Playground Safety Solutions
By Scott Burton
©COPYRIGHT, SAFETY PLAY, INC. 2011
WHY ARE PLAYGROUNDS NEEDED?
We have known for a long time how important it is to provide playgrounds for children. Socrates (400 B.C.) was quoted as saying that children need to have the opportunity to play in order to become effective adults. We also know that playgrounds are vital to children's physical, emotional, social, and psychological growth as well. Therefore, if we tore out these structures because we feel they are too much of a liability risk, the children would find something to play on that is much worse. At least with play structures, we can have a level of control over them. Basically, there is a "duty" to provide play equipment.
Depending upon which statistics you look at, there are 150,000 to over 230,000 children admitted to hospitals every year! We tend to see only numbers, but these are real kids and real pain. What goes unnoticed is the realization that this amount accounts only for the injuries severe enough to warrant a hospital visit, and not all of the others that are NOT reported!
ASTM STANDARDS & CPSC GUIDELINES
Just as a matter of housekeeping, let's identify the rules (adopted as laws in some states) that apply to playgrounds. Keep in mind that NOT ALL of these are taught in any formal class!
ASTM stands for the American Society for Testing and Materials which is located in Conshohocken, PA. You can purchase standards from them at http://www.astm.org. In a nutshell, the applicable "public use" playground standards are #F1487 for Public Use Playgrounds, #F1292 for Surfacing, #F2373 for Children Under Two, #F2075 for Engineered Wood Fiber (surfacing), #F2049 Playground Fence Standard, #F1951 for determining Wheelchair Accessibility, and #F1918 for Soft Contained Play Equipment.
CPSC stands for Consumer Products Safety Commission which is located in Washington, DC. You can obtain the Handbook for Public Playground Safety (#325) from them for free at http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/playpubs.html. They also have a checklist for Soft Contained Play Equipment and other playground related documents as well.
You can get the ADAAG (wheelchair accessibility) documents at http://www.access-board.gov.
The ASTM published a set of technical Standards (#F1487) for public use playground equipment in 1993 and revised it in 1995, 1998, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2011.
The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) published a set of Guidelines in 1981 and revised them in 1991, 1994, 1997, 2008 and 2010. Both ASTM and CPSC have been working on the next revisions for reasons such as better clarification and to address problems and products not addressed in the past. We keep revising them because in the beginning we looked at the most serious hazards first and wanted to get the publications out as opposed to waiting much longer to cover it all. There are new equipment styles that come out, and as we refine the accident reporting data, we discover how kids become injured in different ways and make adjustments that way as well. The changes are needed, but can be frustrating for owners to keep up with. To compound the problem, ASTM and CPSC conflict in some areas, one has critical information not found in the other, and both have many sections that are easily misinterpreted! The chances are good that you will find out about your misinterpretations after an injury occurs and a lawsuit has been served. That is usually when I get called in, but barn doors are already open. Although I am on numerous ASTM committees, and have consulted with the CPSC on their revisions, it would not be prudent of me to reveal specific changes that are coming prior to them being published. However, those of us who are intimately involved in the creation of these publications can take these changes into consideration when making recommendations through audit, design, planning and bid evaluation services. More importantly, knowing the various rationales for the rules (which are usually not written in the Standards or the Guidelines) helps immensely with proper interpretations in the field.
Some items addressed by CPSC but NOT by ASTM are:
In CPSC Sect. 5.3.4, Merry-Go-Rounds (whirls) can have no openings greater than 5/16".
In CPSC Sections 2.5.3 & 5.3.6, it says metal slides should be placed in a shaded area to prevent burns. It is no longer acceptable to simply place slides facing North like it stated in previous versions.
In CPSC Sect. 184.108.40.206, it does not allow sliding poles for 2-5 year olds.
In CPSC Sect. 220.127.116.11.5 and Figure 9, it addresses the 18" maximum fall distance for interiors of climbers (some of which are still being made).
There are many issues that I have presented to ASTM to address. ASTM addresses many other issues that CPSC does not, and perhaps could not, address.
