Properly designed and maintained parks and playgrounds are important for reducing a municipality’s exposure to liability. While there are no federal mandated playground safety standards, the Consumer Products Safety Commission’s Public Playground Safety Handbook and the American Society for Testing and Materials’s Standard Consumer Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use have become the industry standard. 

Failure to abide by the handbook and standard could be 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. The general guidelines and checklist below can help reduce an entity’s exposure to liability.

General guidelines
  • 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.
  • Have a preventative 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. A copy of the electronic toolkit can be found here.