In Raleigh, N.C., two 3 year olds climbed a 5-foot fence and escaped from a KinderCare child care center. They were found 35 minutes after being reported missing -- and after they crossed a four-lane road.
In 2001, 2-year old Bresnan wandered away from his Connecticut residence to a playground that was less than 8 yards from a pond. He fell into the pond and drowned. A jury awarded the parents $2.2 million since the pond was an “attractive nuisance” near the playground.
Public playgrounds are places for children to have fun, play, grow, learn, and socialize. They should not be places where they may be injured or killed. Many documents--and even laws-- have been written to protect children from hazards on playgrounds, most notably the CPSC Handbook for Public Playground Safety and ASTM Standards. Many states have adopted one or both of these into law, either in their entirety or certain portions.
So how do you protect a playground and the children who play there? Various questions have been raised about ASTM #F2049, which addresses the “Standard Guide for Fences/Barriers for Public, Commercial, and Multi-Family Residential Use Outdoor Play Areas.” This article will set the record straight on its purpose.
Setting The Standard
Published in October 2000, the ASTM #F2049 fencing standard sets out to minimize the likelihood of injury or death. A primary concern is vehicular intrusion into a playground-- a vehicle crashing through a “fence.” Another potential problem is kids climbing a fence, squeezing through openings (in it or under it) and running away from a play area and into a street or nearby body of water. A fence may deter baseballs, soccer balls and other intrusions from striking children using the playground, as well as hindering ball players from chasing runaway balls into the playground. The standard also addresses the minimum height (48 inches based on kids under 5 years old) for a gate latch in order to “limit or delay” a child from opening the gate. It specifies the latch should be shielded to prevent lacerations to a child’s face.
Fencing also minimizes the likelihood of children being easily abducted. It is important to note fencing is in addition to supervision. Also, no statement in any of the ASTM Standards is a guarantee that a child won’t be injured.
Lawsuits And Legalities
It matters little in this litigious world whether a standard is mandatory, a guide, a law or designated by any other term. It is considered the “standard of care,” and allowed to be admitted into a lawsuit as evidence. Individuals, whether employed and “protected” by their agencies (private or governmental), have a high level of exposure to being personally liable. Even though one may have “immunity” for a negligent act performed (or not) while employed, one may still be personally liable if that act is found to be grossly negligent. So pay close attention to the rules.
If the fencing standard is not considered in playground design, construction and safety assessments, one can be vulnerable. Many experts have used the fencing standard for inspections and audits for some time. If a child is injured or dies, the inspector can at least say that the fence was inspected and met the standard, or recommend that a fence be installed or fixed.
An Abundance Of Resources
One problem with the ASTM #F2049 Standard is that it does not identify minimum or maximum distances a playground must be from hazards, such as parking lots, low-speed or high-speed traffic, water hazards (lakes, ponds, etc.), railroad tracks, ball fields, etc., in order for the playground to be considered vulnerable. But other resources that note these distances can be referenced in order to determine whether a fence or barrier should be in place.
The following references to playgrounds and fencing illustrate some of the documents that reinforce the applicability of the ASTM #F2049 fencing standard:
· “Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds” (2004) by Joe Frost, Pei-San Brown, et al. On page 227 is a “Playground Checklist” used “as an aid to planning and evaluating playgrounds.”
· National Association for the Education of Young Children (N.A.E.Y.C.) provides a list of child-care centers with “Safe Active Play” video and another NAEYC video for playground safety.
· “Playground Safety Manual” by Tom Jambor and S. Donald Palmer (1991).
· National ResourceCenter for Health and Safety in Child Care
· “Playground Safety Is No Accident” (P.S.I.N.A.) (both the 2nd and 3rd editions)
· State of Florida laws on child-care centers. Chapter 65C-22, has the following basic requirements:
--Play area is fenced in accordance with accepted safety practices and local ordinances to prevent access by children to all water hazards (pools, ditches, ponds).
--Fence (and gate) are continuous without gaps that allow children to exit play area.
--Base of fence is at ground level.
--Fence or wall is at least 48 inches high.
--No fence is required if all of the following standards are met for school-age children:
1) Children in play area are at least 5 years old.
2) An additional (to the ratios) staff member is present.
3) Outdoor area is bordered (protected) from a public street with speed limits of or less than 25 mph (posted or not) or if equal to or less than 35 mph, and the playground is a minimum of 30 feet from the road.
4) Licensing agency gives permission to the center to have no fence.
Scott Burton owned and operated a major playground/park manufacturing company and sold it to continue as an international safety consultant. In the industry since 1981, he now owns Safety Play Inc., and travels the United States as well as overseas. He is a Certified Playground Safety Inspector, and is also S.A.F.E.-certified by the National Program for Playground Safety. Burton can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.