Archive for February, 2015

CPSI Certification and Recertification Issues: Why do CPSIs have to retest every 3 years?

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

CPSI Certification and Recertification Issues: Why do CPSIs have to retest every 3 years?
By Kenneth S. Kutska, CPSI, Executive Director, International Playground Safety Institute, LLC
April 1, 2015

Over the past few weeks a series of comments and questions related to the CPSI examination process have surfaced on one of the National Recreation and Park Association’s (NRPA) social/professional networks appropriately named, NRPA Connect. The group network or community is named, “CPSI & Playground Safety Community.” This online community is open to any CPSI Course participant regardless if they pass the CPSI examination. For more information on how to join contact Karen Snyder, NRPA Playground Safety Coordinator at As I reviewed the questions and comments the primary concern or issue is the requirement to re-certify by taking the examination every three years. The second issue was the CPSI Candidate’s desire to know what questions they got wrong and have the opportunity to discuss the correct answer with NRPA or their course instructor. Here are some excerpts from the comments made on the NRPA Connect: CPSI & Playground Safety Community.

Why do I need to keep re-certifying to maintain my CPSI?

“I, too, agree that taking the test to recertify is a waste. My pesticide recertification only requires a one day class. I am all for the class for updates.”

“I agree with you, did the online exam three years ago and plan the same for my recertification in March. This will be for the 5th time I have taken the test. All my other certifications require educational and work experiences but not testing.”

“I liked the in-class course. I learned a lot however, to have to recertify every three years by passing the basic exam is a money grab plain and simple. It’s like in school, we all cram for the test and when the test is over, that’s it. Nobody can possibly remember all these requirements. That’s what they have reference materials for. It is my opinion that recertification should be performance based similar to the Certified Safety Profession (CSP) or the Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM). We are required to show proof of continued education, proof that you are actually working in the field, etc. The application for recertification has a cost to it, but not an exam! Why doesn’t a lawyer have to retake the BAR exam every three years? By-the-way, the online refresher is Xcellent!”

“I did my last recertification using the online prep and it work great for me. It helped me pass my re-cert exam locally. My only issue is having to re-cert every three years. I have numerous professional certifications in the professional safety and environmental engineering field and they do not require taking a recertification test. You do have to show proof of continued education and be working in the field but no testing.”

“I would not consider the online tutorial and exam for the 1st or 2nd time. I have taken it 6 times. Regardless of who pays for it (and I hope it’s your employer) it is worth it to network with others about all the other things. I knew one guy that was unemployed at the time and got a job from one of the other attendees. He still complains about the 3 day interview.”

“I took the online course last year and was able to pass the test with a good margin. If I had to do it over again, I would take the class in person as I did quite a bit of outside studying of the ASTM and CPSC standards. It seems very beneficial to have the interaction with others to talk through situations. The pros and cons of the online program are as follows;
4 modules with questions peppered throughout and a practice exam.
Can work at your own pace at your workstation.
Great for folks who are good at taking standardized tests.

No collaborative feedback.
Still need to study outside of the materials presented in the modules.”

Here is my initial response to the group.

“Any national certification program worth its salt requires a consistent approach to maintain the integrity of the exam. These requirements are not just established by NRPA. They are created and maintained by organizations whose responsibility and livelihood are based on the integrity and reliability of the examination results. It assures ongoing credibility based on the body of knowledge and exam questions which have passed the test of time. Over time each exam and question is analyzed for its validity from year to year. National certification exams have a specified number of repeat questions used in each exam from one year to the next. These questions are known as “equators”. Without these equator questions the exam company cannot effectively evaluate and compare the year to year results of each and every exam and establish a passing rate that reflects consistency in the passing rate from one year to the next. NRPA could stop the current practice any time they choose but they could no longer defend the CPSI as a national or international certification program. Knowing what questions one gets incorrect on the exam would rapidly negate any exam security and the credibility of the CPSI Certification designation. Many of these questions have been asked time and time again. Nobody is requiring anyone to attain this CPSI designation. Having the CPSI designation does not make one an expert or a good inspector. Hopefully it makes one a better inspector. I am currently writing my column for Professional Playground’s electronic newsletter. It will be a bit of a historic account of how the CPSI Certification came about and some of the options for attaining and maintaining this certification if one chooses or is required to do so. A CPSI is just one of approximately 6 to 7 thousand certified individuals whose primary responsibility is to identify safety concerns which could severely injure a child. Take pride in your achievement and do not rest on your past exam results. Until you get 100% on an exam there is always room for improvement and the opportunity to learn new things. Only with continuing education can you attain this goal. And, only by passing a rigorous examination can one prove they have gained the knowledge necessary to use the CPSI designation”.

