Archive for July, 2010

Looking at the Past and Ahead to the Future of the National Playground Safety Institute (NPSI)

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

By Kenneth S Kutska, CPRP, CPSI
This article was originally written by Ken Kutska on September 15, 2006 as a retrospect of the continued efforts of National Recreation and Park Association and the NPSI to improve playground safety in the United States. This article describes in great detail the NRPA and NPSI role in creating the beginning era of proactive playground inspection and maintenance through education and training of current industry standards. As part of this training the NPSI promotes a proactive model comprehensive public playground inspection and maintenance program to minimize frequency and severity of playground related injuries to children while maximizing the developmental benefits and fun play areas should provide throughout their useful life expectancy

While most of the effort of the National Playground Safety Institute is focused on the enhancement of the Certified Playground Safety Inspector Course we cannot ignore the fact that there are many other items confronting the National Playground Safety Institute Executive Committee. As the Executive Committee begins to look to the future we’re continually looking back over our shoulder at the past. Whenever one begins to develop a vision for the future they must understand their mission, know where they have been, know where they are today, and have goals for the future.

If we stop a moment and look back at the historic perspective of playgrounds in the United States we can see that we have a little more than a 100-year-old playground movement. This movement has flourished within the United States from the very beginning when children’s play became an extension of physical education or gymnastics in an outdoor environment. Experts agreed that play enhances educational opportunities for children especially at a very young age. During this time most major cities incorporated public playgrounds into their city master plans. The next major phase of this movement occurred from the post Industrial Revolution through World War II and was comprised of free standing metal pipe equipment. We still see many of these playgrounds in existence today. You can see them in many of small old school yards and old parks throughout the United States. They consist of the standard monkey bars, turning bars, freestanding slides, and swing sets. This era was followed by a period of similar types of equipment but with a theme. The 1970s brought about rapid change in our theories of play. This era of the American playground led us to the 1980s up to present where the large composite play structure became the rage. From this point on the consumer has been constantly bombarded with new play concepts, new play products, new materials, new safety surfaces, and new construction and installation techniques. Playgrounds had become big business and purchasing equipment to meet the consumer’s needs had become a more sophisticated process requiring a much greater knowledge base of knowledge.

What Started All This?
During the end of the post World War II era of public playgrounds and through the beginning of the composite structure era of public playgrounds there was another movement taking place within the playground industry. The National Recreation and Park Association along with the National Bureau of Standards attempted to develop a national playground safety standard. Although this effort was unsuccessful it did give way to a United States Consumer Product Safety Commission initiative that led to the 1981 Handbook for Public Playgrounds. While this was recognized as a significant milestone in the United States public playground safety movement many realized this was only the beginning. Since 1981 there has been a proliferation of information, guidelines and standards related to public playgrounds not just in the United States but throughout the world. Injury statistics are being tracked and monitored on annual basis by many groups in organizations throughout the U.S. and the world. In the U.S. approximately 40 million children or 14 percent of the population are between the ages of 2-12 which is defined as the user-at-risk in the scope of the public playground safety standards and guidelines in United States. More than 200,000 reported injuries are logged annually by the Consumer Product Safety Commission through the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. In addition to these numbers one more disturbing fact remains. Approximately 17 children a year will die as a result of an injury sustained on a playground.

When the National Playground Safety Institute was formed back in 1990 at the National Park and Recreation Congress in Phoenix AZ the steering committee could not imagine the road they were about to go down.