I once had a case where a child incurred a 1" scar on his elbow after another boy pulled him off of a chin-up bar. The equipment and surfacing passed inspection. There were no broken bones, just a scar. They settled out of court for $50,000! There's another case where a child fell off of an overhead ladder onto dirt, broke his arm, and the jury awarded him $700,000. If you are an owner (parks department, public OR private school, child care center, or even a staff member of any of these) and have not been sued yet, I hope I'm getting through. This is no longer an area that you can treat lightly. Consider the liability implications of designing, installing, and inspecting playground equipment yourself. Governmental Immunity will cover an employee's legal expenses, and the employee is (typically) off the hook if their actions are found as "simple negligence". But if they are personally named in a lawsuit they may be held financially responsible if the jury finds "gross" negligent for that employee. There's a huge gap between "simple negligence" and "gross negligence". Such was the case in a popular lawsuit in Louisiana regarding misinterpretations, and another in St. Louis involving a parks department maintenance man!
SUPERVISION and BEHAVIOR
The leading cause of public playground injuries is the lack of supervision and improper behavior, totaling 44% of all injuries. What can be done about this? Plenty. But no one expects those two human factors to be 100% perfect at all times either. If you normally supply supervision, say from 2:00 - 6:00, be aware that when you do not supply it during those same hours, and someone gets injured, it may be a liability. Playground supervisors should be well trained on proper use of the equipment so that they can enforce proper behavioral rules to the children. There are a few ways that this can be accomplished. First of all, assess your equipment and it's use patterns to establish where supervisors are to stand, guide, and walk by the users. It would be unreasonable to expect them to be everywhere like a safety net, so set some priorities. These can be written into a pamphlet for you to use at your facility. Of course, be cognizant of applicable supervisor/child ratios. If you have a problem child who cannot follow the rules, he or she could be putting the others at risk. Consider time out for him or her. You can also post informational signs or labels that show how to use the equipment correctly in order to avoid misuse, although these are rare to find. Even though some kids may not read them and some adults might ignore them, you will find that informational and warning signs and labels are a great aid to those who DO pay attention to them. They are a benefit in any lawsuit to help avoid a "failure to warn" accusation. Signs or labels should also identify what age group the equipment is intended for. The requirement to do so is in the ASTM Standards as is the requirement to post a notice about Adult Supervision (see #F1487, section 14). Ideally, you should separate the children (and equipment) into user age groups of 2-5 year olds, and 5-12 year olds. These two age groups play differently and have different anthropometric sizes and abilities that the equipment should accommodate. However, this may not always be possible to do, which is why you have some equipment that is for 2- 12's. There will be more on signs and labels in this article.
INSPECTING YOUR OWN or HIRE IT OUT?
Not long ago, my dentist told me that I had two cavities, which I was not aware of, nor did they hurt at the time. I still had them filled because I knew I would have a much more serious problem later, he was more qualified than I to diagnose it, plus it would hurt later on! The same goes for identifying your playground hazards. You may not know you have a problem until someone more qualified identifies the hazards or someone gets hurt. There is not much dispute as to the importance of getting hazards identified on the playground, the question is, who should do it?
The initial "audit" is performed only once, unless the equipment or surfacing becomes modified, relocated, damaged, or you've added more equipment. The "audit" is much more detailed than routine inspections.
An "inspection" is usually considered to be performed on a periodic basis, depending upon the level of use, maintenance, environmental factors and materials used. Free "Frequency of Inspection" forms are available. Please call me.
I have audited thousands of sites, with as many as 50 pieces of equipment at a site. I have yet to find a site, with "brand new" or old equipment, that passes on the first audit. Usually it is due to one of the following; improper installation, design, layout, construction, or even simple lack of proper signage or labels.
I've heard that the ASTM & CPSC rules are "gray areas" and a "matter of interpretation". The reality is that yes, some circumstances DO fall into those categories, but the vast majority do not.
So, the audit will reveal hazards not found during routine inspections. Audits must be performed by a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI). Your most important consideration is who will do a more efficient job, not miss hazards, and have correct interpretations of the standards and guidelines?
QUALIFICATIONS OF A PLAYGROUND AUDITOR
It is ideal that your auditor is;
- experienced for over 5 years in auditing (vs. inspecting) various equipment.
- a participating member of ASTM to understand the rationale of the standards since misinterpretations and conflicts abound.
- someone who will make an excellent expert witness for you in court.
- experienced in playground construction to have a knowledge of inexpensive remedies that won't create other hazards.
- a Certified Playground Safety Inspector that is not complacent with existing problems.
- insured for "Errors & Omissions" in case they miss something that causes an injury later.
- not bias and is without conflict of interest, especially on the INITIAL audit.
There are many solutions to eliminate your liability and increase safety, but they are not cure-alls by themselves. For example, having your own CPSI so you can retain the level of safety after a third party audits your sites is the best method, but is not the only thing you should do. You must repair & replace equipment, have the required signs or labels, train your staff, etc., but each one by itself is not the single cure-all.
