American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Releases New F1487-17 Standard

June 25th, 2017

American Society for Standards and Testing (ASTM) releases new ASTM F1487-17 Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use
By Kenneth S Kutska, Executive Director, IPSI, LLC
Chair ASTM F15.29 Subcommittee
June 25, 2017

ASTM F15.29 Subcommittee has recently published a revised ASTM F1487 Standard. Our Subcommittee has been very busy since the last revision in 2011. Change does not occur over night and our work is not over. Our subcommittee consists of 226 members with 182 as voting members. The breakdown of voting class members; 126 general interest (which would be me and most of you), 95 producers, 2 users, and 3 consumers. By ASTM standards this is a rather large subcommittee. Most members do not attend our face-to-face, bi-annual meetings. These meetings are held during “ASTM Committee Week” allowing other playground related subcommittees to participate in the standard development process. Whether or not you attend these meetings in person, every member is able to join the F15.29 Subcommittee. Once a member has been assigned voting status, they are required to vote electronically on each and every ballot item related to the Committee’s standards. Joining as a “General Interest Voting Member” for only $75 annually is easy. To join online go to www.astm.org. Membership is quite a bargain. Each year you get to choose one free volume of ASTM Standards. All playground equipment and surfacing related standards are found in volumes F15.07 and F15.11. Each volume would cost a member approximately $300. If you purchase just the ASTM F1487 Standard it would cost $75. As a person responsible for children’s play areas, there is no reason to avoid joining and becoming an active participant in the ASTM standards development process. That is enough advertisement on the benefits of joining ASTM.

How the ASTM F1487 Standard changed since 2011.
The changes in playground equipment design and manufacturing techniques have brought about many innovative and creative play opportunities not even thought of a few years ago. Without stifling creativity the new performance requirements address safety issues brought about by advancements in design, materials, and manufacturing. New innovations in design and materials such as, fiber-reinforced-concrete and new and improved fasteners, connectors, and connecting fasteners are providing options to traditional post and deck systems while creating more challenging play opportunities. Designers and manufacturers have developed more inclusive play equipment and a lot of this equipment is not static. This is all good, however the thought of putting children in motion does raise safety concerns for many owner/operators. When we think of traditional motion equipment like swings, merry-go-rounds, track rides or equipment that put children in motion like a slide we have only our personal experience to as a frame of reference. Today’s designers continue to push the old paradigm of what the traditional equipment types can and should be.

Creativity is a wonderful and inspiring gift when effectively applied for the right reasons. Everyone involved in providing public play spaces has a responsibility to create spaces that embrace the many different types of play experiences. This is best accomplished when designers provide play opportunities with graduated levels of challenge offering various levels of risk. A well-designed play space provides an environment that facilitates a child’s development during self-directed free-play. This is a huge responsibility for all play area designers or managers. Equally as important is the responsibility for the safety of the child when they over estimate or miscalculate their ability.

Risk Assessment by Playground Designers and Manufacturers: The Missing Link
Many owner/operators do not have the knowledge and experience to conduct a play area risk and hazard assessment. Most choose to transfer the responsibility for design, installation, and inspection of playground equipment to outside consultants. However, even with this contractual transfer of risk, the owner still has the primary responsibility for the safety of the public.

Accidents will continue to occur within any public environment. Responsible and engaged supervision of children is the key to reducing serious injuries regardless of whether a playground is 100% compliant with industry best practices. Parents that encourage and/or contribute to behavior inappropriate for their child only add to the problem. A child will participate in a particular play experience when they feel ready to take on the challenge. Child development experts suggest these choices are made after the child conducts their own risk assessment. A parent or guardian, at most, should provide encouragement under a watchful eye and only intervene when absolutely necessary. As stewards of public facilities, we need to consider all aspects of managing this generally unsupervised and unsecured public environment. Many children will not be adequately supervised so the biggest challenge for playground designers, manufacturers, and owners throughout North America is the liability costs associated with almost any injury regardless of the severity. What needs to change is the general public’s belief that playground owners are responsible for every child’s broken arm or leg. Most of these minor injuries occur due to the miscalculation of the child’s abilities. In other words, they have insufficient physical and cognitive ability to assess the consequences of their actions. These very important skills can and will be learned over time on the playground. If children are not given the opportunity to develop these skills on a reasonably safe public playground they will seek out other spaces to play and explore which can present a far more dangerous environment with a greater chance for serious injury.

New Scoping Statement on Assessing Risk
The following information has been added in Section 1: Scope of the ASTM F1487-17 Standard. Section 1.6.1 now states,
“The requirements in this standard are designed to mitigate the hazards typically presented by various types of equipment. New equipment may not specifically fit into the designated types listed in the standard; however, the designer and /or manufacturer shall use professional judgment to perform & document a hazard analysis and follow appropriate requirements to mitigate the hazards.”

The following definition for “professional judgement” along with requirements for any person who claims the playground equipment is in compliance with this standard is directly related to this statement.

“Professional judgment” is defined as,
“the ability of an individual with current knowledge, skill or experience, or both, in the field of playgrounds/playground equipment design, use, or operations, which enables the person to form an opinion or make a decision, or both, concerning a matter within that field of expertise.”

Section 5: General Requirements states,
“Playground equipment represented as complying with this consumer safety performance specification shall meet all applicable requirements specified herein. Anyone representing compliance with this specification shall keep such essential records as are necessary to document any claim that the requirements within this specification have been met.”

Considering these three statements you can begin to understand the responsibilities of every party involved in creating a playground from concept through the day the playground is taken out of service. Owner/operators should not and cannot totally abdicate their responsibility for the public’s safety. They need to understand their responsibility and that of others involved in the design, manufacture, installation, inspection, maintenance, and repair of a playground

Addition to Specific Equipment Performance Requirements.
There are many more changes and additions than cannot be adequately covered in this article. I will attempt to address some of the more significant changes starting with two new definitions to help clarify some of the more technical aspects of each within the standard revisions. Terms and definitions are very important to understanding and applying this technical document. Words can have different meanings. Some of the more common terms used in this technical document conjure up a meaning in the mind’s eye that can lead to confusion. For example, the last revision of this Standard redefined what a swing was, as crazy as it sounds, and established the swing suspended component impact test which addressed several safety concerns. The result has been the development of many new types of swinging experiences. Let’s look at two new definitions and a few of the new performance requirements for “Embankment Slide” and “Rotating Equipment.”

New Embankment Slide Definition
Embankment slides have become more popular as designers attempt to minimize fall heights and the related surfacing requirements within the use zone. An embankment slide must follow the contour of the ground and at no point can the bottom of the slide chute be greater than 12 inches (305 mm) from the surrounding ground surface. The slide transition or entry platform may also be up to 12 inches (305 mm) above the surface and does not have use-zone requirements. Even though the slide is no more than a foot off the underlying surface and the slide exit height cannot be greater than 15 inches (380 mm) above the exit surface it still requires impact attenuating surfacing within the slide exit use zone. The fall height as it relates to protective surfacing requirements of an embankment slide has been an area of concern for some time. Why does a free-standing slide have a fall height based on the height of the top of the slide bedway vertically measured to the protective surfacing below the slide exit? It does not seem logical when the embankment slide bedway must not be more than 12 inches (305 mm) above the embankment. Since the vertical fall heights along the side of the embankment slide bedway are limited to 1 foot and the exit height cannot exceed 15 inches (380 mm) the need to calculate fall height using the existing criteria for a free-standing-slide did not make sense. The subcommittee agreed that the velocity of the user and subsequent impact at the exit required more consideration. The new requirement is based on the velocity and discharge forces at the exit. Other international playground standards recommend that the slide exit use zone for an embankment slide shall have a minimum of (1) meter or 40 inches fall height. The current critical height surfacing requirements of F1292 state the critical height rating of the surfacing must be in full feet measurements. Therefore, the critical height of the impact attenuating surfacing within the slide exit use-zone must be greater than or equal to 48 inches (1220 mm). The embankment slide exit must also end onto a protective surfacing use-zone that is not part of the embankment as well as meet the requirements of the slide exit clearance zone.

New Rotating Equipment Definition
Designs have changed drastically over the past few years. The safety concerns of the old “Giant Stride” or “Merry-Go-Round” were real and had to be addressed. Designers have pushed the envelope of creativity when it comes to the rotating equipment that I played on as a young boy, however, the hazards have not changed. New types of rotating equipment have emerged throughout the world that no longer fall within the old definition or performance requirements for rotating equipment. The ASTM F15.29 Subcommittee has identified the hazards associated with this type of equipment – ejection/falls to the surface, collisions with other users, impact with equipment, and impact with adjacent equipment/supports. Our ASTM Subcommittee looked at the many new and different types of rotating equipment, These new performance requirements are not meant to restrict new and innovative equipment designs rather than to clarify the critical requirements intended to address the above mentioned safety issues. These requirements make a distinction between rotating equipment intended to be sat on, stood on, or hung from by the user’s hands, and equipment that does not rotate freely and is intended to be manipulated by the user’s hands; such as, sand diggers and steering wheels.

