Risk management for Public Entities: Playgrounds

Municipal entities must design and operate their playgrounds in a manner that helps keep all patrons safe. Through the development and implementation of a comprehensive risk management plan, measures can be put in place to help prevent injury, severe harm, or death while providing members of the community with an enjoyable and safe experience.

Happy parents and their daughter enjoying autumn in the park.

Playgrounds have become an essential component of recreational spaces across many communities. Although playgrounds can be a source of enjoyment and stimulation for children and their families, addressing their safety hazards is essential.

As a result, municipal entities need to consider a range of risks when designing playgrounds for their communities. Many of these risks can be addressed through the implementation of a comprehensive risk management plan to help prevent injury, severe harm, or death.

The following guidance highlights key areas of considerations for municipal entities in regards to playgrounds across their communities. It should not be seen as an exhaustive list and should be used in conjunction with internal policies and procedures, as well as in compliance with local laws and regulations.

Sourcing

It is crucial that the equipment used to build your playground is high quality and sourced from reputable manufacturers that can provide you with important information regarding its construction. The municipality should consider adopting the following practices when sourcing playground equipment:

  • Confirm with the playground manufacturer the following:
    • Product meets all relevant safety standards
    • Product warranty
    • Product durability
    • Equipment materials, including paints and finishes
    • Maintenance schedules
    • Repair and replacement processes
    • Critical height rating
  • Refrain from purchasing equipment that is being discarded or donated by a third-party
  • After assembly and prior to first use, equipment should be thoroughly inspected by someone qualified to inspect playgrounds for safety

Equipment

Children at different ages and stages of development have varying needs and abilities. The municipality should consider the following age-appropriate playground equipment:

  • For children younger than two years old:
    • Sandboxes
    • Swings with bucket seats
    • Step stools
    • Small ramps
    • Playhouses
  • For children between two and five years old:
    • Slides
    • Rotating tire swings
    • Seesaws
    • Fixed ladders
    • Playhouses
    • Merry go-rounds
  • For children between five and twelve years old:
    • Slides
    • Swings
    • Ladders
    • Monkey bars
    • Climbing ropes

Design

There are many factors to keep in mind when designing a playground that promotes both enjoyment and safety. The municipality should consider the following design elements:

  • Surface
    • Utilize a shock-absorbing and non-slip surface throughout the playground area. Possible choices include:
      • Sand or gravel surfaces
      • Rubberized surfaces
      • Wet pour surfaces
      • Loose impact attenuating surfaces, such as rubber or wood mulch or wood chips
    • Adopt the appropriate surface material based on the height and type of playground equipment and manufacturer recommendation
    • Adopt the appropriate drainage to prevent pooling of water under or inside of equipment
    • Extend surface at least 1.8 meters on all sides of all playground equipment
  • Equipment security
    • Complete equipment anchoring in strict accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications for your playground’s ground surface type (e.g. grass, turf, concrete)
    • Make sure anchoring devices are installed below ground level and beneath the base of the protective surfacing material
    • Install the playground equipment by using the hardware (for instance, nuts, bolts, and brackets) outlined in the manufacturer’s instructions
    • Make sure hardware cannot be easily loosened or removed without the use of tools
  • Location
    • Build the playground a safe distance away from any safety hazards, such as the following:
      • Roadways
      • Railways
      • Waterways
      • Cliffs
      • Parking lots
    • Install fencing or barriers to deter access to any of the above safety hazards
  • Plants
    • Remove any vegetation that might obstruct sightlines for playground supervision
    • Remove any unsuitable plants and shrubs that may cause skin irritation or scratches
    • Remove any weeds, leaves, or other plant matter on the playground surfaces
  • Garbage and recycling
    • Deploy the appropriate garbage and recycling disposal containers to the playground area
    • Establish regular garbage and recycling collection

Inspection and maintenance

The municipality should consider establishing an inspection and maintenance program for their playgrounds. Wherever possible, the municipality should look to the equipment manufacturers’ instructions to guide their inspection and maintenance schedules. These programs should be developed based on anticipated use and should include:

  • Inspection
    • Establish an inspection policy, which should outline the required frequency of inspections and activities taken to repair and remove any safety hazards
    • Conduct regular inspections of the playground to ensure that it is free from any safety hazards.
      • Remove any of the following:
      • Slip, trip, or fall hazards
      • Protruding objects (For example, exposed nuts and bolts)
      • Sharp edges (Such as uncovered equipment gaps and exposed tubing ends)
      • Garbage, broken glass, and other debris
      • Hives or nests
    • Address any of the following:
      • Excessive wear and tear to equipment (For example, chipped paint, rust, rot, cracks, or splinters)
        • Unstable or broken chains, handles, or railings
        • Unstable or broken fencing
        • Poor drainage and/or pooling water
        • Exposed footings or anchoring devices
        • Inadequate protective surfacing
        • Loose fastening devices or worn connections
  • Maintenance
    • Establish a maintenance policy, which should outline the actions and documentation associated with the repair and/or removal of any safety hazards
    • Conduct preventative and demand maintenance to the playground and equipment to ensure that all identified safety hazards are rectified:
      • Dispatch safety hazards to be repaired or replaced
      • Post signage advising patrons if equipment is unavailable for use or under repair
      • Restrict access to equipment with safety hazard that require to be repaired or replaced
      • Inspect all equipment repair or replacement prior to use
      • Conduct grounds maintenance program to the playground surface and surrounding area

Signage

The municipality should consider having the appropriate signage at the playgrounds to inform patrons of the following:

  • Restricted activities
    • No horseplay
    • No alcohol and drug consumption
  • Safe use of playground
    • Parental supervision is required
    • Unsupervised playground — patrons assume own risk
    • Use playground equipment for intended purpose
    • Exclusion liability
  • Garbage and recycling area
    • Emergency contact information
      • Emergency services
      • Maintenance requests

Summary

Municipal entities must design and operate their playgrounds in a manner that helps keep all patrons safe. Through the development and implementation of a comprehensive risk management plan, measures can be put in place to help prevent injury, severe harm, or death while providing members of the community with an enjoyable and safe experience.

If you have questions, please contact your Marsh representative.

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