Archive for November, 2012

Playground Maintenance and Inspection Training Program now available or Playground Maintenance Technicians

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

By Kenneth S Kutska, CPSI
September 15, 2012

Training the front-line staff responsible for day to day operation of our public play spaces is vital to the success of a comprehensive program of playground safety. Too many children are injured on our public playgrounds because of a lack of proper maintenance practices. This is not because of a lack of concern for the public’s safety as much as it is due to a lack of knowledge of training in proper processes necessary to meet equipment and surfacing manufacturer’s expectations for a safe and properly functioning piece of equipment or surfacing system. I am pleased to announce that Clemson University is now offering a two day training program to train playground maintenance technicians. This program was initially developed by Monty Christiansen, Professor Emeritus, Penn State University over a ten year period of research and observation of “Best Practices” throughout the play equipment industry. The Park District Risk Management Agency of Lisle, Illinois worked with Monty to put his vision for the program into practice. Clemson University is the managing partner in making this program available to any local host. For more information on the program or hosting a program contact Clemson University, Carly Summers at 864-656-2525

Playground maintenance and inspections go hand in hand. Inspections and their purpose should not be confused with that of a playground compliance audit. There is a distinct difference between these two processes. A compliance audit is based on a local or national standard comparing the condition of the equipment, surfacing and equipment layout against an accepted or mandated minimum standard of care. The playground audit is only the beginning of a comprehensive playground safety management plan as it only identifies deficiencies and ranks these in order of priority for corrective action. A routine safety inspection is done to identify all new hazards on existing playgrounds resulting from rapid or evolving changes, such as; vandalism, storm damage, general wear & tear, litter accumulation, or to identify and report a broken or missing playground component. A thorough inspection coupled with the application of proper routine and preventive maintenance practices should be considered as your standard operating procedure.

• The primary function of a good inspection and maintenance program is to ensure the safety of the people using the play environment. The safety of the users is the foundation for what the agency adopts as its standard of care.
• Inspections and timely maintenance preserve the utility or function of the equipment. We want to keep it working. We inspect for wear of swing hangers or lubricate moving parts to keep them functioning and to prolong the life of the equipment.
• We also inspect and perform routine maintenance to keep the area hygienically clean. Children and animals do make messes in play environments. Some of their messes may spread disease.
• We also inspect and perform maintenance to keep the area looking good. We want our play environments to be aesthetically clean and inviting.

By performing regular inspections we are being pro-active, eliminating issues before they become a problem. All too often maintenance is perceived as a “fix it” task. This “reactive” approach to maintenance with staff only responding when there is a problem does not efficiently utilize the agencies resources and does not ensure the safety of the user.

Inspections should be based on the standard of care established by the agency. The inspections should include the recommendations provided by the manufacturer of the playground equipment and become a part of the development of the inspection and maintenance checklists.

The inspection checklist should be tailored to what is provided at the playground. Don’t have a generic checklist that covers any piece of equipment and expect the inspector to skip those not present at the playground he or she is inspecting.

Inspections and maintenance should be performed based on frequency of use. If inspections are not easy to accomplish they won’t be performed. Inspection forms should be created that are tailored to the type of inspection and the area being inspected.

There are two types of inspections that are performed based on frequency of use. A low frequency inspection is typically a seasonal inspection, performed two or three times a year. This is an up-close, in-depth, top-to-bottom type of inspection done to evaluate the general wear and tear on the equipment. The low frequency inspections are tied directly to preventive maintenance.

A high frequency inspection may be performed daily or routinely. This type of inspection identifies rapidly changing conditions due to weather, vandalism, sudden breakage and identifies surfacing problems typically associated with loose fill materials. Typically while performing a high frequency inspection routine maintenance is done such as raking loose-fill materials back into place and picking up garbage. During high frequency inspections, such bad damage may be noted that repairs (remedial maintenance) will be required.

There is no magic formula to determine the frequency of inspection. However there are some common considerations. First consider how often is the playground used and by how many children at a time. What are the ages of the children that use the playground? Very young children are not as hard on equipment as adolescents. Consider the vandalism patterns throughout the playground area. If vandalism is a constant concern at a site then obviously that site will need to be inspected more frequently, possibly every day.

Development Factors such as the nature and type of equipment will influence the rate of inspection. Is it moving or static equipment? Swings or items that have moving components are going to need to be serviced more frequently than stationary components. If the surfacing under and around the equipment is a loose material, it will need to be maintained more frequently to insure that it remains in place under the equipment. The type of materials use in the manufacture of the equipment will also contribute to the determination of the use factor. Wood for example must be inspected more frequently than steel because of the very nature of wood. The age of the equipment is also a factor. An old house or car is always going to require a little more tender loving care and the same goes for an old playground.