Previously any rotating equipment with a diameter of less than or equal to 20 inches (508 mm) with designated play surfaces of less than or equal to 30 inches (760 mm) above the adjacent underlying surface can have an overlapping 72 inch (760 mm) use zone. Rotating equipment with a diameter greater than 20 inches, (508 mm) could not overlap any other use zone but composite structures were allowed to have overlapping use zones. Clearance requirements have not been specifically addressed within the standard other than for a few types of equipment such as swings and slides. Playground equipment designers and manufacturers have been responsible for controlling clearance dimensions that would address the probability of the user impacting another part of the playground equipment including adequate space for user circulation. The question was raised, “Why should rotating equipment attached to a composite structure be allowed without having to comply with the same clearance and use zone requirements for freestanding rotating equipment?” The following information highlights most of the new clearance and use zone requirements by type.

Rotating Equipment: Vertical versus Horizontal
Rotating equipment is defined as either vertical or horizontal rotating equipment and most of these new requirements are based on the overall outside diameter of the equipment and not just the diameter of the platform. Rotating equipment that revolves repeatedly about either a vertical axis (merry-go-round) or horizontal axis (logroll) can be at different angles provided certain clearance tolerances are met. It is the angle of the plane of rotation that differentiates the two types or rotating equipment. The deciding factor is the location of the fixed plane of rotation in relationship to a point 45 degrees from horizontal. This section also addresses rotating equipment which incorporates other climbing and/or rotating components on top of rotating equipment.

Vertical Rotating Equipment: Size Matters
Rotating equipment with a maximum dimension greater than 20 inches (508 mm) measured from the axis of rotation to the outmost perimeter is key in applying these new requirements. In other words the outermost diameter of the rotating equipment would be greater than 40 inches (1016 mm). Generally, it must have a perimeter that is approximately circular and within 2 inches (50 mm) between the minimum and maximum radii. Any component that extends beyond the outer perimeter shall be designed to minimize the likelihood of hazardous impact during use. Rotating equipment with a maximum dimension less than or equal to 20 inches (508 mm) measured from the axis of rotation to the outmost perimeter may be non-circular in shape. Rotating equipment designed for climbing shall also meet the requirements for climbers.

Clearance and Use Zone Issues with Vertical Rotating Equipment
Accessible barrier-free design has helped with the evolution of rotating play events. Historically rotating equipment had to have a minimum underside clearance of 9 inches (228.6 mm). Now rotating equipment platforms may be flush to the protective surfacing; however, there can be no gap greater than .312 inches (7.9 mm) measured in any direction between the platform and protective surfacing to eliminate crush and shear concerns. There are many other requirements related to the underside of any rigid rotating platform but these new requirement pertain primarily to the equipment designers and manufacturers. Unfortunately, some owners may have installed some of the first prototypes of these rather new types of rotating equipment that were not previously covered by the ASTM F1487-11 and may no longer be in compliance with these new requirements. Most of these requirements are also triggered by the diameter of the rotating equipment’s widest platform dimension.

The evolution of the newer types of rotating equipment did not relate technically to the old definition of rotating equipment and the interpretation and use of the term “platform.” Many types of rotating equipment did not require a platform as is already defined in the Standard and therefore many of the rotating platform requirements were thought to not apply. Impact by components outside the point of rotation or openings within the perimeter of the rotating equipment have long been thought of as a safety concern. In addition to potential for impact hazards from perimeter components there are other impact related concerns due to the user’s ability to contact the underlying playground protective surface while within the equipment’s perimeter, clearances between the equipment and the protective surface, and clearances to adjacent equipment. These discussions resulted in a complete revision of this part of the standard.

Clearance between the underside of the platform and the underlying playground surface has specific requirements based on the following clearance situations and dimensions:
• Rigid rotating platforms that are not flush to the protective surfacing must be free from abrupt changes that are rigid and hang below the overall thickness of the platform.
• Clearance between the rotating equipment that is not flush and therefore raised above protective surfacing has to be between 2.38 inches (60.5 mm) and 3.50 inches (88.9 mm) or greater than 9.0 inches (228.6 mm) above the underlying surface unless a protective skirt is provided.
• When a protective skirt is provided, it must be smooth and continuous, tapered towards the axis of rotation to a clearance between 2.38 inches (60.5 mm) and 3.50 inches (88.9 mm) or greater than 9.0 inches (228.6 mm) at the lowest point.
• Rotating equipment with a maximum radii dimension greater than 20 inches (508 mm) which also possess a 108 inches (2743 mm) use zone are exempt from speed limitation requirements and shall be designed and constructed to minimize the likelihood of hazardous impact by any rigid members and provide clearance to the protective surfacing material should the user fall or pass through the interior of the equipment during use.
• Rotating equipment with a fixed, but angled, plane of rotation, cannot oscillate and must maintain a minimum clearance of 9 inches (229 mm) at the lowest point of elevation from the underside of the equipment.
• Rotating equipment with a maximum radii dimension less than or equal to 20 inches (508) is exempt from several of the clearance requirements.
• Rotating equipment shall have a clear area free of rigid structural components of 72 inches (1829 mm).
• Rotating equipment within or upon rotating equipment shall have a 21 inches (533 mm) clear area free of rigid and non-rigid components such as cables, netting, and belting.

Rotating Equipment Use Zones
Historically rotating equipment has had a 72 inches (1829 mm) minimum non-overlapping use zone. Overlapping use zones were allowed if the rotating equipment the diameter was no greater than 20 inches (508 mm) and both adjacent pieces of equipment did not have a designated play surface greater than 30 inches (760 mm). Rotating equipment with a diameter greater than 20 inches (508 mm) could not overlap with any other use zones.

Vertical Rotating Equipment (Merry-Go-Round) Use Zones
The use zone for equipment with a maximum radii dimension less than or equal to 20 inches (508 mm) shall be no less than 72 inches (1829 mm) from the perimeter of the play structure. Overlapping use zones is permissible if the adjacent fall height of each structure is less than or equal to 30 inches (760 mm) above the protective surface. If the adjacent fall height on either structure exceed a height of 30 inches (760 mm), the minimum distance between structures shall be 108 inches (2740 mm). The use zone for equipment with a maximum radii dimension less than or equal to 20 in. (508 mm) shall be no less than 72 inches (1829 mm) from the perimeter of the play structure. Overlapping use zones is permissible if the adjacent fall height of each structure is less than or equal to 30 inches (760 mm) above the protective surface. If the adjacent fall height on either structure exceed a height of 30 inches (760 mm), the minimum distance between structures shall be 108 inches (2740 mm).

The use zone for equipment with a maximum radii dimension greater than 20 in. (508 mm) which do not exceed the speed limitation requirements shall be no less than 72 inches (1829 mm) from the perimeter of the play structure and shall not overlap any other use zone. Rotating upper body equipment with a maximum radii less than or equal to 20 inches (508 mm), is exempt from both the ground clearance and speed limitation requirements. The use zone for equipment with a maximum radii dimension greater than 20 inches (508 mm) and exceed the speed limitation requirements must also have a use zone of no less than 108 inches (2743 mm) from the perimeter of the play structure including a 72 inches (1829 mm) use zone that shall not overlap the use zone of other playstructures.

Single-user rotating equipment, such as sand diggers, which require the user to maintain contact with the ground during play, has no individual use zone requirements. However, sufficient space is needed between all adjacent structures and individual play equipment for the purposes of play and circulation.

Horizontal Rotating Equipment Use Zones (Example Log Rolls)
The use zone for equipment that rotates around a horizontal axis and has a designated play surface greater than 30 inches (760 mm) above the protective surface shall be no less than 72 inches (1829 mm) from the perimeter of the play structure. The use zone for equipment that rotates around a horizontal axis and has a fall height of 30 inches (760 mm) or less above the protective surface, such as a log roll, shall be considered stationary play equipment. No other play structure use zone shall overlap the use zone of equipment that rotates around a horizontal axis and has a fall height greater than 30 inches (760 mm) above the protective surface. The fall height of horizontal rotating equipment shall be measured from the highest designated play surface and the protective surface below. The horizontal rotating equipment surface that is intended to be stood upon shall have a designated playing surface less than or equal to 18 inches (460 mm) above the protective surfacing and provide hand gripping component(s), between 0.95 inches (24 mm) and 1.55 inches (39 mm) in diameter, to aid in mounting, dismounting, and maintaining balance while in use. Horizontal rotating equipment is not recommended for use by pre-school age children 2 through 5 years.

Suspended Components on Manipulative Play Components
There have been many new types of manipulative play components with attached suspended components particularly in the area of musical instruments. Existing performance requirements made compliance more difficult, especially for ground-level musical instruments. Pipe ends on chimes, tubes and other musical instruments no longer need to be capped so long as they pass the sharp edge test. Other suspended hazard requirements were modified to allow for longer connecting devices up to 24 inches (609 mm), such as a cable or chain, necessary to operate the equipment such as a small mallet but must not be attached any higher than 27 inches (686 mm) above the underlying surface. These manipulative parts are also exempt from meeting the projection criteria using the large 3-inche interior diameter projection gauge, since falling on or running into a larger projection that could damage internal organs in the child’s abdomen, are highly unlikely. The use of the smaller gauges still applies.

