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

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

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.

Part 4 of 4 – Playground Surfacing Requirements and Injury Reduction: How much of either is enough?

February 14th, 2016

Part 4 of 4 – Playground Surfacing Requirements and Injury Reduction: How much of either is enough?
By Kenneth S Kutska, CPSI, Executive Director
International Playground Safety Institute, LLC

August 20, 2015

Benefits of Risk vs Too Much Regulation vs Unintended Consequences – What is the magic number?

Is lowering the Head Injury Criteria (HIC) to 700 the magic number to reduce severity and frequency of fall related injuries? How many children have to be severely injured or die from a fall on the playground before we can justify some enhanced performance measurement for playground surfaces? Why are some questioning the use if the National Highway Transportation Safety Board’s (NHTSB) research as rationale for our surfacing impact thresholds? Some are questioning why we are not following the NHTSB research recommendations for automobile crash protection of 700 HIC for School-age playgrounds and 560 for pre-school age playgrounds. Why use 700 HIC for both? The NHTSB’s action has resulted in a 10% reduction in Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) over a 10 year period once the new impact attenuation thresholds were implemented. Is that a significant improvement in cost for residual benefits to society versus the cost to the consumer to implement? The NHTSB could not give us this good news until the new standard was put in place and it probably took 10 years of before this standard was put into most cars on the road.

I cannot tell you when or if a reduction in the playground surfacing thresholds may occur but in the meantime if we are ever going to see any reduction in fall related injuries it will require owner/operators take action in these four areas.

First, they need to become more knowledgeable in all the factors related to the performance of all playground protective surfacing systems.

Second, they need to become knowledgeable in all the industry requirements and best practices for maintaining compliant surfacing systems.

Third, they need to improve their purchasing practices so performance requirements and specifications for their playground protective surfacing meet the performance requirements and expectations throughout the life of the playground equipment.

Fourth, they need to develop and implement operation procedures to address all of the above by improving the inspection and maintenance of their playground surfacing systems.

These steps are the only way the playground owner/operator can ensure compliance to current industry standards. Compliance to standards should reduce liability exposure and since there are still many public play areas that have surfacing that is far from compliant it also might have an overall positive impact on the frequency and severity of injuries. Without implementing any of these actions we will continue down the same path we have been on for years. Fall related injuries will not diminish and millions dollars will continue to be paid out primarily due to long bone fractures. I am concerned one of the unintended consequences of the status quo mindset could lead to fewer play opportunities as local governments implement liability avoidance tactics and remove playgrounds. Some have already implemented policies that have eliminated swings and other motion equipment because of injuries sustained and the amount of money that has been paid out by insurance companies.

Other playground surfacing challenges within the USA

The USA has other challenges beyond just impact attenuation performance of playground surface systems. They have to address the minimum accessibility requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. This Federal law has been the driving force behind the use of unitary rubber surface systems. There have been some local studies to suggest these unitary surfaces have brought about a concern about a rise in the number of long bone fractures. There is also anecdotal evidence to suggest the number of long bone fractures have increased where unitary surface is installed under and around upper body equipment, such as horizontal (hand over hand) ladders. The cause is believed to be the lack of surfacing disbursement after initial impact. It appears that while playground designers were attempting to address accessibility with the introduction of firm and stable unitary surfaces systems the result may have negated the energy displacement benefits of loose-fill surfacing materials primarily from other than direct vertical falls.

Closing Comments

I, for one, have been around this block too many times over the past 10 years of open debate. I have heard all the concerns raised for and against the change. I have done my best to get as educated as I could on the complex issue. In addition to participating in the ASTM F8.63 Subcommittee meetings I attended the October 2013 TÜV Austria Academy Playground Safety Day Conference in Vienna in order to become better informed on the subject and what other issues might be of international concern. The focus was on the performance aspect of playground surfacing standards. A key discussion point was the perceived or real negative impact changes to the surfacing safety performance requirements might have on the developmental benefits of risky play. Another concern raised at this conference was the potential loss of financial resources for creating more play opportunities by having to allocate these funds towards the increased cost of safety surfacing. I have heard this same concern raised throughout North America. Would we have the changes brought about by the ADA for playground accessibility had we agreed with the concerns raised about all the increased costs for compliance. Following this group think rationale about the fear of excessive compliance costs we might not even have the current ASTM Standard. I do believe there may be some increased costs but I also know there currently are many surface systems out there that meet this new proposed threshold and are comparable in cost to what is being used today. I do not think every playground that complies with the current threshold needs to automatically close down their playground until they can replace the surface should the threshold be lowered but I would first make sure I had developed a long term plan to replace these surfaces and my playground equipment as my replacement schedule is implemented.