In order to better understand how the CPSI Certification program and examination got to where it is today we need to understand from where it evolved.

A bit of history on the CPSI Certification designation and CPSI examination.

A Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) designation is something that is earned. It is something to be proud of attaining. It does not come easy and not everyone is capable of passing the rigorous requirements of the CPSI Certification Examination. Why doesn’t everyone pass the CPSI exam the first time, if ever? We are talking about information and requirements that can make the difference between life and death of a child. Playground safety requirements may not be rocket science but there is a lot of important information that needs to be processed and understood so the CPSI can apply this knowledge to their day to day job responsibilities. Today a CPSI is one of approximately 6,000 to 7,000 individuals internationally who have passed this examination and become part of this very important group. The reason I cannot give an exact number of CPSIs is because the number fluctuates daily. Every three years the CPSI is required to re-certify. The certification exam dates fluctuate from month to month and year to year. Now with the availability of online testing the CPSI Candidate can go almost anywhere in the USA to a local NRPA approved testing lab and take the examination without ever attending one of the over 50 CPSI Courses offered annually throughout the USA. In any week during March or April it is not unusual to have more than 8 to 10 courses. This amounts to approximately 300 to 600 CPSI Candidates. While CPSI designation does not make anyone an expert it is proof of some level of understanding of the information necessary for the care and feeding of a public play area. Only by practicing their trade through the thoughtful and appropriate application of this knowledge will a CPSI gain the necessary experience to someday be considered an expert in public playground inspections, operations and management.

It is true that lawyers and doctors get certified by their respective professional organizations and once they pass their bar exam or boards they begin their practice as lawyers and physicians. I cannot speak to these programs as I am not well versed in the inner workings of their type of certification. They can do what they need to do to maintain the integrity of their profession and NRPA will continue to do what they think is best to maintain the integrity of their four different national certification programs; Aquatic Facility Operators, Certified Park and Recreation Professional, Certified Park and Recreation Executive, and Certified Playground Safety Inspector.

How did the CPSI Certification designation come about?

The NRPA has been offering the Certified Playground Safety Inspector Course and Exam since 1994. The first National Playground Safety Institute (NPSI) was held in Baltimore, Maryland as a NRPA pre-conference education program in 1991. The NPSI fast became the premier source for comprehensive playground and playground safety education. The playground industry market sought some form of acknowledgement for attaining some level of proficiency in public playground management due to the many issues that began to surface just prior to the release of the revised 1991 US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) Handbook for Public Playground Safety. It was not until after the 1992 NPSI Program the NPSI Executive Committee decided to apply for national certification recognition by the National Certification Board (NCB) of the NRPA. It took almost three years of work and resubmittal to get all the necessary documentation to the NCB to authorize a conditional certification designation with the agreement that there would be an examination created based on a multi-disciplined written justification of need for such a training program and acceptance of nationally recognized body of knowledge. The course curriculum outline and course content outline for the national certification examination would be based on this body of knowledge. Fran Wallach was instrumental in developing the first course content outline with a course outline of competencies to be learned by each and every participant.

Body of Knowledge Exam selected in lieu of Job Performance or Description form of Certification.
I think we can all acknowledge the fact that the national audience for public playground management is very diverse. If we were to attempt to create CPSI certification based solely on one’s job description a one-size-fits-all approach would be difficult to create and defend for each discipline involved in the planning, design, manufacture, installation, inspection, and maintenance of a play area. The care and feeding of a public play area is like a team sport. If one or more of its starting players does not fulfill their job responsibility the team’s chances of winning the game are greatly diminished. It was during my discussions with Fran Wallach, Monty Christiansen and others that I realized the path to national certification would be best served through a “Body of Knowledge” based certification exam versus “Job Description” type of certification. Another major factor behind our decision to move forward with certification was that the scope of our audience who would benefit from this basic body of knowledge which crosses over into the many disciplines involved in the playground industry. This broad based body of knowledge would be of great value to all involved. I think those of us who have participated in one or more of the CPSI courses would agree not everyone may utilize each and every part of the course curriculum. The overall goal was to make sure each person better understood their role in the big picture of playground management and design while striving to do their part to assure the safety of the users and the proper function of the equipment even though each CPSI Candidate may not use all the information in their current job.