Flexible Climbing Components
There are more flexible climbing components in the play environment as either free standing or part of a composite play structures. These flexible climbers generally are comprised of a chain, cable or rope. The rigid components found on these play components are primarily intended for structural support and for the most part are not intended to be a climbing component. Almost none of these structural support components would fit the current handrail and hold requirements. Likewise, almost none of the flexible climbing components are made of materials that fit within the current handhold dimension of 0.95 to 1.55 inches (24.1 to 39.4 mm). Flexible hand gripping climbing components must be between 0.62 and 1.55 inches (12 and 39.4 mm). Flexible climbing components must be securely connected at both ends. When they are connected to the ground the anchoring device shall be beneath the base of the minimum required depth of the protective surfacing material or the anchoring device must be vertically shielded. When unitary surfacing material is used, a maintenance access opening is permissible, provided that the anchoring device is not accessible when tested with the 3.50 inches (88.9mm) projection gauge. Some cable nets are more susceptible to stretching over time and require some tension adjustment. Tensioning devices are not considered to be part of the anchoring device.

Falls from Adjacent Platforms
There was concern raised with adjacent platforms when the elevation between these platforms intended for access/egress required climbing components. The upper platform of adjacent platforms must have guardrails or protective barriers on the side adjacent to the lower platform depending on the height difference between adjacent platforms. The guardrails or barriers dimensions are required on the upper platform based on the age of the intended user. Obviously there will be an access/egress opening but the width of that opening needs to follow all the requirements for guardrails or barriers when there is not at least the top rail of a guardrail to limit the likelihood of an inadvertent fall.

Changes to Other Specific Equipment Type Requirements

Slides
The slope of the slide exit region can now be as much as minus 10° as measured from horizontal. This should help mitigate drainage and user exiting issues. The slides section now has a new figure to demonstrate how to measure a curved slide’s length to make it easier for compliance inspectors to calculate height/length ratio of the sliding surface on spiral slides.

Swings
In 2011 there was a complete rewrite of the swing section of the F1487 Standard. This section states only one multiple occupancy suspended element can be mounted within a swing bay. Traditionally the multi-occupancy swings that were considered to be impact concerns were more of a suspended “park bench” or a “2-person glider type” commonly found in residential playgrounds. Up until 2011 multi-axis-swings were considered to be similar to a tire swing. Only one such swing was allowed per swing bay. Starting in 2011 we allowed single axis (to-fro) multiple occupancy swings with only one per bay. This revised standard exempts single axis suspended elements intended for a maximum of two users from this requirement.

Does the Swing Pivot Point Height Effect Impact Forces?
A question was raised as to whether the impact forces of the suspended component (seat) was effected by the length of the connector to the pivot point. The manufacturer must now designate the maximum height of the pivot point at which the suspended element meets the impact threshold requirements as specified for the dynamic swing impact test. Those impact thresholds must be less than 500 HIC and 100g. If an owner, designer, and/or installer exceeds the manufacturer’s maximum pivot point requirement the impact thresholds may be exceeded.

Roofs and Other Shade Structures versus Overhead Obstructions
These structures are an integral part of a play structure yet they should not become a physical play event. They may be at any angle, provided that the roof line (lowest edge), excluding support members, is at least 84 inches (2130 mm) above the underlying designated play surface and the pivot point of a swing. The problem arises when the lowest edge of the roof or shade structure line is too close to a designated play surface. In the case of a swing it would include the area the user occupies when in the full range of motion. Therefore these structures must maintain a clearance above the protective surfacing within the use zone of a swing of X + 42 inches (1065 mm), where X is the distance from the pivot point of the swing to the underlying protective surface.

Roofs that are an integral part of a play structure and are less than 84 inches (2130mm) above the designated play surface shall contain no designated play surfaces and their support members shall be designed to discourage climbing. Roofs or shade structures that conform to these requirements do not have a fall height requirement.

All parties involved in the final design and plan approval of the playground should consider the intent of this section when designing and using roofs on play equipment.

Playground Layout as Related to “Play Functionally Linked”
The use of the term “Play Functionally Linked” has successfully been put into practice to create many interesting continuous play opportunities and playground designs. Unfortunately it has also been abused by some to get around equipment use zone requirements and site related spatial limitations. As I discussed earlier in this article, the new standard scoping statement requires the playground designer and manufacturer to conduct a hazard analysis for each individual piece of play equipment. This should include how any particular piece of equipment relates to all the other play opportunities that make up a composite piece of equipment and the entire play space. I strongly suggest the owner conduct their own such risk and hazard assessment. What may be considered compliant design may not always be considered good design. ASTM F1487 has previously addressed the acceptable distance between stepping forms based on child developmental factors and anthropometrics of the intended users but there are many other types of stepping surfaces and climbers with stepping surfaces that when placed adjacent to one another are being labeled “play functionally linked.” This revision requires two or more adjacent play components, intended to be considered play functionally linked, to not be greater than 12 inches (300 mm) apart for 2 through 5 year old children and 18 inches (460 mm) for 5 through 12 year old children. These dimensions are measured edge to edge between the adjacent stepping surfaces and address the stepping capabilities when there is a change in elevation between adjacent stepping surface elevations.

WARNING! ASTM F1487 does not specifically address or differentiate between stepping and climbing surfaces on adjacent play functionally linked play components. The designer, manufacturer, and owner should consider how the intended user group will use the climbing equipment in relationship to other adjacent functionally linked stepping or climbing equipment and assess where the user may fall if they fail to use the climbing equipment as intended.

Consider a scenerio where stepping forms or a balance beam is linked to a vertical-climbing-net. Where is the intended path of travel? How will the user use and interact with each piece of functionally linked component? Is access and path of intended travel from the side or will the user need to climb vertically up or across functionally linked component putting the user considerably higher than the adjacent linked stepping component? Will the fall height be far greater than 30 inches without consideration for a minimum use zone free of obstacles? Regardless, each stepping play surface that is adjacent to the climbing net or any other designated play surface must meet the spacing requirements of this new section. Owners, designers, and manufacturers need to consider how the user will interact with all the functionally-linked equipment and consider mitigation measures to address related safety concerns.

Playground Maintenance: It’s Your Duty
The standard requires the owner/operator to inspect, maintain and repair each play structure within the playground and the impact attenuating surfacing in accordance to the designer/manufacturer’s installation and maintenance instructions. Beyond maintaining the equipment’s function and surfacing impact attenuation it also will assure the playground remains compliant and, where applicable, continue to meet the intent of the DOJ 2010 Standard for Accessible Design. To that end the owner/operator shall make periodic inspections of each play structure and remove any extraneous materials from the equipment or impact attenuating surfacing that could cause injury, infection, or disease. This could include litter, blood borne pathogens, wildlife excrement, and ropes tied to play equipment.

The owner/operator must also establish and maintain detailed installation, assembly, inspection, maintenance, and repair records for each public-use playground equipment area. Section 11 of this Standard details who is responsible for providing most of the information necessary to fulfill the above documentation requirement.

Next to the lack of supervision or inappropriate unintended use of play equipment, the lack of adequate maintenance of play equipment and surfacing within the use zone, is the second leading cause of most serious playground related injuries. We have a lot of work ahead of us so let’s get to work.

This has been a general overview of most of the changes to the ASTM F1487-11 Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use. You can acquire a copy of this new ASTM F1487-17 document by ordering online, www.astm.org.

July 13th, 2016

Research Supports NRPA’s Certified Playground Safety Inspectors Reduce Injuries:
Part 4 of 4: Closer Look at Research Process and Methods that Support Curtis’s Conclusions and Suggestions for Future CPSI Research

By Kenneth S Kutska, CPSI, Executive Director
International Playground Safety Institute, LLC
April 27, 2016

The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of the playground safety inspector certification programs on reducing reported injuries sustained on public playgrounds in the state of California. Utilizing themes from a review of the literature and the three elements of the working model (CPSI-CEWM), the study examined three hypotheses:

(a) A greater decrease in injuries will occur when cities utilize certified playground safety inspectors
(b) The degree to which supervisors value the playground safety inspector program will affect injury rates
(c) Playground safety inspectors’ beliefs about the system will also influence injury rates.

Based on predominant themes derived from the review of literature and the elements of the CPSI-CE Working Model, three hypotheses emerged, included:

(a) A decrease in injuries occurred when playground safety inspectors were hired.
(b) Playground safety inspectors’ beliefs in the system influenced injury rates.
(c) The value supervisors place on the playground safety inspector program affected injury rates.

Method – Design and Participants
Previous teacher certification effectiveness studies provided excellent guidelines for designing this study. A correlational framework was utilized to examine relationships among injuries sustained on public playgrounds among three different size municipalities in the state of California during a 10-year period and model components such as playground safety inspectors’ and their supervisors’ beliefs and attitudes about certification status, experience level, and available resources.

Three sets of participants from municipalities were sampled for this study, including
(a) active playground safety inspectors (n = 474),
(b) the ‘supervisors’ of the playground safety inspectors (n = 474),
(c) the risk managers from those same municipalities (n = 474).

A response rate of at least 40% for cities from each size category was targeted, but actual response rate was over 63% with 286 communities providing completed responses. Only one active playground safety inspector from each city was included in the study because the number of inspectors could vary from city-to-city, with larger cities having a number of active playground safety inspectors while smaller cities may have only one. Also, the second group of participants, the ‘supervisors’ of the inspectors, typically would have one supervisor overseeing all inspectors. The number of inspectors and supervisors was kept the same to allow perceptions of both groups equal weighting in analyses.

Cities were divided into three population sizes, including:

(a) small (500 – 9,999),
(b) medium (10,000 – 199,999),
(c) large (≥ 200,000) cities.