I knew very little about Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) before this debate started. I thought I knew what a concussion was until I attended an all-day ASTM F8 Symposium on the Mechanism of Concussion in Sports in Atlanta in 2012. We tend to use the term concussion without an understanding of the various levels of severity and how difficult it is to properly diagnose the severity in children. The meeting was well attended by people with diverse backgrounds related to the topic of TBI, impact injuries and performance of various impact absorbing equipment and materials. I also participated in two meetings with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on all things related to Traumatic Brain Injuries. We shared each of our efforts to reduce TBI in children. The CDC presented their plans to better educate the general public on the rise in TBI in all areas of youth sports. The public playground is one of their major areas of concern. In spite of all these meetings and a review of current literature on all subjects related to impact injuries, primarily serious brain injuries, I have come to realize that the more I know the more I realize I don’t know.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I have formed my own. My vote has always been based on all the information that is available. Some argue there is no evidence to suggest the reduction is necessary and we should not do anything until that evidence has been presented. On the other hand, I could argue the information we are currently using does not support our current thresholds. Can we objectively present any solid research that substantiates the current standard of 1000 HIC and 200g meets the scope of the F1292 or F1487 Standards. When it comes to reduction of frequency of specific severity of injury types, I can support the recommendation to lower the current threshold to something that is known to reduce the injuries our standards are supposed to address. In the meantime, if anyone is concerned with keeping the performance of their surfacing in compliance with current standards throughout the projected life of their playground I suggest you do the four things I mentioned earlier in this column. Beyond that you might also consider the following three things:

First, consider conducting on-site post installation drop testing to confirm compliance to your purchasing plans and specifications.

Second, voluntarily consider specifying an impact attenuating performance threshold of 700 HIC. The F1292 standard says the owner/operator can specify a threshold lower than the standard minimum requirement prior to purchase.

Third, since the performance of surface systems almost always deteriorate over the life of the playground, initially lowering the performance requirements in the purchasing specifications below even the proposed 700 HIC number seems to be a reasonable consideration for playground owner to start with if they intend to keep the playground in compliance with the current standard throughout the life of the playground.

Beyond these actions, we can always attempt to challenge the current legal system in the USA, however I am forced to live in the real world as imperfect as it may appear to some. Only good proactive management decisions can reduce a playground owner’s exposure to potential liability.

Part 3 of 4 – Playground Surfacing Requirements and Injury Reduction: How much of either is enough?

February 10th, 2016

Part 3 of 4 – Playground Surfacing Requirements and Injury Reduction: How much of either is enough?
By Kenneth S Kutska, CPSI, Executive Director
International Playground Safety Institute, LLC

August 10, 2015

Benefits of Risky Play vs Too Much Regulation vs Unintended Consequences: Where has this debate on lowering the HIC threshold got us to date?

We have expended a tremendous amount of human and financial resources and seemingly appear to have made no real progress. Fall related injuries continue at the same rate year after year. Many playgrounds are neglected by those responsible for their day to day existence. Caregivers neglect their responsibilities to supervise those under their care. And when an injury occurs, nobody wants to take full responsibility for their actions so they spend more money, time, and effort trying to place blame on someone else. This paradigm needs to change. More money, time, and effort needs to be spent on educating the general public and those responsible for the management of these playgrounds. This is not ASTM’s responsibility. Owners need not seek new revenue sources for training those staff responsible for the purchase, design, installation, inspection and maintenance/repair of their playgrounds. What they need to do is redistribute existing funds and human resources from within their operation to address their minimum responsibilities as stated in current standards and guidelines.

Some still call for research related specifically to the playground environment and not the automotive industry. What do automobile impact injuries have in common with a child’s playground? Some still argue there is no relevance to this discussion. We need to remember why the playground safety movement began and from where we got most of the scientific research assistance to address the know injuries based on the current user patterns of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

What have we learned from the past about fall related impact injuries?

Current surfacing performance impact threshold was based on the best information available in the early 1970s. Dare I say times have changed? There is much more medical and biomechanical research available today than when the ASTM and CPSC first looked at reducing fall related impact injuries. We now have the ability, if we chose, to evaluate the performance of each and every playground surface in-the-field and do not have to rely on some laboratory test that was done on some samples made in a controlled environment and tested according to the ASTM F1292 laboratory test. How does that laboratory performance test translate to what is actually installed on site?