Environmental influences will also be a determining factor in how often you perform inspections. The soil and drainage conditions will effect the wear of your surfacing materials. The geographic location and climate will influence how the product performs over time. Dramatic fluctuations in temperature can accelerate material deterioration. The combination of sand and wind can wear materials down very quickly. Atmospheric conditions such as acid rain and heavy pollution would require more frequent inspection.

The purpose of a low frequency inspection is to document routine wear and tear on equipment and to establish preventive maintenance schedules. During this type of inspection the inspector is looking for evidence of normal wear and tear. The equipment manufacturer’s recommendations for preventive maintenance should be performed at this time. This is the time that bearings are lubricated, swing hangers are checked for signs of wear, hardware is checked for loosening and the general condition of the equipment, surfacing and footings is evaluated.

The results of the inspection must be documented and actions taken to repair or remove hazards that are noted. The inspections can be used to anticipate future expenditures, so that these expenditures can be added to the annual budget. When a purchase order is issued there is a paper trail noting that a replacement part or work order has been ordered. It is important to follow up with documentation that the part was installed or that the work was performed.

When preventive maintenance is performed it is important to make sure that this documentation is present in the site history file. By performing preventive maintenance the agency is being pro-active and ultimately ensuring the safety of the users.

The site plan and composite structure details that were prepared during the first steps of the playground management process are used again during the low frequency inspections. Having access to copies of these site plans enable the inspector to note specifically on the plan what item of equipment needs repair or replacement. When a work order is issued, the person performing the repair will know exactly where the work is to be done.

The purpose of high frequency inspections is to insure that frequent, on going routine maintenance is being performed. During these inspections the staff should see if the general condition of the playground has changed due to wear & tear, vandalism or environment. These inspections are to be performed on a regular basis. Your agency must decide how frequent is frequent. In some situations they may need to be performed twice daily if necessary. The inspection should be performed by maintenance staff, playground supervisor, or other trained personnel. The results of the daily inspection are noted and documented. A system should be in place for review of these inspection forms regularly by a supervisor.

The purpose of routine maintenance is to take care of the custodial needs of the play environment. Trash and debris are removed, surfacing is maintained and the playground is briefly inspected for any sudden changes due to vandalism or weather. During these inspections work orders for remedial maintenance may be submitted when necessary.

The importance of timely maintenance can never be underestimated. According to one study of injuries that resulted in litigation, one out of every three cases alleged that lack of maintenance was the cause of the injury. Imagine how much safer America’s playgrounds would be if we just did two simple things.
• Made sure that all playground equipment had the appropriate surfacing materials and depth under and around it.
• Performed regular maintenance on the playground equipment and environment.

The responsibility for maintenance is a shared responsibility. According to the ASTM Standard, the manufacturer is required to provide the owner/operator with “clear and concise instructions and procedures for the installation of each play structure designed or provided, as well as a complete parts list.” They are also required to provide “inspection, maintenance, and repair instructions, including, but not limited to, what, when, and how to inspect, maintain, and repair” Check that appropriate signs indicating intended user age group and supervision is recommended must be properly displayed and legible. The sign or label must warn the public of hazards associated with entanglements such as items worn around a child’s neck or wearing a bicycle helmet while playing on the equipment. Also warnings for hot surfaces are required when the equipment or impact attenuating surface systems may reach temperatures that can cause serious burns to some of our youngest children. These warnings need to be worded and placed at locations which give the users time to adjust or adapt to the possible concern before they actually come in contact with the potential concern.

The owner operator is obligated to ensure that the equipment is installed according to the manufacturer recommendations. They are also bound to maintain the surfacing with in the use zone of each play structure in accordance with the requirements of ASTM1292. The owner/operator is also charged with keeping accurate records of inspection, maintenance, and repair. Only with timely inspections and proactive corrective action can the playground be maintained free of potential deficiencies that may result in a serious injury to a child.

To summarize, a comprehensive plan begins with establishing a philosophy or plan. A person responsible for day to day operation of a public playground area you must be trained in basic inspection and maintenance procedures your agency has established to assure the safety of the public and preserve the function and longevity of the equipment and surfacing. A site history file must be established for every playground area. The playground compliance audit is the first step taken to determine the present condition everything within the playground environment. The audit must be analyzed and immediate hazards must be dealt with on a priority basis but regardless of what the audit identifies regular routine inspections and proactive corrective action must take place to maintain and improve upon the current conditions so nothing deteriorates to a point to increase the probability a serious accident may occur. To mitigate the potential for injury the owner must establish a plan for removing, repairing and retrofitting the existing equipment. Most importantly, all of your actions must be documented.

By instituting a comprehensive program of playground maintenance you will discover that the “Benefits are Endless”.

There is a quote used at the end of the NRPA’s Certified Playground Safety Inspector Course that states….

Not all playground accidents “just happen”.

They may occur because those — who, by proper actions, could have minimized the opportunities & removed the conditions for accidents — failed in this responsibility to the children.

Don’t let this be said about you.