Cities of less than 500 were eliminated from the study because pilot study data suggested most did not or were not responsible for maintaining public playgrounds. Cities were categorized into three distinctive sizes enabled inferences to be drawn about each of these population-based subgroups that otherwise could be lost in a more generalized random sample. Stratified sampling by city size also afforded an opportunity to assess the variations of results, if any, based on city sizes (e.g., Did more medium-sized cities have CPSIs, and experienced a reduction in injuries as a result, compared to small or large cities?). Only one active CPSI from each city was included in the study because the number of inspectors could vary from city-to-city, with larger cities having a number of active CPSIs while smaller cities may have only one. The second group of participants is the inspectors’ ‘supervisors,’ and depending on the organizational structure of the city, one supervisor could oversee more than one inspector, which influenced their perception.

Instrumentation
To examine the effectiveness of playground safety inspector certification on reducing reported injuries sustained on public playgrounds, it was necessary to develop three survey instruments to obtain data to test study hypotheses. These included;

(1) Playground Safety Inspector Assessment Survey (PSIAS),
(2) Playground Safety Inspector Supervisor Assessment Survey (PSISAS),
(3) Playground Safety Inspector Injury Data Survey (PSIIDS).

The instruments were developed specifically for this study and for specific positions within city organizational structures that could provide necessary data and perceptions.

The PSIAS and PSISAS were broken into the three primary dimensions of the CPSI-CE Working Model and were specifically related to the participants’ positions as playground safety inspectors and ‘supervisors’ of playground safety inspectors. The PSIIDS was an instrument designed to collect injury data and was administered to risk managers for each sample city.

(1) Playground Safety Inspector Assessment Survey (PSIAS).
The playground safety inspector was defined as a full-time employee with the responsibility to inspect playgrounds for safety issues and eliminate risks. The PSIAS was developed specifically for this study to gain perceptions and demographic data from playground safety ‘inspectors.’ The PSIAS was based on the elements of the CPSI-CE Working Model and consists of four sections including,
(a) certification,
(b) experience,
(c) resources,
(d) demographic and background information, including 32 perception items and 10 demographic questions.

The PSIAS employed three model-based subscales, including;

(a) 12-item training and current certification subscale to assess perceptions of playground safety inspectors towards training and certification issues,
(b) 10-item experience subscale to examine perceptions of playground safety inspectors toward experience based on the CPSI-CE Working Model,
(c) 10-item adequate resources subscale to assess playground safety inspectors’ perceptions toward available resources based on the CPSI-CE Working Model.

The PSIAS also was comprised of 10 demographic questions related to history as a playground safety inspector, certification status and source, age, and gender.

(2) Playground Safety Inspector Supervisors’ Assessment Survey (PSISAS).
The PSISAS was designed for this study to be completed by the supervisor of the playground safety inspector. Supervisors were defined as full-time employees or elected officials with the responsibility of supervising the city’s playground safety inspector(s). The supervisor completing the PSISAS was not required to be certified or trained as a playground safety inspector. However, each was to be responsible for supervising the playground safety inspector who completed the PSIAS. The PSISAS was developed for administration to the ‘supervisors’ of the playground safety inspectors, and was comprised of the same four assessment dimensions as the PSIAS. The PSISAS was developed to ascertain beliefs and attitudes about how supervisors of playground safety inspectors perceive the effectiveness of their employees’ certifications (or present training status) in reducing reported injuries in playgrounds they were responsible for inspecting, based on CPSI-CE Working Model elements. The three perception subscale items were identical to the PSIAS, except each obtained the perceptions of the supervisor.

(3) Playground Safety Inspector Injury Data Survey (PSIIDS).
The PSIIDS was developed specifically for administration to the risk managers of sample cities to identify the number of reported injuries for each municipality during the years 2000, 2005 and 2010. The risk manager was defined as the municipal employee, elected official or outsourced risk management agency with the responsibility of obtaining and maintaining records of reported injuries on respective city playgrounds. This data was most likely in the form of financial claims against the municipality for injuries sustained on its public playgrounds. Injuries sustained on public playgrounds not requiring medical attention were most likely not be reported. The three data collection years were selected because the dates were recent and would allow a measurable trend analysis. The information obtained from this instrument provided the injury data from which the three hypotheses were examined.

Survey Outcomes
The primary objective of these analyses was to examine the relationships between the certified playground inspector program and injury rates in California for 2000, 2005, and 2010. The second purpose was to investigate perceptions about how effectively the playground inspection program and certification were working, including:
(a) How much influence does employing a CPSI have on reduction of injury rates?
(b) How much do inspector beliefs in the CPSI system influence injury rates?
(c) How much do supervisors’ value and support of the program affect injury rates?

Additionally, more inductive analyses were conducted to identify whether meaningful profile groups could be distinguished based on;
(a) dimensions of perceived inspector effectiveness
(b) change in injury patterns, with differences between profile groups

Supervisors’ Perceptions Impact Injury Rates
The second hypothesis assessed how supervisors’ perceptions about certification impact injury rates in the state of California. These results support the role of supervisors’ certification perception on reducing injury rates. Survey results generated a four-factor solution accounting for 78% of the total variance among 21 supervisor perception items of the certification program. The high factor loadings throughout each of the four factors demonstrates strong supervisor dimensions which were used to examine the relationship between supervisors’ perceptions on the CPSI program and California’s injury trends across the decade from 2000 to 2010, thus providing support for Hypothesis 2. Less than adequate resources for inspectors’ results in fewer inspections and less frequent repair of equipment, perhaps contributing to increased injuries (Hudson et al., 2004; Kutska, 2009). Support of the CPSI program by the supervisor would then seem crucial to program success. Additionally, supervisor support for the CPSI would also seem to play a critical role in advocating for resources from the local government lawmakers (Iverson & Payne, 2008-2009; Kustka, 2008; Kutska, 2008-2009). Contributing additional support to Hypothesis 2, results revealed generally positive relationships between supervisors’ perceptions about the CPSI system and injury rates, indicating that supervisors’ subscales (i.e., supervisor experience, resources, CPSI value, and employee benefits) are positively related to the reported steady decline in playground injuries in the three assessment years of 2000, 2005, and 2010.

Influence of Inspectors’ Certification Perceptions on Injury Rates
Playground safety inspectors’ perceptions generated a five-factor solution accounting for 75% of the total variance among 20 inspector effectiveness items. The high factor loadings for each of the five factors indicate strong inspector perception dimensions thought to mediate injury rates, and thus provides support for Hypothesis 3.

The combined reduction in playground injury rates and the results on the perceptions of the inspectors were consistent with previous conceptual predictions and research. Peterson (2002) argued that being keenly aware of how to identify the hazards through CPSI training and experience is a priority risk management skill, but only 49% of employees have any interest in the CPSI certification (National Recreation and Parks Association, 2010).

It goes without saying that a significant challenge is to obtain and retain certified inspectors. Miller and Svara’s (2009) and Mulvaney’s (2010) concern with city operating budget shortfalls has the potential to create less than adequate resources that prompt fewer inspections and repair of equipment, increasing the likelihood of more injuries (Hudson, 2004; Kutska, 2009). A strong positive perception of the program by inspectors would then seem crucial. Results revealed a generally positive relationship between inspector beliefs in the CPSI inspection and maintenance program and injury rates. The results indicate that inspector perception dimensions are related to the reported steady decline in playground injuries in the past decade, providing additional support to the Hypothesis 3.

Supervisors’ and Inspectors’ Perceptions.
The analysis results for supervisor and inspector perceptions produced four significant correlations, all of which were significant. When inspector perceptions of resources, experience and the value of certification were low, their supervisors had corresponding low beliefs about these certification perceptions. Similarly, when inspectors perceived employee benefits, experience and supervisor resource beliefs positively, their supervisors demonstrated similar perceptions for these three variables, even though they reported a somewhat negative perception of the value of certification. These results parallel what Hudson et al. (2004), Kutska (2009), and Mulvaney (2010) suggested about playground maintenance, particularly that as maintenance suffers injury rates increase if resources and experience are lacking. In other words, if the resources and experience are limited, the perceptions of both inspectors and supervisors believe injury rates could increase.

Analysis among inspectors and supervisors had similar positive perceptions about the value and benefits of certification, although supervisors also perceived experience as moderately beneficial as well, and inspectors and their supervisors who valued experience highly also believed their resources were low. Kutska (2008/2009) asserted that maintenance staff really do care about the quality of their work, but require the means to do it. With only 49% of playground maintenance employees having any interest in the CPSI certification, it seems logical that there is a need by both inspectors and supervisors to have positive perceptions about the values associated with certification (National Recreation and Parks Association, 2010). The results of the analysis broaden support to this third hypothesis.

Results of this study found that strong positive CPSI’s perceptions of certification benefits promoted reduction of injuries. Additionally, these results suggest that helping prospective CPSIs understand the benefits of certification for both injury reduction and personal advancement needs to be made a more important part of the certification process.

Correlational analyses about the relationship between injuries and inspector perceptions and between inspector and supervisor perceptions, provided some support for Hypothesis 3.

Injuries and inspectors’ Perceptions.
The analysis found the relationship between injuries and inspector perceptions to be non-significant. Results produced three correlations but none were significant. This finding did not lend support to Hypothesis 3, but the lack of significant effects doesn’t necessarily indicate that certification has no impact (Jepsen, 2004).

