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PLAYGROUND SAFETY FOR VACATION RESORTS – WHAT RESORT OWNERS NEED TO KNOW

Note FOR UNITED STATES HOTELS AND RESORTS:  Safety concerns for playgrounds are applicable to all resorts and hotels that offer playgrounds for guests and the CSA guidelines incorporate recommendations for playground safety from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission Handbook on Public Playground Safety and the American Society for Testing and Materials.   United States Hotels and Resorts  will also benefit from obtaining the CSA Standard and maintaining playgrounds in accordance with the CSA Standard.

Prepared by:  HOTEL AND LEISURE LIVING SERVICES LTD.

Now, more than ever, Resort Owners need to be aware of the major safety concerns with respect to playgrounds and how these concerns and the safety of playgrounds can affect their Resorts. Keeping in mind that this is a controversial issue with many variables affecting the safety of a playground and there are many types of playgrounds that can be offered to guests, from plastic portable playgrounds, indoor soft contained playgrounds, home use playgrounds (purchased at lumber stores) to large outdoor playgrounds like those found in parks and schools, Resort Owners have a responsibility to ensure that guests are offered playgrounds that are stimulating and safe.

IMPORTANCE OF SAFETY IN PLAYGROUNDS

Children need a safe, stimulating place to play, run, imagine and enjoy the outdoors. Playgrounds are so prevalent today that children immediately feel welcome at any resort that offers this equipment and it provides an environment for children to interact with their peers. Parents look for these facilities when considering a family vacation at a resort, however with all the recent press about the Toronto School Boards removing playgrounds as a result of safety concerns and other press releases from Health Canada, Consumer Product Safety Commission and other safety organizations, parents are also more aware of the dangers that playgrounds can present for children. This added awareness can impact on your Resort, making parents more critical of the playground structures provided for guests.

The CPSC in the US estimates that more than 200,000 children a year go to an emergency room with injuries associated with playground equipment ¾ of which are on large outdoor playground structures. Over half of these injuries are from falls. About 15 children die each year in the United States as a result of playground injuries, with most deaths occurring as a result of entanglement or entrapment. Other causes of injury are collisions with other children or equipment, tripping, cuts or finger pinches, burns from hot metal slides or solid surface metal platforms and improper use of equipment.

While the safety of the children should always be of the utmost concern, as resort owners, you need to ensure that your playground is safe from a liability and insurance standpoint also. Insurance providers need to be aware of the existence of a playground at the resort and that the playground is maintained to ensure the safety of resort guests. As the owner of a playground, a reasonable standard of care must be exercised in the installation and maintenance of any playground structures. A lawsuit as a result of a playground injury can be very expensive, not only from a cost prospective but from a PR standpoint as well. A playground that has been audited by a qualified inspector, brought up to and maintained to the requirements of the current standards and inspected regularly can substantially reduce liability exposure should an injury occur. It is also not a matter of simply assuming that if your equipment is new, it complies with the current standards. While written certification from the equipment installer should be obtained upon installation that the current standards are met for the equipment, ongoing inspections and maintenance are a must to reduce your liability exposure in the event of an accident.

WHAT ARE THE CURRENT STANDARDS:

The Canadian Standards Association published the Children’s Playspaces and Equipment Manual CAN/CSA-Z614-98 (the " CSA Standard") in May of 1998.

Click here to find out how to purchase the CSA Playspaces Standard

The CSA Standard is a comprehensive manual of guidelines and recommendations developed in association with a number of industry experts. The CPSC Handbook for Public Playground Safety, Specifications for Playgrounds and Surfacing from the American Society for Testing and Materials and CSA staff recommendations are incorporated in the CSA Standard to promote and encourage well-designed, maintained and challenging playspaces for children. The Standards Council of Canada has approved the Standard as a National Standard of Canada. The Ministry of Community and Social Services requires all licensed daycare facilities to install and maintain all playgrounds in accordance with the CSA Standard. United States Organizations are also now incorporating the CSA Standard as a guideline for playground safety and maintenance.

WHAT IS A PLAYSPACE UNDER THE CSA STANDARD

Any outdoor play structure and area to be used by children at play is considered a Playspace, however the CSA Standard does not apply to sport or fitness facilities, swimming pools and water slides, homemade equipment, soft contained control access equipment or backyard play equipment and amusement park equipment. In simple terms, it would apply any commercial playground equipment, eg: most park playground equipment, to be used by children ages 18 months to 12 years.

HOW DOES THE STANDARD AFFECT RESORTS

The guidelines are for playstructures anchored to the ground for use in playareas that include private resorts and recreation developments. All playground equipment that a manufacturer represents complies with the CSA Standard should be documented in writing to be constructed and installed to comply with the CSA Standard. The CSA Standard is a very technical manual, in terms of installation, maintenance and inspections, but it does provides valuable information for any establishment that has or wishes to have this type of equipment as part of the facilities available for children. It is also utilized in lawsuits involving accidents at playgrounds.