What we know.
We know surface systems which do not exceed the 200g and 1000 HIC threshold are compliant.
We know that most serious head injuries do not occur from a fall in which the user lands head first.
We know the today’s standard risk curve shows a 15% probability of a life threatening head injury.
We more recently have learned body blows can transfer enough trauma to create serious head injury.
We know the current standard scope is to address serious head injury, and not long bone fractures.
We know many long bone fractures could be classified as severe and debilitating by most international health mandates for children’s injury prevention.
We know this severity level for these types of injuries would not to be addressed by the current scope of almost every international standard in existence.
Today what we are learning there is more supporting evidence that the frequency of fracture probability as a consequence of impact decreases when the fall results in a G-max of 250 to 200 to 150 to 100.
Lastly, but maybe most importantly, we seem to be willing to ignore the fact that whatever performance threshold we select shall reflect the desired outcome of our standard’s scope.

Impact injury thresholds in the current scope of international injury prevention standards

What is that magic number for our surfacing standard? I do not know but people much smarter than I have suggested that a G-max threshold of 100 would significantly reduce both the frequency and severity of fractures and serious head injuries. This can only be accomplished by lower fall heights or better performing surface systems. In 2011 ASTM F1487-11 reduced the swing impact test threshold to 100g and 500 HIC without any negative concerns raised by the voting membership. The Canadian Standards Association for public playground equipment (CSA Z614-14) uses exactly the same threshold as the ASTM Standard. Many years before the ASTM took action on swing impact thresholds, the British Standards Institute (BSI) reduced their playground swing impact threshold to a maximum peak G of 50 which is half that of the current threshold used in the ASTM and CSA Standards. The BSI standard was subsequently adopted by the German DIN Standard prior to the creation of the European Standard.

Significance of automotive industry to the swing impact threshold and playground safety standards

The BSI reduced their swing seat as a result of the research the Sutcliffe Play Ltd., a leading manufacturer of swing seats worldwide. This research was conducted to reduce the impact of traditional wooden bench swing seats being used up until the late 1970s. During the late 1960’s and 70’s there was increasing concern about the safety of playgrounds in the UK and elsewhere. There were a number of highly publicized accidents that formed the basis of a playground safety lobby. Research was also published by Dr. Illingworth in 1975 showing that the majority of accidents were the result of falls to the surface and by children being hit by wooden swing seats. The largest single cause of injury in playgrounds was due to impact with hard surfaces and head impacts accounted for the majority of the serious injuries reported. It therefore followed that the provision of energy-absorbing surfaces would do much to reduce the incidence and severity of playground accidents.
At this time, Sutcliffe Rubber Company was already working in the field of play and sports, making gym and cricket matting, as well as rubber components for the automotive industry. Sutcliffe realized that if they combined their expertise in metal-to-rubber bonding, with their knowledge of the play market, they could increase the safety of playgrounds. Consequently they developed and patented this flat rubber safety swing seat in 1976 and the first rubber impact absorbing surface. Sutcliffe research followed the standard adopted by the Franklin Institute Research Laboratories of Philadelphia for impact commonly found in the automobile industry. The Franklin Institute, the most prominent of American mechanics institutes of its time, was established in Philadelphia in 1824.This standard, adopted by Franklin Institute, used a maximum peak G of 50, with any impact over that considered to be unsafe. Sutcliffe did a lot or research and testing with the Institute to come up with a superior seat that would perform well below the standard of 50G. Sutcliffe utilized the theory of buckling struts which is commonly used by the automobile industry to absorb energy. In the swing seat, buckling struts are created by a cellular structure of two rows of holes, which deform on impact should the seat hit a child. The new seat peak G impact was just 4% of the wooden seat. The British Standard and the EN Standard now require an impact threshold of less than 50g for swing seats less than 900 mm or 36 inches in diameter and less than 125g for seats greater than 36 inches in diameter. There is no reference to the HIC equivalent to G-max. I am not aware of what BSI or EN’s rationale is for the 50g and 125g numbers other than the historic significance of Sutcliffe and the Franklin Institute’s adopting the standard of a maximum peak G of 50 to address the likelihood of serious head impact injury and possibly the zygoma skull fracture impact data. The ASTM F15.29 Subcommittee’s Swings Working Group rationale for reducing the swing seat impact threshold to 50% of the current surface impact compliance threshold allowed this new Dynamic Swing Impact Test Method would reduce the likelihood of a serious swing impact head injuries and allow for larger multi-occupancy swing experiences. This change was therefore thought to be within the scope of the current standard for injury reduction and allow more challenging swinging experiences.