As Chair of the NPSI during its formative years it became my role to shepherd the CPSI Program through the national certification application process. It took us a few attempts to get all the required documentation in place. The CPSI designation was finally recognized and approved by the independent National Certification Board of the NRPA after administering the first CPSI certification examination and presenting those examination results including the required process of examination analysis and validation.

Soon after the CPSI Course achieved national certification status the NRPA hired an independent contractor to oversee and manage the certification exam process, including its ongoing development, implementation, exam scoring, and test administrations. This removed all potential conflicts of interest when it comes to the integrity of the exam and the certification process. The independent contractor works with NRPA staff to secure exam content experts and also works closely with the NRPA CPSI Certification Committee who is responsible for the ongoing review and management of the CPSI course content outline. This course content outline represents the formula for the national CPSI Certification Exam.

Once a year the CPSI Exam Committee meets to write new questions, review proposed test questions, and approve the final testing instruments for the coming year. During this process the course content experts take the exam numerous times and establish a degree of difficulty for each and every one of the three styles of questions found in any exam. These three types of questions are; recall, application and analysis. Recall questions are the easiest type of question and analysis the most difficult. The ongoing maintenance of the complete pool of questions are continually reviewed for their relevance to the body of knowledge and new questions are added to the pool while some are removed.

Over the past twenty years there have been many formal requests made by both CPSI candidates and CPSIs challenging the need re-certify and take the CPSI Exam every three years. Some people make the case that other national certifications only require proof of continuing education to maintain their certification. Some claim their test is an open book exam. Some state that once they pass the exam the first time their certifications are good for life. While some, if not all of these suggestions, seem reasonable the CPSI Program has adhered to the standards established by international organizations responsible for accrediting national certification programs. This is the only way independent testing companies who oversee and administer national certification programs and the NRPA are able to defend their certification program and the integrity of the examination against challenges from the outside.

What are the Body of Knowledge components used in the CPSI Course?

The Body of Knowledge used to establish the CPSI Certification is identified in the CPSI Candidate Handbook which is available free online at It includes all the pertinent information on the CPSI Certification program including the CPSI Course Content Outline for the 100 question exam. A major component of the course is hazard identification and impact attenuating surfacing requirements based on industry accepted standards and recommendations. This is approximately 60% of the exam content. The ASTM standards are a major component of the program and they must be reviewed, modified or reaffirmed at least every five years by the standards writing organization. Since the ASTM F1487 Standard was first published in 1993 it has been revised and re-published in 1995, 98, 01, 05, 07, 11 and will again be revised by early 2016 so shall the course content need to change. Each year, some years more than others, the exam questions change to reflect the current standards and best practices while still following the course exam content outline. This course content outline is modified from time to time when standards change. NRPA has conducted surveys with the assistance of qualified independent contractors to gain input from the playground related industry partners and CPSIs. The objective of these surveys is to affirm what is necessary for a CPSI to complete their duties as a playground safety inspector. Currently the 100 question CPSI exam is based on these most current documents; ASTM F1487 Standard, ASTM F2223 Standard, US CPSC Handbook for Public Playground Safety, and the book, Playground Safety Is No Accident, 5th Edition.

Re-certify without attending a CPSI Course and Exam in person.

Participation in the CPSI Course is a major commitment from the candidate and their place of employment. The cost to attend, in person, the CPSI course and examination can be anywhere from $450 to $650 for the two day training. Costs do vary as local hosts establish their program cost based on the host organization’s continuing education policy. Some hosts have increased registration costs to cover extra training room rental fees, audio visual equipment rental, and associated food costs, especially when conducted in hotels. In addition to the CPSI candidate’s registration fee the candidate must be gone from their job for at least four days.
NRPA continues to look for new ways to increase the passing rate of the examination and soften the financial impact to the individual and agency who pays to attend the program. Over the past few years the NRPA has offered several new items to assist a CPSI Candidate in prepare to sit for their first certification exam or prepare to recertify. A CPSI can even take the exam online at approved local testing laboratories. All these options can be found on the Website. The CPSI Candidate Handbook is covers all requirements of the program and how to go about preparing for the course and exam. The CPSI Course Tutorial is available online in four course modules that can all be acquired as a package or purchased individually. The materials come right from the current CPSI course PowerPoint presentation. Each module asks questions that must be answered to continue through the module. There is also a practice exam that will help prepare the candidate for the types of questions to be expected on the examination whether it is the online version or the paper exam as offered when a candidate attends the course in person. A candidate can retake the examination as many times as they chose until they successfully attain a passing score. Sometime exam anxiety can effect one’s performance even when they believe they are knowledgeable and well prepared for the exam. The CPSI Certification Committee allows retesting once a month which is about as quick as one can reapply and get approval to take and exam at some preapproved location and time.