IDENTIFY THOSE HAZARDS BEING MISSED!
Having conflicts and misinterpretations? You're not alone! From certified inspectors to sales people to playground staff, all seem to be very concerned with this problem.
POPULAR INSPECTION FALLACIES CLEARED UP;
- Sites previously thought not eligible for playground equipment due to being too close to traffic/railroads/bodies of water, can have equipment there if the play area is properly fenced in per the ASTM Standard #F2049 for playground fencing. If any of the listed hazards are within 200 feet of the equipment or Use Zones, a specific type of non-climbable fence is required, and if vehicular access is that close, the fence (or barriers in front of it) has to pass an impact test. Gate latches are also addressed for access/egress issues as well as seeing if they are protrusion hazards. Do not take playground fencing lightly. Lack of fencing has a history of being what could have caused numerous fatalities and injuries.
- Most slides with a slow-down curve at the exit region won't fail if the rest of the bedway has a slope that is somewhat over 30 degrees. The tricky part is that slides must have a slope no greater than an AVERAGE of 30 degrees, that is, ALL of the slopes on the bedway cannot total more than 30 degrees. Example; measure the vertical height from the entry point at the platform to the top of the exit region (bottom end of slide). Measure the horizontal length from the end of the exit region to the platform entry point. Divide the height by the length for a ratio no greater than 0.577, which is the tangent of 30 degrees, (so, 0.577 is the same as 30 degrees), which is the "average" slope. However, no part of any slide bedway can exceed 50 degrees.
- Gaps between a slide and platform are a hazard not so much because it may pinch a finger, but that it may catch the knot or toggle of a drawstring, or loose clothing, necklace, etc., and strangle a child!
- Head entrapments occur not so much when users place their head in a gap first, but when they go feet first, allowing their body to pass through an opening but not the head, entrapping or hanging a child. The size to avoid is NOT 3-1/2" to 9"! It is (3-1/2" x 6.2") up to 9" in diameter. For example, this means that 5" diameter holes in a panel that failed before actually pass because the torso probe will not actually fit through it.
- Both the standards and guidelines say to "rotate" the torso probe to it's most adverse position. This does not mean that if it is incapable of "rotating" inside the opening that it passes or fails. It means to move the probe around to try to fit it into the opening while both planes are parallel.
- "S" hooks opened >.04" may not only cause the seat or chain to disconnect while in use, but may entangle a drawstring and strangle the child when they leap off. Also, closing "S" hooks after they have opened reduces the tensile strength and will open easier later on. Do yourself a favor and get rid of the "S" hooks. Replace them with clevises (upside down "U"-shaped with a horizontal bolt) or split-links (a "C" that snaps onto a backwards "C" which then forms the appearance of a link) that won't open up.
- The 50 lbf. (pounds of force) test should be performed with a test gauge. Measure flexible openings including tot seats, nets, pipes that may have slight flex, etc. Again, these are just a handful of issues to be aware of.
IDENTIFY THE USER AGE GROUP!
This is one of the most important and very first things to do in an audit. You can ask the owner what age range of users are intended and allowed, look for signs or labels that display the intended user ages, and/or measure components (stair heights, etc.) or check for age specific components (sliding poles for 5-12's, etc.). You might discover conflicts among the intended ages and the components. Once you have identified the age group you can proceed with inspecting for the correct measurements. Install a small self-stick sign or label that displays the intended user ages as required in ASTM & CPSC. Some reasons for separating kids into 2-5 and 5-12 year old groups is because they play differently, have different capabilities, and their sizes vary greatly. Therefore, sometimes the equipment is made for those two groups, or else the 2-12 age group when users must be combined due to lack of space, etc. The center of gravity on 5-12's is higher than on 2-5's, so guardrails and barriers are different, etc. The younger ones are not yet developed or large enough to handle certain pieces of equipment such as sliding poles (fire poles), high spiral slides, narrower steps, higher horizontal ladders, and flexible climbers that do not allow their feet to be on the same level before ascending. The play value and challenges should be there for each group.
COMMON INSPECTION TOOLS ARE NOT ENOUGH!
Keep one thing in mind. Like a Doctor, your auditor/inspector not only needs the right tools, but more importantly, the right know-how to use them properly, have the correct interpretations, and draw the correct conclusions! Most auditors purchase inspection kits that include the torso and head probes, "fish" template, and the protrusion gauges. They can do a good job with these tools, but a thorough job takes more tools than that. Some of the other tools may be available at hardware stores, but others are not. Some of the missing tools are described below.