Surprisingly, the relationship between injury and inspector perceptions demonstrating minimal relationships with injury rates. Because injury rates generally declined across the decade, it begs the question why 2005 correlation results were particularly low. This finding could be a reflection of the new CPSI requirements the state of California instituted in 1999 needed time for cities to adjust and demonstrate injury reductions from the implementation of the new program. Despite Kutska’s (2008) assertion that CPSI efforts should have a substantial bearing on decreasing injury rates, realistically it would take time to implement a Playground Safety and Inspection program and results would lag several years behind implementation, thus explaining this unexpected finding. Though the results for 2005 were low, the modest positive relationship further supports the Hypotheses 2 and 3.

Dwight Curtis’s Research Conclusions:

Curtis goes on to say the implementation of the California Playground Safety Regulations (R-39-97) in 1999 provided an excellent information base to examine the effectiveness of the playground safety inspector certification. While the reported national playground injury rates have been increasing, California’s have decreased over a ten-year period. The NPPS playground safety report card for both 2000 and 2004 gave California higher grades of B- than the nation overall.

Curtis went on to say his study did not include a statistical analysis comparing the downward trend of California’s reported injury rates, the timing of the law requiring certified inspectors for new playground installations, and the NPPSs’ Safety Report Card results. However, the three all point toward a positive relationship (i.e., a downward trend of injury rates from 2000 through 2010), and the enactment of the law in 1999, and California receiving above the mean NPPS playground safety grades (i.e., “B-” in 2000 and 2004 while the national average was a “C-” in 2000 and a “C+” in 2004; NPPS, 2004). Even though the results of this study for inspector perceptions were not as strong as might be desired, they do provide support for Hypothesis 1 that a decrease in injuries is likely if a Certified Playground Safety Inspectors are hired. These findings also provide support to all three critical elements of the Certified Playground Safety Inspector-Certification Effectiveness Working Model (CPSI-CEWM).

The data collected through this exploratory study sought to examine California’s playground safety inspectors’ certification status, its supervisory support, and if and how they have influenced injury rates in that state. The data analyses clearly support this study’s three hypotheses of;
(a) decreasing injuries if certified playground inspectors are on staff,
(b) the value supervisors place on the playground safety inspector program affects injury rates, and
(c) playground safety inspectors’ beliefs about the playground safety inspection program also influences injury rates, and delivers solid support for the Curtis Playground Safety Inspector Certification Effectiveness Working Model (CPSI-CEWM).

Dwight Curtis’s Implications for Future Research and Practice:

Curtis went on to say his study was exploratory and established an information base upon which future research can be built. Results revealed a host of implications for future research and practice. It would be interesting to know the under the demographics of the study;
• number of inspections conducted each year
• number of times inspectors find issues while inspecting
• number and types of issues addressed during a specific period of time
• reasons certain issues are not addressed.

What is the True Value of the California Law requiring CPSI designation by the NRPA.
Curtis went on to suggest that because California has the unusual circumstance of being the only state to require that certified playground inspectors approve the installation of playgrounds before they can be opened for public use (C. Smith, personal communication, May 27, 2012) it would be useful information to know whether this already is an inspirational goal nationwide.

Curtis suggests a national goal generated from the results of this study may enhance the playground certification movement, but other states need to better understand the benefits of California’s law on injury rates.

These questions would require knowing more fully what the costs versus the benefits of certification are. This study also shows that playground injury reduction in California is statistically significant, but is it practically significant? Knowing the costs versus the benefits would also assist in answering this ques

Research Supports NRPA’s Certified Playground Safety Inspectors Reduce Injuries: Part 3 of 4: Conclusions that Support the Value of Certified Playground Safety Inspectors

May 19th, 2016

Research Supports NRPA’s Certified Playground Safety Inspectors Reduce Injuries:
Part 3 of 4: Conclusions that Support the Value of Certified Playground Safety Inspectors

By Kenneth S Kutska, CPSI, Executive Director
International Playground Safety Institute, LLC
April 20, 2016

In Part 1 of this series Curtis wrote in his research project abstract,

“Despite the implementation of certified playground safety inspector programs to reduce injuries, the U S. still faces high injury rates on public playgrounds. The objective of this study was to examine playground certification effectiveness on reducing reported injuries on public playgrounds in California.”

He also noted,
“While national playground injury rates are increasing over the past decade, California’s have decreased. Thus, California’s playground safety regulation provided a good platform to examine certification effectiveness. Overall, results clearly support positive relationships between certification, inspector and supervisor perceptions and the working model and injury reductions on California playgrounds.”

Based on predominant themes derived from the review of literature and the elements of the Certified Playground Safety Inspector Certification Effectiveness Working Model (CPSI-CE), three hypotheses emerged, included:

(a) A decrease in injuries occurred when playground safety inspectors were hired.
(b) Playground safety inspectors’ beliefs in the system influenced injury rates.
(c) The value supervisors place on the playground safety inspector program affected injury rates.

Hypothesis 1 – A decrease in injuries occurred when CPSIs were hired.
Kutska (2008) asserted that agencies with experienced CPSIs on staff should prompt reductions in playground injuries. Cegielski et al. (2003) and Stoddard (2008) suggested that personnel who obtain certifications produced a more comprehensive understanding of playground specialization which promoted retention. This study sought to examine how the depth of training leading to certification, experience and available resources influenced playground injury rates. With certification, experience, and adequate resources, a reduction in playground injuries should be realized.

Hypothesis 2 – Playground safety inspector’s belief in the system influenced injury rates.
This study examined the relationship between the three elements of the CPSI-CE Working Model and playground injury rates. Results were expected to show that surveyed playground safety inspector beliefs and attitudes about how effectiveness in playground injury reduction directly reflected biases toward available certification training, resources and the amount of experience they have.

Hypothesis 3 – The value supervisors placed on the CPSI program affected injury rates.
It was assumed that a supervisor who supports the program would likely try harder to ensure the availability of adequate resources. Kutska (2008) and Iverson and Payne (2008-2009) stress the importance of adequate support to ensure an effective playground safety inspection program. This study was designed to identify the perceptions of supervisors’ about inspection programs and relate these to injury rates.

Research Outcomes: Survey Results versus Injury Rates for 2000, 2005, and 2010

The primary objective of these analyses was to examine the relationships between the certified playground inspector program and injury rates in California for 2000, 2005, and 2010. The second purpose was to investigate perceptions about how effectively the playground inspection program and certification were working, including:

(a) How much influence does employing a CPSI have on reduction of injury rates?
(b) How much do inspector beliefs in the CPSI system influence injury rates?
(c) How much do supervisors’ value and support of the program affect injury rates?

Additionally, more inductive analyses were conducted to identify whether meaningful profile groups could be distinguished based on;
(a) dimensions of perceived inspector effectiveness
(b) change in injury patterns, with differences between profile groups

Demographic Survey Results

Of the 474 California cities solicited for participation, 286 cities (response rate = 60.3%), stratified by city size, (a) small (92 sampled, 59 response (64.1%)), (b) medium (296 sampled, 182 response sampled had an inspector complete the PSIAS, a supervisor complete the PSISAS, and a risk manager provide injury data via the PSIIAS. The mean age of inspectors was 46.5 years for small cities, 46.2 years for medium-sized cities and 48.4 years for large cities, while the mean age for supervisors was 42.2 years for small cities, 45.7 years for medium cities, and 48.2 years for large cities. Small cities reported that the gender make up of inspectors was 89.8% male (10.1% female), with 86.0% male (14.0% female) for medium and 78% male (20% female) for large cities. The gender balance for supervisors in small cities was 83% male and 14% female, while medium cities were 81% male and 16% female and large cities reported 79.5% male and 20.5% female supervisors. The mean number of years of experience for inspectors in small cities was reported as 13.7 years, while medium cities were slightly more (i.e., 14.0 years) and large cities slightly less experienced (i.e., 12.9 years).

The NRPA reported that in the state of California, there were 467 CPSIs in 2000, 596 in 2005, and 690 in 2010. (C. Smith, personal communication, May 2, 2012). This certification increase of 48% over a ten year period suggests that cities in California consider the certification important.

Kutska Comment: The most logical explanation for the growth of California CPSIs over this 10 year period is the 1999 State Regulations required each playground be inspected by a CPSI from NRPA Program

The sample surveys revealed that 54% of small cities reported their playground inspectors were certified, compared to 57% for medium cities, and 62% for large cities. Of those certified, small cities reported the average number of years their supervisors were certified was 5.0 years, with certification experience also 5.0 years for medium cities and 5.4 years for large cities. Two types of playground safety inspector certifications were identified. Small cities reported 100% of their certifications were from NPSI while medium cities reported 96% NPSI and 4% NPPS, and large cities reported 93% NPSI and 7% NPPS. Medium-sized cities reported 8.7% of their certified inspectors obtained both NPSI and NPPS certifications, while large cities reported 7% of their certified inspectors had both certification types.

The NPPSs’ Safety Report Card reported that as a nation, playground safety received a grade of “C-” in 2000 and a “C+” in 2004. California received a “B-” in 2000 and in 2004, providing evidence that playground safety in the State of California was above the national average and possibly the state was doing something different to receive a higher NPPS grade (NPPS, 2004.