Back to the Surfacing Threshold Debate

MYTH: The automotive industry research has no relevance to the international playground industry performance standards. Opponents to the reduction of the HIC argue there is no evidence of a relationship of injury reduction research from the automotive industry to the playground industry.
FACT: All international playground safety performance standards have used the automotive industry research a more frequently than they may realize as the development of the swing seat impact performance standard illustrates. Today other standards development efforts are using the automotive industry research to make consumer safety improvements to reduce injuries to children. This argument no longer holds water.

The initial research which has created the current F1292 Impact Thresholds of 200g and 1000 HIC came from research completed on behalf of the US Military and the Automotive Industry. Had ASTM or CPSC waited for playground related injury research to quantify and support the need for lower swing impact and surfacing impact thresholds we still would not have a standard.

MYTH: Reducing the surface impact attenuation threshold to 700 cannot demonstrate evidence of any real reduction in fall-to-the-surface related injuries will occur.

FACT: A reduction in HIC from 1000 to 700 will lower the current 15% probability of a serious head injury to less than 5%. 5% probability of a serious head injury is considered statistically insignificant and therefore the chance for a serious head injury is almost non-existent. This number reduces the severity of injury based on the Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS) from a solid 4 (severe, life threatening, survival probable) to a 3 (serious, debilitating with a legacy of more than one month). Lowering the HIC to 700 would also significantly lower G-max. The logic of the EN Standard not exceeding an impact of 125g for a swing seat greater than 36 inch in diameter suggest there might also be a reduction in long bone fractures. Unfortunately there currently does not appear to be any empirical research to give us that quantitative answer many seem to be demanding before they will entertain any reduction to current F1292 threshold levels.

Automotive industry’s R and D prevents playground injuries

The Sutcliffe Rubber Company’s Safety Swing story is interesting one in the history of children’s injury prevention. It has some relationship to the playground surfacing performance dilemma we find ourselves wrestling with for almost a decade. While swing impact injuries were only a small number of the total playground injuries in the UK the severity of these injuries were a concern to many. Sutcliffe’s conducted research and development on how to reduce impact injuries caused by the typical wooden bench style swing seat. They used standards adopted by a reputable mechanical engineering institute that was being used in the automotive industry to reduce impact injuries. The Sutcliffe Rubber Company was already making products for both the automotive and playground industry. They started with playground surfacing rubber safety tiles and now swing seats. It did not take Sutcliffe Rubber Company years to bring their seat to the marketplace. I bet the seat almost sold itself with the assistance of a great piece of marketing literature. I would venture to say that there was a great deal of expense placed on developing such a seat. There was the ongoing cost to the playground owner to comply and purchase and replace these seats as necessary. The British Standard swing impact requirement was far more restrictive than anything in the current international standards. They were able to convince the Germans to adopt the requirement in the DIN Standard. Later it has been adopted in the current EN Standard with some additional modifications. Were there calls for risk benefit analysis before making this a requirement? This playground compliance requirement is currently more severe to that of Canada or the USA for such a small number of severe injuries. They and we both know that if a child is hit in the head by an empty hard wooden or metal or even a hard rubber swing seat they can sustain a serious head injury. That is why the standard was created. We both know that if a child falls on surfacing that is installed and maintained to the current thresholds they stand a 15% probability of sustaining a live ending injury yet we have not moved to reduce these thresholds. Thankfully there aren’t many young children that have lost their lives falling on a playground. Tell that to the parents of a child that did.

Part 2 of 4 – Playground Surfacing Requirements and Injury Reduction: How much of either is enough?

February 7th, 2016

Part 2 of 4 – Playground Surfacing Requirements and Injury Reduction: How much of either is enough?
By Kenneth S Kutska, CPSI, Executive Director
International Playground Safety Institute, LLC

August 1, 2015

The new starting point for debate on this very complicated Issue

Let’s recap the status of the ASTM ballot process on the issue of lowering the F1292 impact threshold from 1000 to 700 HIC. No change has been approved through the ASTM standards development process. The appeal ruling by the ASTM Council on Standards (COS) was never about the content of the issue or whether the change in HIC was warranted. The appeal was taken up by COS to determine if the ASTM balloting process was strictly followed. There was another concern raised on whether or not it was appropriate to go out to ballot on the same subject matter that was once voted down. This has always been within the authority of the Chair of the Subcommittee.