- One critical test that is often overlooked is the 50 lbf. (pounds of force) test. This test takes into account compression of skin to allow a child to squeeze through an opening and become entrapped or hung. Most guesses of what 50 lbs. of force feels like have missed the mark substantially. Get the right pull gauge or hire someone who knows how to do the test.
- The articulated probe detects crush and shear points in areas that are not detectable with standard neoprene (rubber) rods.
- Other tools are the test template ("fish") for partially-bounded openings (complicated to use), micrometer or "handgrip template" to measure handgrip diameters, 30" radius gauge, angle finder, gap gauge that is exactly .04", neoprene (rubber) rods (for crush & shear points) that have a 50 durometer hardness reading (using wooden dowels or bolts are not what is being cited to use), tape measure, line level (for surfacing).
COMMON HAZARD IDENTIFICATION
The most common hazards identified are entrapments, entanglements, protrusions, use zones, fencing requirements, signs/labels, etc. See "Inspection Fallacies" above. Fencing rules are not covered in standard courses.
ADVANCED HAZARD IDENTIFICATION
The best advice here is that it simply takes time, and lots of it, mixed with auditing different types of equipment, to identify ALL hazards. This may require visiting sites other than your own. This will cause you to change your interpretations of the Standards and Guidelines and now fail some equipment you passed before, or vice versa.
A few advanced tips are as follows;
- Pits are common at the ends of slides. Don't adjust the slide until you have first leveled any loose-fill surfacing for a correct point of measurement. You may just need an impact absorbent tile pad installed.
- Are swing pivot points at least 7' away from overhead obstructions like branches, power lines, etc.? Are Use Zones not just the minimum distance from equipment, but also at least 7' "above" the surfacing and the "designated play surfaces"?
- Are the proper signs & labels installed? Do they CONFLICT with the equipment (age ranges posted do not match design and intent of age ranges for the components. VERY COMMON)? Do they have proper letter height, age groups, coloring, etc.? Signs and labels should address; drawstring warning, age range of users (2-5, 5-12, 2-12, and tot seats for under 4), adult supervision, surfacing warning, surfacing line level marker (loose fill only). More on signs & labels later.
- Are you placing the thin 1/8" gauge over the vertical protrusion? You can, but it is meant only as a 1/8" depth measurement tool, not to see if the protrusion will fit "inside" the gauge (like it used to be illustrated in F1487) and like the other gauges are meant to be used!
- Do your slides have a platform with a minimum depth of 14" by the width of the slide? Even on triangular platforms? If not, the user lacks the area required for a stable transition from standing to sitting and can fall off.
- Can the torso or head probe fit through a gap in a barrier (wall)? They should not, since barrier walls are meant to contain the users. Do the 50 lbf. test since even rigid pipes will flex!
- Is your Poured In Place surfacing REALLY the proper depth? Time and again I find even brand new surfacing poured way too thin. If you pay for 2-1/2" of it, make sure it is at least 2-1/2" deep all around! Also, be sure the perimeter tapers down OUTSIDE of the Use Zone (not within it, or it is less impact absorbent).
- Do you inspect playground fencing according to ASTM Standard #F2049? I sure hope so. It protects kids from getting hit by vehicular traffic going into the playground ("I hit the gas instead of the brakes"), kids running into traffic, kids getting abducted, eyes/face injured by gate latches, etc. I have not passed a playground fence yet according to that standard... after 2,737 sites (at the time of this writing)! KEEP IN MIND THAT A FENCE IS NOT ALWAYS REQUIRED.
- Are you checking for special Spiral Slide Clearance Zones, 50 lbf. tests, use zone overlaps for adjacent equipment over 30" high, etc.? These are only a fraction of the things commonly missed on audits/inspections. As you can see, there is a lot more to an advanced audit, but if you don't have it done correctly, you may find out by "accident" (translate "lawsuit")!
HAZARDS ARE IDENTIFIED. NOW WHAT?
Contact the manufacturer to find out what their solutions and involvement might be. Proper classification of hazards is important! If you are not familiar with the rationale behind ASTM or CPSC you might see a hazard as insignificant. You might call it a CLASS 3 (least hazardous) and get to it later, when it should be a CLASS 1 (life- threatening) and needs immediate attention! A converse example is if the torso probe passes through an opening near the ground and the head probe does not, but just barely gets stuck. It is likely to be a CLASS 3, not a CLASS 1 due to the likelihood of the horizontal position that the head would have to be in to become entrapped and it's close to the ground. Ask yourself "What are the chances of this injury occurring?" when you have to prioritize.