Injury Data Survey Results

The results revealed that playground injury rates steadily declined over three assessment years, 2000, 2005 and 2010.

The three-way interaction demonstrated injury rates for small cities with certified playground inspectors declined steadily for all three assessment years, while those without certified inspectors declined slightly between 2000 and 2005, but then came back to original levels in 2010 injuries per year. Injury rates for medium cities declined in each of the three assessment years for both cities with and without certified inspectors. However, the cities without certified inspectors showed greater decline, partly due to starting with higher injury rates, whereas cities with certified inspectors demonstrate lower overall injury rates. Injury rates for large cities with certified inspectors saw a dramatic decrease from 2000 to 2010, while those without certified inspectors saw a decrease from 2000 to 2005, but then an increase from 2005 to 2010.

For the certification by time two-way interaction, cities with certified inspectors started with higher injury rates than did those without, but by 2010, those cities with certified inspectors demonstrated fewer injuries than those without certified inspectors. However, only the certification status comparison for 2010, but not for 2000 and 2005 was significant. For the city size by time interaction, each city size category showed a steady decrease in injury rates across the decade, including: small cities, medium cities, and large cities.

Dwight Curtis’s Research Conclusions:

The implementation of the California Playground Safety Regulations (R-39-97) in 1999 provided an excellent information base to examine the effectiveness of the playground safety inspector certification. While the reported national playground injury rates have been increasing, California’s have decreased over a ten-year period. The NPPS playground safety report card for both 2000 and 2004 gave California higher grades of B- than the nation overall. The data collected through this exploratory study sought to examine California’s playground safety inspectors’ certification status, its supervisory support, and if and how they have influenced injury rates in that state. The data analyses clearly support this study’s three hypotheses of

(a) decreasing injuries if certified playground inspectors are on staff,
(b) the value supervisors place on the playground safety inspector program affects injury rates, and
(c) playground safety inspectors’ beliefs about the playground safety inspection program also influences injury rates, and delivers solid support for the Curtis Playground Safety Inspector Certification Effectiveness Working Model (CPSI-CEWM).

Kutska Closing Comment: I would like to personally thank Mr. Dwight L. Curtis, PhD. for this contribution and the perseverance required to complete this work over many years. I know how hard you worked on this project.

Research is important work that can provide valuable insight into the important role the CPSI plays in injury reduction and maintaining quality play opportunities for all children. We all believe in the importance of what we do. Quite often the role and responsibilities of the experienced CPSI does not receive the recognition they deserve in providing quality playspaces that are well maintained and function as intended from the very first day until it is time to take it out of service.

Stay tuned Part 4: We will look at some additional areas that Dwight Curtis as identified as worthy of further study.

Research Supports NRPA’s Certified Playground Safety Inspectors Reduce Injuries: Part 2 of 4: Curtis’s Tool for Measuring Certified Playground Safety Inspector Effectiveness

May 18th, 2016

Research Supports NRPA’s Certified Playground Safety Inspectors Reduce Injuries:
Part 2 of 4: Curtis’s Tool for Measuring Certified Playground Safety Inspector Effectiveness

By Kenneth S Kutska, CPSI, Executive Director
International Playground Safety Institute, LLC
April 20, 2016

Curtis’s research paper spans more than a decade of data comparison coupled with personal survey results of agencies within California. The Certified Playground Safety Inspector, the inspector’s supervisor and the agencies risk manager were surveyed and those results were compared with injury data supplied by the agencies risk manager and analyzed. Part 2 will look at what Curtis identifies as the three powerful prevailing elements guiding certification effectiveness. They include the relationship between; current certification, experience, and resources.

The following studies were used as a basis for supporting the conclusions of Dwight Curtis’s research.

National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS)
Most studies on playground safety cited national injury statistics. The initial data that were gave rise to the CPSC report on playground injuries in the early 1990s came from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). For nearly 35 years, the CPSC has operated this statistically valid injury surveillance system. The principal purpose of NEISS provided relatively timely data on consumer product-related injuries occurring in the U.S. The CPSC initiated an expansion of the system to collect data on all injuries in 2000, allowing the system to be even more useful. NEISS injury data were gathered from the emergency departments of 100 hospitals selected as a probability sample of all 5,300+ U.S. hospitals with emergency departments.

Though there was no question that the data provided through the NEISS system was useful and needed, it was not necessarily real time as suggested by the stated primary purpose. Reported playground injuries cited in 2001 were still being cited in 2009. As a rule of thumb for interpreting all data from published research, wild swings in data should be considered with caution.

Sources for Playground Safety Inspector Certification
The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) was established in 1995 at the University of Northern Iowa. The program issued its first playground safety inspector certifications in 1997. They also offered an Early Childhood Playground Inspection Certification and a School Inspection Certification. The NPPS reports that more than 1,480 certifications have been issued through that organization since 1997.

The second source of playground safety certification was the NPSI, a subsidiary organization of the NRPA. Since attaining the NRPA National Certification Board’s approval in 1994, more than 50,000 people across the United States have been trained and certified through the NPSI course since its inception. Only the NRPA CPSI certification requires re-testing. As a result of this requirement the total number of CPSIs listed on the NRPA CPSI Registry at any one time averages between 7 and 8 thousand.

Kutska Comment: The NPPS program does not require follow-up testing to maintain their certification status therefore the NRPA CPSI certification program further demonstrates one’s commitment to staying current with national playground standards and best practices. This requirement suggests there is more market value to the NRPA CPSI designation.

The Playground Safety Report Card
The NPPS released a playground safety report card for childcare, school, and park playgrounds in the United States based on assessments of more than 3,000 randomly selected playgrounds (NPPS, 2004). An original assessment was conducted in 1999, with a follow up study in 2003. The four elements of the NPPS S.A.F.E. formula were (a) supervision (S), (b) age appropriate design (A), (c) fall surfacing (F), and (d) equipment maintenance (E). Nationwide, the grade for the supervision component declined from a B- to a C between 1999 and 2003. During the same time period, the age-appropriate design element increased from a C to a C+. The fall surfacing element increased from a C to a B-, but equipment maintenance component did not receive an overall grade. The reported grades for each state in the playground safety report card were assessed for relationships to this study’s playground safety inspector certification model. Supervision, Age-appropriate equipment, Falls – impact attenuating surfacing, Equipment maintenance (S.A.F.E.) State report was provided.

The following study comes from Curtis’s research. It is the tool used to support the conclusion that CPSI certification adds measureable value to an agency and reduces playground injuries.

The Curtis Playground Safety Inspector Certification Effectiveness Working Model
(CPSI-CEWM)

The first purpose of this study was the fact that while there was considerable research on playground safety, none was found specific to playground safety inspector certification. However, reports published by the NRPA and associated professional periodicals, as well as discussions on playground certification issues by parks and recreation professionals, overwhelmingly point to three powerful prevailing elements guiding certification effectiveness, including;

(a) current certification
(b) experience
(c) resources

(Cegielski et al., 2003; Hudson et al., 2004; Iverson & Payne, 2008/2009; Jepsen & Rivken, 2009; Ginsburg, 2011; Kutska, 2008a, 2008b; 2008/2009, 2009; Miller & Svara, 2009; Mulvaney, 2010; National Playground Safety Institute, 2010; National Program for Playground Safety, 2011; National Recreation and Park Association, 2008, 2011; Peterson, 2002; Stoddard, 2008, 2009).

A second purpose of this study was to develop a model to identify the three primary elements of playground safety inspector certification and examine how each influences reducing injuries on public playgrounds. The Curtis Playground Safety Inspector Certification Effectiveness Working Model (CPSI-CEWM) was developed to fulfill this need and focuses on the impact these elements had on creating an effective playground safety inspector. Ultimately Curtis was looking to substantiate any measurable positive impact and value CPSI certification had on improving the quality and safety of their agencies playgrounds while reducing the number and severity of injuries.

Working model element I: CURRENT CERTIFICATION

The first primary element of the CPSI-CE Working Model was ‘current certification.’ Training and education were only as useful as current relevance, and playground safety inspector certification was only as useful and effective as the breadth and accuracy of inspectors’ knowledge. Stoddard (2008) suggests those who attended the NPSI and NPPS playground safety inspector certification courses have a more comprehensive understanding of the CPSC Handbook and ASTM playground-related standards than do those that were not certified. With these standards continually changing, current certification holders were better able to keep abreast of current standards by maintaining involvement in the education process.

Cegielski et al. (2003) emphasized a person’s increasing knowledge and skills in an area of specialization, promotes retention, a defining characteristic of expertise among playground safety certified professionals. Typically, expertise and knowledge expanded through formal education and application of knowledge. Thus, a current CPSI provides a method of estimation of an individual’s expertise via a standardized measurement instrument. However, earning the CPSI did not in itself render the individual an expert in the application of the public playground standards of care (Kutska, 2008; National Playground Safety Institute, 2010). The training objectives of both the NPSI and the NPPS playground safety certifications were to ensure that the successful certification holders have acquired necessary knowledge and specific competencies through formalized coursework (National Playground Safety Institute, 2010; National Program for Playground Safety, 2011).