MAJOR SAFETY CONCERNS FOR PLAYGROUNDS

Every owner of playground equipment should educate themselves and staff to be aware of the major safety concerns for the play structures in order to identify safety issues for regular maintenance and inspections conducted by staff. The following is a brief explanation of issues that Resort Owners should be aware of:

(1)     Surfacing

The shock absorbency of the surfacing around and under the playground equipment is considered to play a substantial role in seriousness of any injury from a fall.

Many existing playgrounds are built on lawns, which means the surfacing is usually grass or dirt. This type of surfacing is considered unacceptable as the shock absorbency of this material can vary due to environmental conditions and can also become hard packed over time. Hard surfaces such as concrete or asphalt are also considered acceptable for playground equipment of any height.

There are basically two types of surfacing materials that are considered acceptable, Unitary and Loose Fill.

Unitary means rubber mats or rubber type material that is poured in place or rubber tiles that can be installed as surfacing for the playspace. This type of surfacing provides a clean, attractive, consistent shock-absorbing surface with lower maintenance costs over the long term and is less likely to be displaced during play. Installation of this surfacing for pre-existing equipment is expensive unless the surface is level concrete or asphalt in good condition. It also has an initial higher cost for new equipment but requires less maintenance over the long term. Safety concerns include ensuring the quality of the product, flammability and hardness over time. The bonding agent can also breakdown which can mean costly replacement of these materials. Frost damage can affect the condition of this surface also. If you are considering installation of a playground structure that is handicapped accessible, a rubberized surface is the only type that provides access (unless ramps are installed). You also need to ensure that the rubber does not contain latex as latex allergies can be quite common. A warranty is an important consideration with this type of surface confirming that it will comply with the CSA Standard to the end of the warranty period as well as at installation. As of yet Canada does not have an agency that tests the shock absorbency of materials and therefore all products of this nature should conform to the American Society for Testing and Materials Standard F-1292.

Loose fill encompasses sand, pea gravel and wood/bark chips with the advantages of easy installation for new and existing playground surfaces and a lower installation cost. These surfaces are also considered more environmentally friendly and usually are readily available. Safety concerns include concealment of insects, animal excretment and sharp objects, maintenance to ensure that shock absorbency is maintained (which entails topping up and loosening) and in the case of wood chips bacterial growth and splinters can also be a concern. If asphalt or concrete pre-exist it must be removed prior to installation. The surfacing of choice for resorts seems to be sand because it allows for added play value of a sandbox, however peagravel is less likely to contain animal excrement and does not compress as quickly as sand.

(2)    Entrapment and Entanglement

Examples of entrapment would be where a torso can fit through an opening and the head cannot. Spaces between ladder rungs must be large enough for the entire body and head of a child to fit through feet or head first or too small for a child’s torso or head to fit. Entanglement occurs when clothing gets caught. "S" hooks, loose bolts or other equipment are examples of entanglement hazards. If openings are identified as non-compliant with the CSA Standard, care must also be taken that any steps taken to correct the non-compliance do not create other problems.

(3)    Safety Zones

Protective Surfacing Zones are areas located around equipment that is covered by the protective surfacing. Slides and swings for example have a calculation formula for determining the protective surfacing zone. A No-Encroachment Zones refers to the areas outside the protective surfacing zone and any other equipment not intended for playground. Equipment can share no-encroachment zones. Various types of equipment also have safety clearance zone requirements, for example, under swings and above slides.

(4)    Crush, Pinch or Shear Points

Crush, pinch and shear points result in many unreported injuries. Crush or pinch points are mainly located where equipment is movable and a space exists for fingers to be pinched or crushed. Examples of these would be teeter-totters, and pendulum seesaws.

(5)    Equipment

Playground equipment must be well built, installed and maintained in accordance with the CSA Standard. The guidelines include requirements for all equipment, from the angle of slides, the number of swings in a standard, materials used, hazardous substances, structural integrity, load requirements, installation requirements, inspections and maintenance, performance requirements, layouts, and specific equipment requirements. This is where it really gets technical and is based on the individual equipment – in other words – the expert’s domain. Age is a determining factor with respect to equipment also. There are different standards for equipment designed for age’s 18 months to 5 years and 6 to 12 years.

NEW EQUIPMENT:

When it comes to new equipment assurances that it is manufactured and/or installed according to the CSA Standard must be obtained and kept as part of the maintenance records for the equipment. A Professional installer or the manufacturer of the equipment should provide written confirmation that the equipment complies with the standard guidelines and if installed, that installation was completed in accordance with the CSA Standard. An inspection should be conducted prior to any use of the equipment and this is especially important if a professional does not install the equipment. Also, the manufacturer should provide a comprehensive warranty for the equipment. 

EXISTING EQUIPMENT

This is where all of the safety concerns can come into play. If the playground equipment is not new, chances are it may not meet all of the CSA Standard’s requirements. A safety audit by a qualified inspector, if not conducted since the introduction of the Standard, should be undertaken to identify safety hazards that need to be addressed.

