you're buying the right equipment, you're spending the right amount of money in the right areas, you're buying the right surfacing to go with the equipment. It's the totality of the whole playground environment that the CPSI is looking at."

A knowledgeable playground inspector can also help guide you through the process to ensure you're securing the right documentation to protect your organization for liability purposes. "You want to have compliance documents for your swing saying it passed the impact test," said Caroline Smith, playground safety manager for the National Recreation and Park Association. "A lot of people buy equipment and are not even aware of the documentation they should be getting from the manufacturer or the surfacing provider, and that puts you at a disadvantage right off the bat."

When it comes to surfacing, it's important to ensure that the slope of the area is appropriate before construction begins. "The slope is not created by the surfacing supplier but by the person who did the grading and preparation of the area so that surfacing can go down," said Hendy. "So our contractors and owners need to be more aware of the importance of maintaining these slopes when it comes to accessibility."

For this and other reasons, selecting a contractor with a proven track record of playground installations is critical. "If you're just going to hire the cheapest bid, and they've never put in a playground before, they may cause some unintended issues just because they're not aware of the standards and guidelines they need to follow," Damyanovich said.

Smith also recommends that an independent expert be brought in to do a final inspection on the playground, even if your manufacturer or construction contact is also certified. "It's just a safety check," she said. "Instead of completely relying on the people you're paying for the equipment or the installation, I think the better practice is to bring in an independent CPSI to evaluate that equipment at the end."

It's also good to plan for the regular maintenance of the equipment upon purchase, and to buy replacement parts that will be needed over time—particularly since the equipment warranty may be voided if the manufacturer-recommended parts aren't used.

"You want to think ahead to keep certain parts on hand, when you do have equipment with moving parts, you have the parts to replace them," Damyanovich said. "Once you buy it, it's not over with. You have to maintain it, you have to inspect it, you have to keep the life cycle and the functionality of that equipment going."

The inspection plan is something that can also be determined before the playground opens, though it may be modified over time since factors such as the number of users, their age, the age of the equipment, vandalism and the environment can influence how often the equipment needs to be checked.

"They ought to inspect the playground at least once a month if not more frequently if people are using it a lot," Thompson said. "And they certainly ought to do as big an inspection as they can at least once a year."