Proper design and maintenance for parks and playgrounds serve as critical ways for a municipality to reduce its liability exposure.
Entities that do not follow this handbook and standard can find that the omission is costly. The South Carolina Supreme Court, in Ellege v. Richland/Lexington School District Five, ruled that evidence of industry standards is admissible in negligence cases. That case involved a slip-and-fall injury and playground equipment that had been modified according to the recommendations of a playground equipment sales representative who did not have training or an engineering license.
These general guidelines and checklist below can help reduce exposure to liability.
- Conduct a hazard assessment of facilities, activities and policies.
- Review the Consumer Products Safety Commission guidelines and American Society for Testing and Materials standard to ensure that facilities and equipment are safely designed, assembled and maintained.
- Inspect parks and facilities at least once a week for visible damage and potential hazards. Playgrounds should be inspected at least once a month, and more often during high-use periods, preferably by a safety inspector certified by the National Recreation and Park Association.
- Use a preventive maintenance program.
- Document all inspection findings and maintenance performed. Correct any identified hazards.
- Ensure proper signage providing direction and warning are clearly visible and easily understood — even by those for whom English is not a first language.
- Anticipate foreseeable activities and take reasonable steps to protect users. Develop clear, concise, and effective policies and procedures for all areas. Have an emergency action plan.
Consumer Product Safety Commission Public Playground Safety Checklist
- Make sure surfaces around playground equipment have at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand or pea gravel; or are mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like materials.
- Check that protective surfacing extends at least 6 feet in all directions from play equipment. For swings, be sure surfacing extends — in front and back — twice the height of the suspending bar.
- Make sure play structures more than 30 inches high are spaced 9 feet apart.
- Check for dangerous hardware, like open “S” hooks or protruding bolt ends.
- Make sure spaces that could trap children, such as openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs, measure less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches.
- Check for sharp points or edges in equipment.
- Look for tripping hazards, like exposed concrete footings, tree stumps and rocks.
- Make sure elevated surfaces, like platforms and ramps, have guardrails to prevent falls.
- Check playgrounds regularly to see that equipment and surfacing are in good condition.
The SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund provides a parks and recreation toolkit for its members. In addition to playground safety issues, it addresses concerns of parks and recreation personnel, the liability issues involved in fees and supervision, sports programs and other facility guidelines.