CPSI certifications, along with on-the-job training and experience and continued study of CPSI course publications that were correctly and consistently utilized in the field helped generate an experience level essential to be considered a playground safety expert (National Playground Safety Institute, 2010; National Program for Playground Safety, 2011). Kutska (2008/2009) suggests that the reality was that the maintenance staff care about and want to maintain things the way they were designed, but to do so, required adequate manpower, money, and time to maintain playgrounds effectively. In an NRPA survey, between 50% and 74% of parks and recreation agencies budgeted funding for professional CPSIs. However, only 49% of employees demonstrated any interest in the CPSI certification (National Recreation and Park Association, 2010). This discrepancy emphasized that obtaining and maintaining current CPSIs were a challenge for maintenance staffs.

Working model element II: EXPERIENCE

The second primary element of the CPSI-CE Working Model was ‘experience.’ Regardless of the occupational field, it was only logical that training required some level of practical experience to realize the full benefits of certification. In support of the essential need for the CPSI, Peterson (2002) argued that one of the most straightforward means of developing the risk management skills needed for safer playgrounds was to become acutely aware of how to identify hazards through CPSI training and experience. No research was found directly relating to playground safety inspector certification and experience, but the correlational research in teaching and business professions support this notion.

Kutska (2008) asserted that obtaining the CPSI certification in itself did not make the playground safety inspector an expert, because even those considered experts in the playground safety inspector profession often have differing opinions. CPSI training, however, did provide a basis from which one can, over time through experience applying the CPSI material in the field and become a playground safety expert. Kutska (2008) also emphasized that CPSIs with practical experience became experts in the field of playground safety, and efforts should decrease the frequency and severity of playground injuries.

Kutska (2008) also made an interesting and relevant point about the difference between merely having a playground safety certification and being an experienced expert as a playground safety inspector. It is not uncommon for inexperienced CPSIs to contact CPSI instructors and solicit solutions to playground safety issues. In today’s litigious environment, NRPA/NPSI and CPSI course instructors have found it necessary to become more guarded in offering solutions to specific questions. The result was a requirement for CPSIs to understand and apply standards and guidelines in the field, thus arguing for a more rigorous practical applications portion of training. A related study (Jepsen & Rivken, 2009) found that having a first-year teacher as opposed to a teacher with at least two years of experience decreased achievement by an average of 0.10 and 0.07 standard deviations in mathematics and reading. Results also found a significant quality variation between fully certified and non-fully certified teachers. If Kutska’s (2008) contention that CPSI certification and experience results in fewer and less severe playground injuries was correct, then this makes a powerful argument for the need for field experience to be a part of CPSI certification and recertification.

CPSI certification and experience go beyond maintenance. Playground design, improper equipment, and installation issues account for two out of three reported playground injuries (Peterson, 2002). Stoddard (2009) advised that when having a playground designed, be sure the designers were CPSIs. This precaution provided a reasonable assurance that designers understood the playground safety guidelines and standards and would be more likely to implement them into specific playground designs.

Working model element III: RESOURCES

The third primary element of the CPSI-CE Working Model was ‘resources.’ One of the top two causes of playground-related injuries was facility deficiencies or inadequate maintenance. Several researchers (Kutska, 2008; Iverson & Payne, 2008-2009) suggest that for CPSI certification to be effective, it was crucial for playground maintenance operations to have the financial resources, personnel and opportunities to implement the CPSC Handbook and ASTM playground-related standards. Delivering safe playgrounds that meet safety requirements was the overriding expectation of the public. Thousands of publicly-owned and maintained playgrounds were found to be in disrepair throughout the United States because of budget cutbacks. The National Park Service estimated that in 2008, the funding shortfall throughout the country was more than $27 billion, with a large portion of these funds typically allocated to rehabilitation, maintenance, and renovation of aging and deteriorating facilities or playgrounds (National Recreation and Parks Association, 2008). Ginsburg (2011) stressed the gravity of the funding crisis, citing results of a survey by the National League of Cities which determined that 87% of cities were less able to meet fiscal needs in 2010 than in the previous year. Stoddard (2009) further argued it was the owner’s duty and responsibility to provide complete and thorough maintenance for all playgrounds.

Unquestionably, political resolve among governing bodies was essential for CPSI effectiveness. Adequate funding, manpower and time were necessary to be an effective playground safety inspector (Kutska, 2008/2009). Iverson & Payne (2008-2009) urged local government lawmakers to support adequate resources, noting that playground owners had a duty of care to ensure adequate resources and that their actions in implementing appropriate care standards reduced liability. To assist in garnering favorable elected official attention, some agencies integrated parks and recreation levies or bonds into local election campaigns. Mulvaney (2010) notes that playground projects and elected official support for funding on-going maintenance and safety were often publicized in an effort to assist official(s) during re-election campaign(s).

Historically, when reductions in staff occurred in maintenance programs, the cutbacks tended to include park playground maintenance staff (Mulvaney, 2010). Seventy percent of states report operating budget shortfalls of more than seven percent (Miller & Svara, 2009; Mulvaney, 2010), prompted severe negative results if CPSI staff and staff training were reduced or eliminated. A peculiar paradox developed as funding for resources dwindled; even more experience and skills from CPSI personnel were used when they were asked to do more with less (Kutska (2009). Hudson et al., (2004) noted without adequate resources for CPSIs, less routine inspection and repair of equipment caused the playgrounds to become less safe and increase hazards to children using the equipment.
The relationships among the three primary elements of the CPSI-CE Working Model are interdependent. The ultimate objective to reduce playground injuries and to lessen the severity of the injuries that did occur required a system with as few limitations as possible. The primary objective of the CPSI-CE Working Model in this study was to identify certification dimensions that influenced the effectiveness of the program as well as how the three certification elements impact the overall success of the total process. Therefore, the model was examined with a large sample of CPSIs, and compared to reported public playground accident rates in communities over the past decade.

Stay tuned: Part 3 will focus on the outcomes and conclusions of Dwight Curtis’s research on California’s Certified Playground Safety Inspectors effectiveness in reducing playground injuries.

Research Supports NRPA’s Certified Playground Safety Inspectors Reduce Injuries: Part 1: Is there Value in Professional Certification for Playground Inspectors

May 15th, 2016

Research Supports NRPA’s Certified Playground Safety Inspectors Reduce Injuries:
Part 1: Is there Value in Professional Certification for Playground Inspectors

By Kenneth S Kutska, CPSI, Executive Director
International Playground Safety Institute, LLC
April 20, 2016

In the late 1990s I met a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) candidate by the name of Dwight Curtis. This young man was very interested in conducting his PhD research on the parks side of our profession. He said he had an interest in the area of playground safety. We chatted about many things related to the playground management. My suggestions focused on the new emerging playground safety standards and whether or not these standards and our CPSI training was having any measurable impact on public playground safety and injury reduction. I believed in my gut the CPSI Program and its national certification designation, while still very new at that time, was having a significant positive impact resulting in a measurable reduction in playground injuries and long term this certification program would result in cost savings from less litigation. These theories were nothing more than my opinions based on personal observations over the previous 10 years. I attributed these perceived improvements to the industry wide need for this training demonstrated by the rapidly increasing number of CPSI Courses and participants during this period of time. I also observed a steady increase in the playground manager’s awareness of the most common playground hazards. This coupled with the major efforts to address these common playground hazards by the playground equipment designers and manufacturers were all positive steps in improving the basic safety of the playground environment. Unfortunately there was no research to prove my observations right or wrong. There were some obvious signs such as the obvious growing numbers of CPSI candidates and courses around the country and a dramatic industry wide increase in sales of both playground equipment and protective surfacing. My experience and opinions were anecdotal evidence at best therefore I suggested Dwight consider a research project that would prove one way or the other that there was true measureable value in being a CPSI. I believed all agencies who hired a trained and experienced CPSI would also benefit in other measureable ways. I was of the opinion that when research could demonstrate the positive impact of a CPSI that NRPA would be able to convince all policy makers and agency managers of the need for, and value of, having a CPSI on staff in every park and recreation agency, school district, and childcare facility in America. I also believed the benefits of having CPSIs on staff should be able to be measured within every playground equipment and surface system designer/manufacturer, distributor, installer, or private contractor involved in creating a public playgrounds existence.

It took approximately 15 years to get some research to support the value of a CPSI. Somebody finally rolled up their sleeves and set out to demonstrate the value of a CPSI and in so doing provide us with the data necessary to support the need and importance of a CPSI on every agency in America that operates one or one thousand public playgrounds. I am proud to introduce the results of Dwight Curtis’s research. The following information comes from Dr. Dwight Curtis’s study. I apologize for taking liberties in bringing the basic findings and processes used to come to the conclusion that having a CPSI on staff has a positive effect on an agency’s perception of the value of CPSI designation and the work a CPSI does in making playgrounds safer and reducing injuries to their playground users.

A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy with a Major in Education in the College of Graduate Studies University of Idaho
by Dwight L. Curtis July 24, 2012: Major Professor: Damon Burton, PhD

“Abstract
Despite the implementation of certified playground safety inspector programs to reduce injuries, the U S. still faces high injury rates on public playgrounds. The objective of this study was to examine playground certification effectiveness on reducing reported injuries on public playgrounds in California.

A correlational framework was utilized to examine relationships among playground injuries in three different size municipalities and certification in the state of California during a 10-year period.

Additionally, the influence of model components such as playground safety inspectors’ and their supervisors’ beliefs and attitudes about certification status, experience level, and available resources on injury outcomes was also investigated.