The first national playground safety Institute was held in Baltimore Maryland in 1991. This marked the beginning of the establishment of a Certified Playground Safety Inspector program. The National Playground Safety Institute Executive Committee formalized their relationship with the National Recreation and Park Association with the signing of a 1993 Memorandum of Understanding. Later in 1993 the National Recreation and Park Association signed a letter of cooperation with United States Consumer Product Safety Commission during the mid-year meeting in Washington D.C.. In 1994, the National Playground Safety Institute received approval for the Certified Playground Safety Inspector program from the National Certification Board. The first certification exam was actually administered in 1993 at the NRPA Annual Conference in San Jose California. During this same time period the NPSI Executive Committee began to work with the National Recreation and Park Association State Affiliates to prepare a protocol for administrating the inspector certification course around the country through the NRPA State Affiliates. This move significantly expanded the course market and from that point on the program grew rapidly, almost too rapidly. The contractual relationships between the National Recreation and Park Association, the National Playground Safety Institute, and our State Affiliates have proven to be very successful for all parties concerned. These relationships continue to grow and prosper. The National Playground Safety Institute could not have achieved what it has to date without the support of its partners. We have learned from each other’s successes and failures but most importantly we have continued to develop a better product. Today we continue to work with not-for-profit groups like the American Society for Testing and Materials, International Playground Equipment Manufacturer’s Association, National Playground Contractors Association International, National Association for the Education of Young Children, International Playground Safety Institute, and the National Program for Playground Safety. We also continue to work with other governmental organizations like the Consumer product Safety Commission, U. S. Access Board, and the park District Risk Management Agency. We will continue to look for opportunities to work with other non-profits like Kaboom, Boundless Playgrounds, and the U.S Play Coalition as well as corporate for-profits like McDonalds Corporation, Burger King, and Disney Corporation. The National Recreation and Park Association and the National Playground Safety Institute had a prominent role in the first two International Institute’s on Public Playgrounds thanks to the leadership and sponsorship of Penn State University. If the National Playground Safety Institute is to continue to grow and attain its vision and mission we will continue to establish new relationships and partnerships with individuals in organizations who share our vision.

Results and Impacts from NPSI and CPSI Program through 1996
Whenever a new successful program is established it is easy to identify positive accomplishments:
• Quality comprehensive training
• State-of-the-art publications and staff training materials
• Created field test entrapment probes and protrusion gauge kits
• Doubled gross program revenue annually since 1995 (1999-$660,000)
• Doubled number of Institutes sites since 1996 (1999-42 Institutes)
• Certified playground safety inspectors in every state in the U.S.
• Developed CPSI Instructor training materials
• Outreach to other organizations sharing our mission
• Started a communication network with Certified Playground Safety Inspectors (NPSI Networks)
• Annual focus and promotion of public playgrounds through Parks and Recreation magazine
• Increased membership of the National Playground Safety Institute Executive Committee and cadre of Certified Playground Safety Institute Instructors.

In spite of these accomplishments we are experiencing growing pains.

Future Challenges
How do we maintain what we have? How do we assure the necessary support for future growth of the program? What impacts will additional state and federal legislation have on the national playground safety Institute? What impacts will other ASTM standards have on our existing program? Can we be successful in identifying and securing outside funding sources to help with future initiatives of the program? Will we be able to sustain the volunteer expertise we currently have on our National Playground Safety Institute Executive Committee?

NRPA and the NPSI Board will continue to address these questions and as opportunities present themselves we will evaluate the situation and work towards a solution that helps us better serve our CPSIs, our playground users, and the playground industry.

Future Opportunities
• Timely revisions to existing training and instructional materials
• Development of a universal playground audit and inspection form and training program in conjunction with the International Playground Equipment Manufacturer’s Association
• Development of a Soft Contained Play Systems training program
• Development of a playground designed accessibility training program
• Develop an advanced level inspector course to better educate and prepare CPSI to perform compliance audits
• Investigate the need to develop a certified playground safety inspector’s correspondence course
• Development of a more interactive Web site with NRPA
• Train new instructors and nurture future National Playground Safety Institute board and committee members
• Identify and develop new partnerships and programs that advance our mission

As we continue to analyze the past, scrutinize the present, and look toward the future there is one challenge or opportunity that always seems to resurface. The need is to better market and promote of the National Playground Safety Institute and the National Recreation and Park Association. We know that fewer than 20% of the CPSI Course participants are NRPA or State Affiliate members yet the program benefits many agencies who have either Commissioner/Board Member or Administrator membership in NRPA. The fact remains the efforts of the NPSI and the CPSI Course provides a valuable service to the general public by helping to make Americas play spaces safer. This is a good thing and NRPA needs to continually promote this fact not just to its membership but to the general public through the media.

Regardless of the task at hand one thing remains constant, “NPSI and its partners intend to be proactive in making playground safer through education rather than reactive to legislative mandates.” Thank you for your continued support. We plan to be there for you.