Why do CPSIs have to re-certify by taking the exam?

To answer the question I would respond by asking another question. Do you think it reasonable to expect a CPSI who barely passes the exam with a 70+ out of 100 score to get re-tested at some time in the future?


Ask yourself, when you are selecting a doctor to perform a very serious surgical procedure on yourself do you shop price or select one who barely finished medical school? I look for a doctor who finished first in their class and has successfully performed the procedure thousands of times with living references to attest to the doctor’s knowledge and surgical skill?

Since the CPSI is responsible for the safety and well-being of children, how better to assure those responsible for this important task are kept current with the requirements necessary to operate their public play spaces? Should they be able to demonstrate improvement in their knowledge and skill to apply that knowledge? Is three years a reasonable period of time before re-testing is required? How else can a CPSI demonstrate their improved knowledge of the standards and the application of these standards in the field? There is no continuing education program that can measure one’s grasp of this body of knowledge therefore the only reasonable and manageable way to accomplish this end is by demonstrating a marked improvement in their passing exam score? NRPA could not substantiate these outcomes without an exam score based on a test instrument that has been created and maintained with strict adherence to policies and procedures established by international certification exam requirements. National certification programs are best created and managed by organizations whose reputation and very existence is based on the integrity of each and every certification program they manage.

Having a CPSI to implement an agency’s playground safety inspection and maintenance program can be a very important defense tool for the playground owner when it comes to protecting our children at play from unreasonable and preventable injuries. A CPSI can be the first line of defense in protecting the playground owner from costly claims of negligence. In addition, the CPSI has the responsibility to preserve and protect the function and capital investment made by the owners, usually local taxpayers. A CPSI has a big responsibility therefore I suggest that until a CPSI Candidate scores 100 on their next CPSI exam they need to keep working towards that goal. There is always room for improvement. If and when you do attain that 100% mark please give us a call. We could use your talents!

The Latest Challenge to Free Play – Today’s Headlines

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

The Latest Challenge to Free Play – Today’s Headlines
By Kenneth S Kutska, Executive Director
International Playground Safety Institute, LLC
November 22, 2014

I signed up for Google Alerts on various topics of interest to me such as; Playground Safety, Playground Injuries and Playground Legislation It is amazing how many email notices I receive on just these three topics. It is a great way to stay in touch with what is going on around the country and within the media when it comes to playground issues. Just a view weeks ago I received an email alert about a 7 year old girl’s death on a playground in the State of Washington. This recent death of a young girl has once again placed our public playgrounds under the microscope of media scrutiny. I have a concern with how the media and public playground owners are reacting to this story. Some public agency governing boards and administrators have already taken action even though the facts of the case are still under investigation. Here is what we know based on the media stories to date.

Recent Newspaper Headlines
The KOIN 6 News Staff of Seattle Washington published the following story October 3, 2014 at 4:03 pm and it was updated October 3, 2014 at 11:19 pm.

October 1st a Seven Year old girl dies from traumatic brain injury from a fall of a swing at a Vancouver Washington Elementary School.

A student at Fisher’s Landing Elementary School died Friday morning at an area hospital, following an incident on the playground that may have precipitated the child’s brain injury.

According to Evergreen Public Schools, the student, who was later identified only as a 7-year-old girl, was taken to a hospital Wednesday evening after telling her family about an incident on the playground earlier in the day. However, the district said no one at the school witnessed the incident nor did the student report it to anyone at the school.

Jennifer Allen, a parent of another student who attends the elementary school, said she was devastated when her daughter told her the news.