WHO'S RESPONSIBLE FOR THE HAZARD?
We said that 44% of injuries are due to a lack of supervision and improper behavior. Lack of maintenance is responsible for 36% while improper equipment, installation, and design cause the remaining 20% of injuries. Lack of maintenance might be opened "S" hooks, unkempt surfacing leading to exposed footings and lost impact absorption, etc. Although the Standards and Guidelines change (for good reasons), the hazard(s) may have been present at the time of installation. The fault could have been due to the manufacturer, installer, owner, accidental, user abuse, or natural causes. The point is, be open-minded when assessing hazards and not place the blame too quickly. Ask anyone who claims to be certified (in anything) for the basis of their certification. Be cautious of "self-certifications". Manufacturers and installers are doing a much better job in complying. Even if you have new equipment installed, are they aware of the Standards & Guidelines? If so, do they promise compliance? If so, then they must comply in it's entirety, not just certain areas. How do you know if the manufacturer and their installer comply with both ASTM and CPSC and ADA? I strongly suggest that you have a third party consultant review the plans and perform a site audit on your behalf to be on the safe side. The only other way you might find out is by getting sued, which is not the time to discover mistakes. Your auditor should be without bias or conflict of interest.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT YOUR HAZARDS
Try to absorb as much of your consultants advice into your final decisions. Your options are to fix the hazard, discard the piece (or whole unit), replace the part(s), or defer the problems until later. First let's look at the latter.
DEFERRING the problems, due to lack of money, manpower, etc., is not an option if it is a CLASS 1 hazard. If, for some reason, you must defer these, I suggest that you either safely close the site down or remove the equipment until you can correct the problems. Deferring CLASS 2 and 3's will depend upon their severity, complexity, etc. For example, if you have 8" of mulch and need 9" it's probably a CLASS 3 and can wait if it has to. Remember, the longer you wait the closer you get to injuries and lawsuits! I've seen cases settle or win/lose due to loose fill surfacing being one inch short of the minimum requirement!
REPLACING with new equipment or surfacing, of course, is the most expensive solution. In some cases it's best to contact your equipment sales rep. and replace a part. But consider whether the new item will correct the problem, have the same problem, or present a different hazard! Will the new piece fit the same as the one it replaces (molds and shop jigs may have changed)? You may spend more time and money field rigging it than fixing it correctly in the beginning. New equipment could have more drawbacks than just initial cost. It is not always a guarantee that it will be safer than an old piece you replace it with, but then new equipment may be your best option.
DISCARDING the problem equipment is always a last resort. You would be surprised at how simple and inexpensive most solutions really are. If you eliminated all of the playgrounds, you shirk the duty to provide recreation and play areas. Kids will suffer injuries from some activity like climbing trees, or even buildings (I have a picture), which you cannot have as much control over as manufactured equipment. You should keep the playgrounds and retain control by doing your best to comply with ASTM and CPSC by way of proper designs, maintenance, audits, inspections, etc.
FIXING the hazard. A client of mine had a school that had equipment with a broken lower rung on an arch climber attached to a large composite structure. The manufacturer said that if they did not buy a replacement arch and instead tried to weld on a new rung (or the old one), the warranty would be void on the entire structure... slides, paint and all! Obviously, this is not the policy of all manufacturers! The reality is that the warranty should not cover the new rung, but should still remain in effect on the rest of the unit. You might consider hiring a welding contractor to shift the liability. There is a zinc rod that you can rub onto a hot clean weld that will "galvanize" it. Matching paint does wonders, too.
It would be ideal if your auditor/consultant is experienced enough to let you know what modifications to make and to help coordinate things with the manufacturer's sales representative, who will normally be of great assistance!
BUDGETING REPAIRS & REPLACEMENTS
If you have classified your hazards and decided on repairs and replacements, you are ready for a timeline budget. Secure funding for parts and labor. Consider sharing the costs with other departments, such as risk management, maintenance, etc. Some costs will fall under capital improvements, repairs, etc. First of all, plan on handling the CLASS 1 hazards right away. Then plan for the CLASS 2 and 3 hazards. Keep in mind that some Class 2 or 3's can be handled during corrections being made to Class 1's. It's important to realize that you must make the effort. If you do the best that you possibly can, then that is exactly what is "reasonably expected" of you. No one expects you to discover hazards today and have them fixed by tomorrow. It's quite possible to not be able to get to the next class of hazard until another budget year. Don't forget to incorporate initial audits and routine inspections into your budget!