The outcome of this COS appeal resulted in another ballot a few months later on exactly the same motion. This time the ballot had many more negative votes with basically the same rationale given on the previous ballot. Negative voters wanted proof for the change based on playground research not research conducted by the automotive industry. People wanted empirical not anecdotal data related to serious head injuries. What is a serious head injury? Some only wanted to look at serious head injuries and not consider a possible reduction in long bone fractures since fractures are not specifically mentioned in the scope of the F1292. Some wanted definitive number of injuries that occur on non-compliant versus compliant surfaces. Some wanted to know the cost benefit factors for improving surfacing performance requirements versus the societal cost of these injuries. Some wanted comparisons of playground fall related injury costs versus those other more frequent and severe injuries sustained in other activities and locations. This information is currently not available and I doubt it will be any time soon. Research takes time and cost money. Thus far nobody is willing to foot the bill or volunteer to take on the research.

Derogatory comments about the ASTM and the efforts of volunteer members of the ASTM F8.63 Subcommittee is troubling to me and are not warranted. I would like to think the comments were a result of a lack of knowledge and understanding about the ASTM and the ASTM standards development process. ASTM, as an institution that has been around for over 100 years, does not provide technical data or research to support the rationale of their actions. The voluntary members of each Subcommittee provide the technical and subject matter experts who volunteer their time and money to develop thousands of industry standards for materials and test methods which benefit society as a whole. All Chairs volunteer to manage the efforts of their Subcommittee. The Chair of ASTM F8.63 Subcommittee is responsible for the current ASTM F1292 Standard and many other playground surfacing standards. The Chair is responsible to ensure the ASTM standards development process is followed throughout each step of voting process. There has been, and will continue to be, open and robust discussions and debate on all aspects of this ballot item and other ASTM Standards ballots. The ASTM organization, its process, and membership rules are the most transparent of any standards development organization in the world. Where else can anyone become a member of such a committee responsible for developing international voluntary industry standards for the small fee of $75 USD? Membership does not require attendance at each and every Subcommittee meeting. However, membership does require active ongoing participation in voting process for any and all Subcommittee ballots. Members have access to all Subcommittee meeting minutes, ballots, including supporting rationale for each ballot item, as well as other pertinent documents such as research papers related to the current topics being discussed by the Subcommittee. Unfortunately not every member, has the time or resources to attend Subcommittee meetings whether they be a virtual online meetings or regularly scheduled ASTM Committee Week meetings held around the US and Canada. It takes a commitment of time to read through all the information available so members can educate themselves make informed decisions.

The Need for Safety versus Need for Risky Play: Benefits versus Unintended Consequences
I venture to say that each and every country that has added something to this debate has a similar government mandate when it comes to local government and private industry’s’ responsibility for the safety of children. Public safety and injury prevention continues to be the primary focus of most standards developing organizations but it appears injury avoidance is fast becoming the most expedient means of addressing the safety and the potential liability facing the designer, manufacturer, owner, operator, installer, and inspector of public playgrounds. Manufacturers that do not sell product in the USA do not face the same public liability issues as those who do. If they chose to sell their products in the USA they will be under the scrutiny of the US CPSC and the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. As a result of these liability issues, real or perceived; our willingness and enthusiasm to provide risky challenging playground equipment with high play value is diminished based on how much risk public agencies and product manufacturers are willing to accept. Those who care deeply about children’s developmental are strong advocates for the benefits of more risky play opportunities in a child’s play environment. Unfortunately we cannot ignore the potential consequence of our actions when choosing play equipment appropriate for a particular location. These decisions are most often made by governmental authorities who, for the most part, are not well versed in all aspects of the long term management responsibilities that come with any playground.

The one question nobody has been willing or capable of answering is, how many deaths, debilitating, and/or life-threatening injuries is society and our judicial system willing to accept? These are cultural issues that must be answered by each individual country and in the USA it may vary by state. While play is a universal need in a child’s development, it is each country’s local customs and beliefs that will determine what emphasis they will place on child’s right and need to play.
All items brought forth, whether pro or con, on lowering the current impact attenuation performance thresholds have been discussed and debated over and over by the F8.63 Subcommittee members. Some requests for additional study and research are not much more than wishful thinking and far above the reach of this Committee. Are these requests truly warranted or are they nothing more than stall tactics or a means of adding unrelated issues to the mix to add confusion to the discussion?
Part 3 of this discussion will look at what got us to the current surfacing performance threshold. I will discuss how one other impact threshold requirement came about and how we have historically rationalized these numbers using whatever research data was available to support our rationale for the particular standard requirement.