“My daughter told me that her friend came to her upset that one of her friends was swinging on the swing set and that she swung back a little bit too hard and fell of the swing set and hit her head,” explained Allen.
Evergreen Public Schools released a statement on the matter, saying they immediately began an investigation that included calling in a third party investigator. The investigation will include a review of the weekly playground inspection reports and interviews with staff.

A letter informing school families of the student’s death was sent home Friday.

“It’s just something you don’t really expect, but how do you take a precaution? I mean, at some point, kids playing at any manner, you know, somebody is going to get hurt at some point,” said parent Rolf Vellek.
The district said they continue to support the family, students and staff at Fisher’s Landing. The district’s grief counselors are on site and will be in place for as long as needed.

A teddy bear sits outside the chained-link fence at Fisher’s Landing Elementary School in Vancouver, Oct. 3, 2014. (KOIN 6)

The story was updated 5:32 AM – Girl, 7, who died following Fisher’s Landing playground accident identified and the following story was reported by Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter and published October 6, 2014 at 7:49 AM

The 7-year-old girl who died Friday, two days after she reportedly sustained a head injury on the Fisher’s Landing Elementary School playground, has been identified.

Stormy Solis died of a closed head injury, according to the Multnomah County Medical Examiner’s Office.
A family member of Solis told KATU-TV that the girl walked home from school Wednesday and told them there had been an accident on a swing set and that she felt dizzy.

When her brother went to check on her later, the TV station reported, he found her sick in her bedroom. The family called an ambulance, and the girl was transported to a PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, where she was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, according to KATU. She was eventually transported to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, and doctors took her off life support Friday morning.
Grief counselors were at the school on Friday and Monday and will return again as needed, Evergreen Public Schools spokeswoman Gail Spolar said.

The school district said Friday that no one at the east Vancouver school saw the incident and that the student didn’t tell anyone about it. It said the district and a third-party investigator are in the process of an investigation that includes interviews with staff and a review of the weekly playground inspection reports
So what went wrong? Who was watching the children on the playground? Was the playground in good condition? Was the playground surface compliant with the current safety recommendations?

The authorities are going through the investigative process answering these questions and many more. It may take months to gather and analyze all the information. In the meantime, stories continue to come out in the media. There is enough finger pointing going on with each of the involved parties that will make this investigative process take even longer. This incident is truly a tragedy for all concerned however maybe, just maybe, this tragedy was just an unfortunate tragic accident which cannot be easily put aside.

What is next?
Only time will tell but the process is well underway. One thing is certain. Children’s play and free play opportunities are once again under attack. Once this incident became public the press was all over this story. Obviously this was how I heard about it through my Google Alert notifications. The first press release I read that was not about the details of the incident was;

School District Phasing Out Swings On Playgrounds Due To Liability Issue October 7, 2014 9:07 AM

“RICHLAND, Wash. –Many playgrounds have replaced cement with cedar or rubber surfacing. The cement was just too dangerous. Now, swings are in the line of fire.”

Swings are being phased out of Richland schools. The district says pressure from insurance companies over the liability is part of the issue. Swings are blamed for the most injuries of any play equipment. Richland School District already removed them from some campuses and will phase them out of the rest.

“As schools get modernized or renovated or as we’re doing work on the playground equipment, we’ll take out the swings, it’s just really a safety issue, swings have been determined to be the most unsafe of all the playground equipment on a playground,” said Richland School District’s Steve Aagard.

Each year, about 200,000 children go to the emergency room for injuries that happened on a playground.

Muge Kaineoz’s daughter will be starting school next year. She’s in favor of the decision to remove swings.

“When she starts elementary school, those swings can get crazy!”

While there are many ways that children can get hurt on a swing set, sitting on the actual swing isn’t the most dangerous thing. More injuries come from walking in front of or behind a swing.

“I actually witnessed an accident with my own eyes one time,” said Muge.

Muge saw a toddler walk right in front of a swing.

“By the time you could do something about it she was knocked out,” said Muge.

Other parents see swings as a regular part of being a kid, danger or not.

“They were our great joy and we all played on them, I truly can’t remember anyone being hurt,” said Richland resident Gail Thorricellas.

Richland doesn’t plan to take that risk as the swing sets are removed from elementary schools. We tried to check with the city of Richland to see if this is a citywide decision that could result in swings being removed from city parks and we never heard back.”