Fixing one hazard can create another. Some examples are;
- If you discover an entrapment gap between two platforms and lower one of them, you could create another entrapment between it and a third platform or its pipe wall. You could also cause the stepping distance to be >12" apart (for 2-5's) or >18" apart (for 5-12's).
- I saw that a pipe wall had been removed from a structure and was replaced with a plywood panel complete with splinters, protrusions, head & neck entrapments, and a height below the user's center of gravity. I wondered how the old pipe wall could have been much worse.
Whoever performs your retrofitting, whether it is temporary or permanent, must clear any change with an experienced and certified safety auditor.
If any of your problems have been determined to have existed at the time of delivery and/or installation, contact the manufacturer or installer to see if they can correct their portions of the problems. The key point is to make sure you have the correct interpretations beforehand. I frequently hear "the Standards and Guidelines have changed" which, although true, there are times when the site was out of compliance the day it was installed by either your own employees, the manufacturer's, or a sub-contractor.
Remember to always use the current ASTM Standards and CPSC Guidelines when auditing, inspecting, designing, and correcting hazards.
The following are some examples of problems and their solutions ("S");
- "S" hooks open more than .04" apart. S; Replace with a locking link-style or clevis style if you can. They do not open like "S" hooks, are hazard-free, and last much longer.
- Pipe wall has entrapment gap (3-1/2" X 6.2" up to 9" diameter). S; Depending on the location of the gap, either weld another pipe in place or adjust the pipe wall over/up/down. Be careful so that none of these create another gap, and do not lower the wall <38" (for 5-12's) or <29" (for 2-5's).
- Entrapment gap between platforms. S; Adjust the platform or install a kickplate. It may require an access component and alternate handgrips for access.
- Partially-bounded openings between panel corners and posts. S; Purchase and install a post clamp (which will be used ONLY to close the gap), unless the manufacturer has another method to correct the problem. It may look dumb, since the post clamp appears to serve no function, but if it closes the gap then you're good to go.
- Steel swing frame legs move up and out of the concrete footings when in use. S; The legs are not secured inside of the concrete footing due to either using the swing before the concrete hardened, or the legs were not "flared" at the factory, or other methods were not taken to secure the legs. Install a horizontal cross-bolt through the legs inside of the footing to keep it down and then re-pour the footings.
- Splinters found in wood. S; Remove/sand hazardous splinters. To help lessen the severity of splinters, use a wood sealer every few months after the initial purchase. "Checking" (cracking) of the wood is normal up to about 1/4 inch wide.
- Bolts protrude past gauges and/or are >2 threads past the nut. S; Replace with shorter bolts, or cut and peen them smooth so they pass all the tests.
- Playground intended for 2-5 age group actually has components designed for use by 5-12 age group only, such as a sliding pole or an overhead ladder more than 60" high. S; If you are limited on funds yet must provide a playground to all age groups, then exchange the sliding pole with an activity panel as opposed to only allowing 5-12's here, and being forced to purchase a new unit for each age group. Be careful of the other measurements to make sure they pass for both groups, such as step distances, guardrail and barrier heights, etc.
- Rung between platforms can cause entrapment. S; If platforms are less than or equal to 18" apart for 5-12's, or less than or equal to 12" apart for 2-5's, then a rung is not required, so remove it and keep the spare part! Otherwise, you might have to adjust the platform(s). Avoid entrapment gaps (3-1/2" X 6.2" up to 9" diameter).
- Swing hanger bolts are a vertical entanglement hazard when a child gets on top of the beam (and they do). S; Install carriage bolts with heads on top, nuts on the bottom, or simply flip the existing carriage bolts. Check with the gauges for entanglements.
- Swing hanger shackle is extremely loose. S; Before you buy expensive new hangers, try replacing the .25-cent "sleeve" bearings inside. Call a local bearing supplier.
- Swing chain is worn >25% on the top and bottom links. S; Instead of all new chain, try cutting off the bad end links, and installing new connectors, keeping an eye on the rest of the links. Make certain that the seat is not raised out of reach since seat heights are minimums, but there are no maximum heights!
- Slide has a gap between it and the platform. S; Try adjusting the bolts to move it in to close the gap. I've seen a bondo filler material used (such as LOCKTITE FIXMASTER, an epoxy putty) that seems to have bonded well. Contact the equipment supplier as to which filler to use if they do not have a custom piece to install or other options. Hazardous gaps can also be found between sidewalls and posts! Consider possible entanglements. Check Standard and Guidelines for more.
