A worn, rusty S-hook at the top of a swing gives way, and a child tumbles to the ground.
Another child falls from a climber onto a surface where mulch hasn’t been replenished in more than a year.
Still another child happily playing with friends slips on the playground and is cut on broken glass.
These types of accidents can easily be prevented if maintenance folks practice high-frequency playground inspections. These routine inspections take a minimal amount of time, and are the ideal way to maintain a safe playground between comprehensive inspections by certified safety inspectors.
Why Are They Needed?
Of course, children’s safety is the priority. Maintenance employees responsible for routine tasks, such as trash pick-up or mowing, can be trained to spot an S-hook that needs replacing, notice and discard a broken bottle, or report that mulch needs to be replenished. In addition, high-frequency inspections can help avoid and reduce an agency’s exposure to litigation due to a playground accident.
High-frequency playground inspections usually are conducted on a daily to weekly basis to identify and correct potential hazards. Maintenance employees can either correct the hazards they find immediately or, if they encounter a more serious problem, report it to superiors for correction. If necessary, the equipment may need to be rendered “unusable” for a period of time until repairs can be made. “Quick fixes” with temporary devices--such as wiring a broken chain or using a small bolt (the only size that can be found where a large one is missing)--are inappropriate and should not be tolerated.
What Needs To Be Done?
Start by inspecting the playground for obvious safety concerns, those simple to identify, and remove or correct, such as removing trash or glass, raking mulch material back into fall zones beneath and around play equipment, and sweeping debris from walkways to prevent slipping hazards. Next, correct would-be problems, such as twisted swing chains, broken or loose components, exposed footings and vandalism.
Typically a high-frequency inspection form is designed and customized for specific playgrounds:
· The name and location of the playground
· The date and name of the employee conducting the inspection
· A general inspection list of items/hazards to be identified
· A specific list of the playground components (whether free-standing or parts of a composite unit)
· A series of codes indicating whether a listed item is OK or needs some type of corrective attention
· Space for additional comments.
What Are The Hazards?
There are three primary types of hazards on a playground:
· Materials/trash hazards--These include trash, cans, bottles, broken glass, sharp objects, miscellaneous debris, low-hanging or damaged tree branches and even animal feces. Wearing gloves to pick up and discard most, if not all items, is always a good idea.
· Equipment/facility hazards--These include broken equipment, missing parts, loose bolts, uncapped ends of pipes and kinked, twisted or broken chains. In cases where needed corrections go beyond simple bolt tightening or untwisting chains, employees may need to contact the manufacturer for replacement parts.
· Surfacing hazards--Since 70 percent of playground injuries involve falls, regular upkeep on surfacing is imperative. Regardless of the type of surfacing, employees can easily make playgrounds safer by raking areas of compacted materials, and by making sure footings are adequately covered. Of particular importance when checking loose-fill surfacing, the depth of the material must be measured to be sure that it is deep enough for the fall-height of the equipment. For poured-in-place surfacing or rubber tiles/mats, sweeping may be required.
The Difference In Inspections
It’s important to realize the difference between high-frequency and low-frequency inspections, as well as safety audits, and their individual roles in playground safety. Although high-frequency inspections are highlighted in this article, they should be viewed as a way to help maintain safe playgrounds between the more in-depth--usually annual--low-frequency inspections that must be conducted by certified playground safety inspectors.
The low-frequency inspection:
· Involves a detailed, itemized inventory of all playground components
· Examines and evaluates the structural integrity and wear concerns of each piece.
Ideally, annual low-frequency inspections should follow a one-time, formal, comprehensive playground audit which:
· Identifies, evaluates. and prioritizes safety issues
· Addresses accessibility as reflected in the American with Disabilities Act requirements
· Provides a schematic design of the layout and use zones, and determines age/size appropriateness, environmental issues and border concerns.
Audits should be performed prior to children using new or renovated playgrounds. If an agency with existing playgrounds has only recently recognized the importance and benefit of inspections, an initial playground safety audit can be performed to establish a baseline report for low-frequency inspections in the future. Although every potential safety concern in a playground cannot be covered, such as child developmental differences, the most common safety concerns are addressed in these inspections.
Training employees to perform high-frequency safety inspections can provide that “ounce of prevention” for safer playgrounds and safer children.
Dr. Marilynn R. Glasser, CPRP, owns Parks and Pastimes, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in dog parks. She can be reached at (800) 967-2757 or via e-mail at www.parksandpastimes.com.