This is not what the statistics show in the 2003 School Playground Safety Guidelines for Vancouver Washington Educational Service District 112 when it comes to playground injuries.

The National Injury Foundation statistics show playgrounds as the most injury-intensive activity in primary schools. Up to 80% of all primary school injuries occurred on the playground.

Accidents on and around the playground account for a statistically significant percentage (around 15% in many districts in Washington State) of injuries to all children in school. Six years of school injury data (from a northwest Washington State school cooperative) show that the top five causes of injury on the playgrounds are as follows:
• Falls from equipment 25%
• Athletic participation (in a game) 17%
• Slip, trip, or fall 16%
• Struck against object 13%
• Struck by object 11%
• All others 18%

In almost half of the playground injuries, equipment was involved. The types of equipment most frequently involved in school playground injuries are as follows:
• Bars 29%
• Balls, bats, racquets 23%
• (tetherballs, baseball bats)
• Composite structures 14%
• Climbing apparatus 10%
• Non-play equipment 8%
• (such as poles & posts)
• Swings (including tire swings) 7%
• Slides 5%
• Other play equipment 3%
• Tires & tire climbers 1%

The most severe school playground claims involve falls from equipment and being hit with balls.

The fact that 25% of all school injuries involve falls from equipment and almost half of those injuries sustained on the playground involve equipment with swing related injuries, including tire swings, accounting for 7% of those playground injuries; one would wonder why bars at 29%, composite structures at 14%, climbers at 10% and even slides at 5% should also be removed from the school playground.

Have we forgot what it was like to be a child? I fear we are going too far in the direction of injury avoidance when we look at public policy related to free play related injury prevention.

What can we do to curtail or fend off this knee jerk reaction and public relations nightmare?
There is a need for a comprehensive public awareness and education campaign on the benefits of play on a child’s development versus the risk of harm to that very same child. This type of media campaign and ensuing public discussion is the missing link to educating and training both the general public, policy makers, and public play area managers.

We need an open discussion with legislators and policy makers on the harm of over-reacting to injuries that create sensational headlines to these tragic events. Accidents do happen regardless of how compliant a play area is to current public playground equipment and protective surfacing safety recommendations. We all know a child can suffer a very serious permanent debilitating injury or even die anywhere and anytime during the course of their day. Yes, these tragedies do occur in the most secure safety compliant environment. Why does the injured party and their family feel victimized? Why do we always have to find someone responsible for the incident? Fortunately very few children die while playing in their neighborhood school or park playground. Nobody wants to see a child seriously injured or die. That being said Society cannot protect each and every person from their own actions. Everyone agrees these types of injuries are shocking. They each have profound impacts to the injured party and their family. Thousands of people die needlessly from common every day occurrences. While nobody wants to see a child seriously injured we all cannot lose sight of the function and purpose of the play area. Playgrounds provide a child critical developmental benefits derived from these free play experiences. The intended playground users learn and experience very important life lessons within these challenging fun environments. The goal of the owner/operator and designer of these play environments is to provide new stimulating and challenging experiences and learning opportunities for every user based on their developmental needs. Such a play environment will provide opportunities for the user to conduct their own personal risk assessment and learn from this experience. This assessment process requires the user to consider their perceived readiness to take the risk of their own actions based upon their physical abilities, current life experiences and cognitive readiness. Someone once told me a child cannot learn to walk without falling down. Likewise a child cannot learn and grow without trying many different thing and experiencing failure in the process. By trying new and different things we begin to solve our own problems from different approaches. Do kids always slide down a slide sitting face forward? Do kids ever run up the slide? To we ever swing the seat standing up? We are all different? We all develop at our own pace. We learn to walk and talk at different times. There is no set date when we utter our first word however there are several developmental milestone or points of reference that child development experts consider within the normal range. It for this reason we must embrace our differences and understand there is no right or wrong answer here but there remains the need to allow for this individuality and understand that children will make mistakes in judgment. Even though children need to fall to learn to walk do we always hold their hand? We realize sometimes the consequences of a fall may be severe. What we cannot do is protect a child from all the consequences of falling. My son did not learn that the stove was hot because I said so. He first needed to understand what the word “hot” meant. Once he experienced what hot was he had a frame of reference which allowed him to move on and learn why he should have listened to me and not placed his hand on the frying pan. This learning experience was carried through into other circumstances he encountered in other indoor and outdoor environments.