- Slide chute is >30 degrees average slope -OR- wave slide has a portion of slope over 50 degrees. S; Ask the installer to come back if it is not a result of the manufacturer (mold), maintenance, environment, or use. The installer should raise it if the exit region can stay 0-4 degrees below horizontal. If not, contact the manufacturer.
- Tube slide is >30 degrees average slope and exit region is ABOVE horizontal. S; Since the exit region needs to be lowered and the chute should be raised, one solution may be to have the installer adjust and turn the curved section(s) and re-attach the bottom end (correcting the exit region problem but correcting the slope). Keep the exit end the proper distance from surfacing. Keep any extra section(s) as spare parts! No costs! -OR- Contact the manufacturer.
Remember, each problem has a solution. All that's left is to figure it out!
Falls account for 75% of all playground injuries. CPSC has a loose-fill surfacing chart that shows tested depths (6" and 9") for specified heights. Many folks assume that 12" of loose-fill is the minimum, which it is not. CPSC has tested 6" depths as well. If 6" is actually the minimum depth of surfacing for say, a balance beam, then you are spending twice as much as you should by buying 12"! In this example, it is advised to buy at least 9" so that it compresses to 6" or so. The most critical thing to understand is how to determine the fall height for your equipment. This is very easy to botch and could cost you a lot of money in surfacing, as well as the possibility of not providing the proper level of impact absorbency. So, have the correct fall height assessed and then either check with the chart or have it field tested. ASTM has identified Fall Heights for almost all playground equipment.
Loose-fill surfacing is the least expensive and most popular, but requires maintenance and needs to be fluffed up or refilled. It gets kicked and blown away, becomes compacted, or may not have been the proper depth in the beginning due to compacting after use. However, unitary surfacing (Poured In Place, rubber tiles) is not only expensive, but does not have the "displacement" properties of loose-fill, which may be what it takes to prevent some of those broken bones!
CPSC suggests measuring loose fill surfacing from a level point up to the fall height of the equipment in order to determine the Use Zone. One common scenario is that although you may have always had pits under your swing seats, you may not have noticed the ramifications of the pits in an inspection frame of mind unless you audit an unfamiliar site. This may trigger you to realize that you've measured from a point BELOW where the surfacing should be level, up to the pivot point of the swing hanger. This miscalculation creates greater distances required for use zones and surfacing depths, and raises your costs as well. Level the surfacing first, or run a string line level, and then measure it for a true reading. You might just need tile pads installed under each seat, but be aware of trip hazards while swinging. Tiles should be large enough to prevent this and should have beveled edges as well.
If you have loose-fill and must accommodate for ADA, paths of tiles or Poured In Place surfacing would work, as opposed to replacing all of it. You can have an ADA wheelchair accessible path AND loose fill surfacing, keeping your costs to a minimum. There are some companies that provide loose fill surfacing that is wheelchair accessible!
POURED IN PLACE and TILE SURFACING
These are much more expensive, while reducing or almost eliminating maintenance costs. Rely on the manufacturer's claim for impact efficiency of under 200 G's and a 1000 H.I.C rating. These two types of surfacing are great for ADA accessible play areas! Be absolutely certain that the correct depth & perimeter (from the equipment) is laid down in the Use Zones.
SIGN & LABEL SOLUTIONS
Signs AND labels are important but are frequently overlooked. I always hear comments such as "Kids won't (or can't) read them", "Parents don't pay attention to them", "You can never say enough or say it the right way to be effective", and so on. Although these may sometimes be valid points, there are kids, parents, and LAWYERS who will read signs. If you have not experienced it yet, you may learn that a lawyer will say that the owner has a "duty to warn", failed to do so, and add it to the list of complaints in their lawsuit. It can be avoided for pocket change!
WHAT SHOULD SIGNS & LABELS SAY?
First, let's look at actual examples of what they should NOT say;
"Warning - use of this playground by children or other persons is prohibited" (apparently for use by animals and aliens). "This playground is for use by children 6 on up", which allows teenagers and adults but not kids 5 or younger, when they had infant swing seats and equipment for ages 2-5(!?!?)
SURFACING WARNING LABEL; This one is required by ASTM Section 14. It should be attached to ALL pieces of equipment that require surfacing. It will inform, warn, and educate purchasers, installers, and those supervising children who play on the equipment about the ongoing danger of installing equipment over hard surfaces. It will serve as a constant reminder to provide and maintain appropriate surfacing. Place these as close to adult eye level as possible, facing the direction that they are able to approach the equipment.
