One of the most important aspects of being in charge of a playground is making sure that it is safe for kids. It is imperative that owners of public playground equipment take the initiative to have their equipment inspected by a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI). These people are trained to look for anything that can cause a child debilitating injury or death.
The testing to become a CPSI is very hard and takes weeks of studying. The test covers everything that, as a parent, no one wants to think about. CPSI’s are trained to look for things that will catch your child’s clothing and cause them to hang themselves. They also look for places your child can stick their head into and not be able to get it back out. This is a key point. A young child’s sense of gravity is in its head. Typically, they will try to crawl through things head first because that is what comes naturally. If an opening is large enough for a head, but too small for shoulders, this becomes an entrapment hazard and could cause the child to suffocate. CPSI’s also look for things that could impale or crush a child. If, for example, a piece of equipment is broken and it has a pipe sticking out, this could be considered an impalement hazard. If the child were to fall on it, it could cause the child serious injury or death.
So all of this is some pretty scary stuff right? I know before I became a CPSI I didn’t think for a moment the equipment I allowed my child to play on was dangerous. The reason being…I had no idea what to look for. Parents don’t think about seeing a bolt sticking out too far could cause their child’s drawstrings to catch and hang them. As a parent, and a CPSI, when I see equipment out of compliance I go out of my way to contact the owner.
What should happen when I see that something isn’t quite right? If you are a concerned citizen, contact the owner of the equipment and explain what you have seen. After that, please keep your child off the equipment until it’s repaired. What should I do if I own the equipment? My best advice in this case is if you are not a CPSI yourself, hire one and have the playground inspected. It’s better to spend a little money and be proactive then to suffer the consequences of an “out of safety compliance” lawsuit. Not only do you not want to pay the money, but no one wants to see a child hurt either.
What are some things I can do to be proactive about keeping my playground safe while I am waiting on my inspections? First and foremost…ROPE OFF BROKEN EQUIPMENT! Find some caution tape and tie it off. Do your best to keep kids off of it. Obviously, not every child will pay attention to this, but you have made the effort and that’s what’s important. The other option would be to remove it entirely. Obviously, you don’t want to do that if you have an 8′ deck and you need a barrier replaced. But in some instances this is the best option.
My next suggestion is to check the surfacing. This is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to keep your playground safe. If you have Engineered Wood Fiber, rake it out so that it’s even all over and is 12″ deep. I would also check the exit sections for slides and under swings. Is the ground kicked out? Maybe it’s time to invest in some swing mats. These will help keep the ground from being scooped out by little feet, and keep the area from collecting water. Make sure the playground is free of litter and animal waste. If you have a hole or a spot that is worn in a poured in place or a tile surface, call whoever sold you the surface and get a patch kit or a new tile.
The next thing I would check is the equipment itself. You’re an adult and probably weigh just as much, if not more, than a 12 year old child. If you climb on the equipment and you notice a loose panel or deck, call the manufacturer and get some replacement parts. If you get pinched in a slide opening perhaps it’s best to get that looked at too. Use common sense. Go down the slide, swing on the swings, and play with the moving parts of panels. Chances are if you notice something that is not quite right, a child may just be able to hurt themselves on it. Check for rust. Anything that is rusted out should be replaced immediately.
As a CPSI, I highly recommend you don’t cut corners and try to fix things with parts that are not supposed to go on a playground. I have seen tons of playgrounds that have plywood for barriers. This is a bad idea on so many levels. Plywood attracts bugs. It will also rot after a few months of exposure to the elements. Furthermore, if a child slides their hands across it they’re more than likely to get a splinter or worse. You could also have gaps between the structure and the wood that can cause strangulation or entrapment hazard. Not only that, you could also have caused the structural integrity of the equipment to be faulty. Taking all of this into account, if you have a panel that is broken, rope off the equipment with caution tape and call the manufacturer for a replacement. Don’t use something you have lying around the garage.
I want to point out that residential playground equipment doesn’t have to follow the same rules as commercial equipment because technically it’s not supposed to be publicly used. So parents and caregivers, please use common sense with this stuff. If it looks shaky, it probably is.
If you’re a playground owner, please feel free to contact us with playground safety concerns. We have two CPSI’s on staff and would be happy to get you schedule for an inspection. We are also willing to do multiple inspections at once. So, if you are a school board, park board, or any other owner of multiple playgrounds we can help you!
Happy playground inspecting!! Let’s get these sleepy kids active again now that spring is in full swing!