What role does the media have in this public debate?

We struggle to make the kinds of significant improvements in both quality and quantity of our public playspaces when it comes to giving children the kinds of environments they desire and need. Funding Issues have always been a major issue however we continue to fight the windmills of public opinion making play some kind of four letter word. Beyond the issue of funding there is the Liability Issue or the perceived fear of liability. We have to stop making settlement payments for every child that breaks an arm or leg while doing what children do at play. More of these types of tragic injuries occur in and around the home than in public school grounds and public parks. For every headline about some tragic incident on the playground I wish the press would give equal time to stories about the lack of play opportunities. What about the resulting negative outcomes on our children because of fewer play opportunities and the looming cost to society from generations of play deficient childhoods? What if our children never get a chance to swing? What if they never experienced that inner ear vestibular stimulation? Do these experiences help develop and even improve one’s balance? Would this limit their future growth in some way which in turn could limit their ultimate potential to succeed? There are too many questions which I cannot answer but from the things I have heard and read from people far smarter than I, it certainly appears the lack of play has had some very negative impacts on human development. So in conclusion the resulting Lack of Equitable Play Opportunity Issue poses a largest threat to our children’s development. What is really holding us back is the lack of the general public’s understanding of the whole of the Importance of Play Issue and how all the parts fit together.

The Lack of Funding Issue

Many Foundations and organizations who are promoting the benefits of free play and nature play continue to find money to fund these projects. Most of these projects impact public agencies that lack equal quality play opportunities in many of our major urban centers. I agree these facilities are much needed but as history has shown; they too will soon become underused because of improper or lack of maintenance. Facilities no longer functioning as intended pose conditions likely to cause serious injury. The current focus is to build more new facilities. While this is an easier sell when it comes to the Funding Issue and fundraising I would argue the focus should be towards maintaining what we already have. If we can learn to maintain these facilities as intended, throughout their intended life, we would make the best use of our limited financial resources. While well intended, this process of funding worthy causes ends up a bit short of its goal. Shortly after the initial positive community spirit and excitement generated during the construction of the new project the public support begins to wane. Without public support and enthusiasm for the playspace the general public’s enthusiasm will quickly wane. They will become apathetic about the place they created and the need to maintain a safe place for our children. Once the community becomes apathetic toward the playspce the condition of the play environment can quickly become less than desirable making the area unsafe for our children and a liability for the community and the people who are charged with its upkeep.

Do these words sound harsh? Yes they are. If the grantors and grantees of these much needed playspaces cannot commit the funds and manpower required to maintain and repair the playspace throughout their intended lifecycle we should stop funding and building the playspace until we can commit to the need for training those responsible for inspection, maintenance and repair of these very important playspaces. Failure to maintain our playspaces with trained professional staff can result in serious liability to the playground owner and worse yet result in a severe injury or even death.

Possible Solution

The well-intended grantors should build into the grant guidelines the requirement every grant recipient must demonstrate they already have or will secure the necessary knowledge and tools required to manage, inspect, maintain and repair their existing public playspaces and the proposed new playground as best practices for operating playground spaces already suggests.

What has the playground Industry done on behalf of minimizing potentially hazardous conditions – the Liability Issue?

The ASTM Standards for public playground equipment has created performance requirements for designers and manufacturers which have eliminated many of the causes of severe injuries and death on the public playground. Head entrapments, protrusions, crush/shear, and entanglement strangulation hazards have been effectively been addressed. Safety concerns related to impact of the playground user with various surfaces within the playground equipment use and clearance zones has been the leading cause of serious to severe playground injuries and a leading cause of death on the playground.

Just last week the F8.63 Subcommittee on playground surfacing systems upheld a vote to reduce the impact attenuation performance requirements from 1000 to 700 HIC however there is a challenge to this item being brought forward to the ASTM Committee on Standards. The hearing and results of this challenge should be known before the first of the year.

This is a big step towards reducing both Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI or concussion). It also has the potential for a lower incidence of long bone fractures. A reduction of the impact threshold to 700 HIC is likely to reduce the Gmax relationship from 200 to approximately 125g. Only over time and with good timely injury investigation and reporting system will we have the facts to support my assumptions. Who will step to the plate to assure these things are done?

This is where the media has the opportunity and responsibility do something positive on behalf of the benefits of play and child development even in the face of the loss of a child’s life.