Survey data was collected primarily online from 247 inspectors, their supervisors and organizational risk management specialists, with a response rate of 60.3%.

The number of playground safety inspectors increased 48.7% over the past decade. Two-way repeated measures ANOVA variance examined differences in injury rates for three assessment years (2000, 2005 and 2010) in three different city sizes and for two types of certification status, resulting in significant differences in injuries over time, certification status by time, city size by time, and certification status by city size by time.

ANOVA results found greater declining injury rates for cities with certified inspectors than those without, but only the data for 2010 was significant. Exploratory factor analyses identified five inspector and four supervisor perception dimensions, and these dimensions were moderately correlated with each other and with injury rates.

Interestingly, supervisor perceptions were more strongly related to injury rates than those of inspectors. Cluster analyses results created injury and inspector profile groups, and MANOVA was used to examine differences between profiles. The high-decreasing profile group was significantly more related to positive inspector and supervisor perceptions than was the low-increasing profile.

The high-positive inspector perception profile was also significantly associated with lower injury rates than the other four profiles.

While national playground injury rates are increasing over the past decade, California’s have decreased. Thus, California’s playground safety regulation provided a good platform to examine certification effectiveness. Overall, results clearly support positive relationships between certification, inspector and supervisor perceptions and the working model and injury reductions on California playgrounds.”

Studies on the Value in Professional Certification

Curtis found studies that suggested there were an increasing numbers of employers who were turning to certifications as a means of ensuring potential employees actually do have the requisite skills for an occupational specialty. Just as a degree from an accredited university provides solid evidence of advanced learning, a professional certification was viewed by an employer as credible evidence of skill and knowledge within a particular profession.

The State of California took this to the extreme by requiring all public playgrounds be initially inspected and certified by a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) from the National Recreation and Park Association’s CPSI Course and Exam. This was to occur before the playground was opened to the public (California Playground Safety Regulations, 1999). Interestingly, California is still the only state with this requirement.

Curtis’s research also sought to determine if certification or non-certification impacted quality-cost improvements and waste-cost reductions. The statistical results found no significant differences between those companies with certified employees and those without. If this finding was universal, then the conclusions could be significant for all professions. In explaining the study results, it was concluded that the success for the companies would require more than just people with certifications.

Interestingly Curtis found that certification was not always valued. He found many older established employers in the project management profession had little knowledge of the professional project management certification. While the employer might notice the certification on a resume, they weren’t necessarily interested in applicants with the professional certification credential. This finding was worth mentioning because this bias could just as easily pertain to those hiring people to maintain and manage playground safety.

Another basis for lessened appeal for professional certification is certification fraud, or cheating to provide or obtain a professional credential. Employers can no longer assume that potential employee certifications were genuine, casting further doubt on the value of certification. When employers no longer value certification as a hiring, promotion or compensation criterion, professionals in any field start to question its value as well.

This study gave some credence to the point there was no empirical statistically significant distinction between the capabilities of certified network professionals and non-certified network professionals. This conclusion was counter to the hypotheses of this study that predicts statistically significant differences between the capabilities of certified and non-certified playground safety inspectors which may impact injury rates.

By far, the highest concentration of research found on the effects of certification was in the field of education and teacher certification. Common sense suggests that the quality of teachers impacted student achievement, and that a certified teacher would promote greater impact than a noncertified one. However, review of the literature suggested accurately measuring teacher quality was challenging and not as clear cut as might be assumed. A study that examined the underlying assumption that teachers were important predictors of student achievement concluded that teacher experience, education and certification were not strongly correlated with student achievement. This study did find some evidence which supported teacher experience as positively associated with students’ mathematics and reading outcomes. The author of the study also cautioned that the lack of significant effects should not be interpreted as evidence that teachers produced no impact on student achievement.

One study found large differences in quality among teachers within schools. A standard deviation increase in teacher quality raised test scores by approximately 0.1 standard deviation in reading and math while teacher experience significantly raised student test scores, particularly in reading, with a 0.17 standard deviation difference between beginning teachers and those with 10 or more years of teaching experience. Unfortunately the empirical research did not address teacher certification or education.

Curtis observed a comment in the report that policies rewarding teachers based on credentials may be less effective than policies rewarding teachers based on performance. His observation could be related to employers possibly rewarding playground safety inspectors (e.g., pay raises, promotions, or special recognition) because they achieved certification rather than actually being able to show a reduction in children’s playground injuries as a result of their certification.

In a (2007) study researchers compared the effectiveness of certified and noncertified teachers (i.e., National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification) based on the following questions that may be relevant to playground safety inspector certification.

• Is certification a good indicator of teacher quality in the teacher labor market as a whole?
• Did certification provide any information about teacher effectiveness that goes beyond what was already provided by licensure exams (i.e., Are licensure tests just as good as certification at identifying effective teachers)?
• Did these certification standards identify the most effective teacher candidates?
• Finally, is the certification process itself a facilitator for building human capital?

These researchers found that the NBPTS assessment process did distinguish between more- and less-effective teachers. Teachers who were certified tended to be more effective than were unsuccessful applicants to the program. While consistently finding that certified teachers were more effective, there were mixed findings about their effectiveness post-certification. The study found no evidence that certification acted as a catalyst for effective teaching, but their results did support the notion of building human capital. National board certified teachers (NBCTs) appear to be no more effective, and in some cases, less effective after certification than they were before certification. The main conclusion from this research was that the National Board successfully identifies effective teachers, findings that were similarly supported by additional research in 2009. By comparison, these four questions seemed relevant in examining CPSIs.

Similar research was conducted over a 10-year period. In contrast to earlier results, this study concluded that measurable credentials account for a substantial percentage of the total effect of teacher quality on student achievement. A variety of teacher credentials were included in the analysis, so it was not as specific to the NBPTS certification study. However, the longitudinal approach utilized a broader meaning of the credential and made sense because it bypassed the notion of a singular fix-all certification and could possibly apply to certifications across all professions, including the playground safety inspector certifications. The meaning of credential included the training for the certification itself, the various experience factors of the teacher, the resources needed to do the job and the policies in place. This broader meaning, however, was also confusing as it diluted the distinctness of the certification itself, but these findings were consistent with previous research.

Kutska Comment: These findings support the notion that credentialing CPSIs on their knowledge of public playground safety standards and guidelines through initial testing coupled with the requirement to re-testing every three years to the current body of knowledge or standard of care has merit. There is a need to stay up-to-date with current safety standards and guidelines in order to remain relevant in meeting the CPSI’s employer need for continuing education on the current standard of care objective thereby improving on the ultimate goal of reducing playground injuries. This has been the National Playground Safety Institute’s primary objective from the very beginning of the NRPA CPSI Certification program. We understand the body of knowledge on public playground management is not static therefore re-testing every three years has been a prerequisite for holding the credential as a CPSI in good standing in lieu of continuing education units.

Studies that Support the Value of Certified Playground Safety Inspectors

No studies were found that examined the effectiveness of the playground safety inspector certification on reducing reported injuries sustained on public playgrounds. Also not found, were previous studies that investigated the primary elements of the hypothesized model on the relationships between;

(a) the beliefs and attitudes of playground safety inspectors and perceived job effectiveness,
(b) their supervisors’ beliefs and attitudes toward the CPSIs’ job effectiveness,
(c) the effect on the actual number of reported injuries.

Therefore, the purpose of this exploratory research was to conduct a study to examine the effectiveness of the playground safety inspector certification on the reduction of reported injuries sustained on public playgrounds in the state of California. In order to accomplish this analysis it would be necessary to study three hypotheses that emerged from Curtis’s study and the elements of the CPSI Certification Effectiveness (CPSI-CE).

(a) Injuries decrease when a CPSI was hired.
(b) CPSI beliefs in the playground inspection system influenced injury rates.
(c) Supervisors value placed on their playground safety inspector program affected injury rates.

The first purpose of this study was the fact that while there was considerable research on playground safety, none was found specific to playground safety inspector certification. However, reports published by the NRPA and associated professional periodicals, as well as discussions on playground certification issues by parks and recreation professionals, overwhelmingly point to three powerful prevailing elements guiding certification effectiveness, including;

(a) current certification
(b) experience
(c) resources

(Cegielski et al., 2003; Hudson et al., 2004; Iverson & Payne, 2008/2009; Jepsen & Rivken, 2009; Ginsburg, 2011; Kutska, 2008a, 2008b; 2008/2009, 2009; Miller & Svara, 2009; Mulvaney, 2010; National Playground Safety Institute, 2010; National Program for Playground Safety, 2011; National Recreation and Park Association, 2008, 2011; Peterson, 2002; Stoddard, 2008, 2009).

A second purpose of this study was to develop a model to identify the three primary elements of playground safety inspector certification and examine how each influences reducing injuries on public playgrounds. The Curtis Playground Safety Inspector Certification Effectiveness Working Model (CPSI-CEWM) was developed to fulfill this need and focuses on the impact these elements had on creating an effective playground safety inspector. Ultimately Curtis was looking to substantiate any measurable positive impact and value CPSI certification had on improving the quality and safety of their agencies playgrounds while reducing the number and severity of injuries.

Stay tuned, Part 2 of this article will look at the studies that helped frame the research conclusions and the relationship and the impact each has on the effectiveness of the CPSI on reducing playground injuries.