DRAWSTRING WARNING LABEL; It will warn about the ongoing danger of a user being entangled, in an effort to prevent strangulation. See CPSC Section 3.2.1 and ASTM Section 14. Place this at each entrance to the playground, or on the equipment, in positions that can be seen as adults approach the playground, always as close to eye level as possible.
AGE GROUP (INFORMATIONAL) SIGN / LABEL; Keep the age groups separated by stating that one area is for ages 2-5, and the other area is for ages 5-12. If that cannot be the case, then display one that says the equipment is for 2-12's. The most ideal situation is to have an age group label posted onto each piece of equipment. That way, if you happen to have a piece that is a different age group, it is clear to the user and/or supervisor. Place this at each entrance to the playground, or on the equipment, in positions that can be seen as adults approach the playground, always as close to adult eye level as possible. See CPSC Sections 2.2.3, 2.2.6, 2.2.7, 18.104.22.168.2, and ASTM Section 14.
TOT SEAT (INFORMATIONAL) SIGN / LABEL; "Tot seats for use by children under 4 years of age, with adult assistance" tells the users and supervisors the appropriate ages for tot seats. This reduces wear, misuse, breakage and injuries. See CPSC Sections 2.2.3, 2.2.6, 2.2.7, 22.214.171.124.2, and ASTM Section 14. Place these on the swing posts (both sides) nearest to the tot seats, at adult eye level.
SUPERVISION (INFORMATIONAL) SIGN / LABEL; "Adult Supervision is Recommended" will tell children, supervisors, and lawyers that the intent of the playground is a place for supervised play. See CPSC Sections 1.6 and 2.2.7, and ASTM "Introduction" and Section 14. Place these at each entrance to the playground, or on the equipment, in positions that can be seen as adults approach the playground, always as close to adult eye level as possible.
SURFACING LEVEL MARKER (INFORMATIONAL) LABEL; This will allow maintenance people, supervisors, and users to be able to quickly and easily check the support posts for the proper amount of loose-fill surfacing depth. If the surfacing is below the marker it is time to add to, or fluff up, the surfacing. See CPSC Sections 126.96.36.199(4) and 4.3. Place these at the pre-determined position on each post at the minimum surfacing level height.
Signs and labels must have the proper letter size & type, coloring, etc., according to the ANSI Standards on signs and labels in order to hold up in court. Compliance is a key consideration so that the users and adults will notice them.
Some risks are acceptable, to a degree, but not the life-threatening ones! If you are an owner concerned about being held personally liable in a lawsuit, you are not alone. So be extremely careful if you decide to create your own playground designs, specifications, or perform audits. If you cannot afford the audits, signs, labels, etc., it is understandable, but realize how much more a legal defense would cost.
Also, don't make the assumption that new equipment will automatically comply with CPSC and ASTM. It may or may not. Most manufacturers and contracted installers sincerely put forth their best efforts to comply. However, I've seen old equipment get replaced with new equipment that had its own list of hazards. Just to be sure that you are safe, have a third party that is on your side check it out for you. Some manufacturers have independent laboratories check their equipment for load tests and other issues covered by ASTM only, but are not being checked according to CPSC or ADA. Your equipment still needs to be audited according to CPSC and ADA though since you need to comply with CPSC, ADA and ASTM. It would be prudent to ask them for a list of the tests that the unit went through to verify which phase of testing was covered according to ASTM, ADA and CPSC. Keep in mind that a "pass" designation cannot take into consideration the final outcome of each different site due to unknown factors involved, such as the installer putting a unit together differently, or a unit supplied with parts that may vary in size or shape from shipment to shipment. I'm not saying that these things always occur, but they have happened. It is something for the owner to consider when looking at equipment marked "approved" or "certified". It's best to get your own designer and auditor that can recommend which manufacturer to select!
In the meantime, keep an open mind when a hazard is discovered because it may turn out that the finger you are pointing just might turn YOUR way! It is possible to have a playground that is fun, challenging, and will pass inspections and audits. If you do the best that you, and a jury, would think is reasonable, you've got a great start!
SAFETY PLAY, INC.
c/o SCOTT BURTON
10460 ROOSEVELT BLVD., #295
ST. PETERSBURG, FL. 33716
7095 HOLLYWOOD BLVD., #1308
LOS ANGELES, CA. 90028 email@example.com