INSPECTIONS

The CSA Standard recommend daily/weekly visual inspections, monthly documented inspections, seasonal inspections and annual inspections.

Management or staff to identify defects or hazards, vandalism and removal of any strings, ropes or litter in the playground area can conduct a Daily/weekly visual inspection.

Detailed Monthly Inspections, documented to ensure that all equipment is inspected should include, but not be limited to, checking for damage as a result of wear and tear, eg broken, missing, or loose equipment and any damage to surrounding area. Concerns should be reported to management and appropriate action taken to rectify the defects.

Seasonal Inspections, perhaps in the spring and fall, should record an assessment of the site and preparations completed for winter or summer use of the equipment.

A Certified Playground Safety Inspector should conduct an Annual Comprehensive Inspection and Written Report.

The CSA Standard has a sample playground inspection checklist.

Click here to learn more about Playground Inspection Checklists for Hotels and Resorts  

After the completion of an inspection of the equipment, the inspector should provide a written inspection report which should include a report of items that do not meet with the current CSA Standard identifying immediate safety concerns, including equipment that should be removed, and all areas that do not comply with the current standard. The report should also contain recommendations for rectifying all the safety concerns, recommendations on upgrades to meet current standards and a risk management program. An inspector can provide greater details as to what is contained in the report.

While there is no requirement to upgrade all equipment to the current standards, this issue should be discussed with the inspector and the manufacturer/installer of the equipment. The manufacturer/installer may be aware of parts and equipment that can be retrofitted to the playstructure to upgrade it and provide suggestions to rectify non-compliance issues.

Playground equipment should also come with a maintenance manual that includes recommended inspection, lubrication and replacement schedules.

HIRING AN INSPECTOR:

Basically, there are two options when considering who should conduct a playground safety audit. The company that installed the equipment should have qualified inspectors on staff or an independent inspector with the appropriate qualifications can be hired.

Any inspector should hold a current certification by the Canadian Playground Safety Institute in Canada.

An inspection completed by a representative of a specific equipment manufacturer/installer works well if only one type of equipment exists and a conflict of interest does not occur. This inspector may also be aware of specific equipment upgrades and safety concerns for the equipment that they install.

In addition to being certified, independent inspectors should declare non-conflict of interest with any playground manufacturer or supplier or confirm that they are a third party and have proof of current Professional Errors and Omissions insurance coverage. As daycare centres are required to hire independent inspectors that are certified and meet these requirements, Resort Owners may want to investigate these matters before hiring an independent inspector. References from other customers of the inspector may also be requested to aid in your decision.

To obtain information on certified inspectors, please contact the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association or check out their web site www.activeliving.ca/activeliving/cpra.html.  

The inspectors listed on this web site are not all independent inspectors, some are employed by parks departments, others are from playground manufacturers or installers.

Consulting services under the Hotel Fun 4 Kids™ Program can also assist you in locating an Independent Certified Playground Safety Inspector in your area.

The US National Recreation Parks Association, a local daycare or parks department may be able to provide you with more information also.

OTHER SAFETY CONCERNS

Many types of plants can create a hazard for children. The CSA Standard contains guidelines and a list of some common plants to avoid in children’s playspaces. Daily/weekly visual inspections should include the removal of all mushrooms immediately upon discovery.

While the above safety concerns and issues are something all Resort Owners can implement, there is one safety factor that you have little or no control over – how the children use the equipment. Parents should, but don’t always supervise their children. Sometimes children don’t play safely or are using equipment that is not age appropriate. Children’s clubs and play areas supervised by persons who are aware of safety concerns and appropriate behaviour can provide a measure of control over the use of the playground equipment.

About the only thing that may be helpful in unsupervised playareas is signage. The children are unlikely to read it, but the parents probably will. Signage also shows that you exercised reasonable care for your guests, which may help in the case of a lawsuit. Signage should include "USE AT OWN RISK" and safety rules for the playground.

WHAT TO DO IF AN INJURY OCCURS

No matter how many safety precautions you take, sometimes injuries occur. In addition to establishing emergency proceeds and instructing staff on "what to do in the case of an emergency", Injury Report Forms provide a method of recording details that may be forgotten over time. Injury Report Forms can also be used to help identify the cause of the injury and help determine a course of action to reduce the risk of re-occurrence.  

Click here to find out more about Injury Report Forms for Resorts and Hotels.

CONCLUSIONS

Resorts that cater to families are well aware of the power of playgrounds as a feature that parents are looking for when making travel arrangements. Advertisements and brochures that feature playgrounds have a much higher appeal for the vacationing family because it promotes the expectation of a child-friendly resort. Quite often playgrounds are installed and then just considered a fixture of the resort without any further thought given to the ongoing maintenance and safety of the structures. Just like any other part of a resort, playgrounds need to be inspected and maintained to ensure the enjoyment and safety of resort guests.

While safety issues and maintenance for pools at resorts is almost never overlooked, playgrounds are quite often neglected to the point where the structure can present an immediate danger to children. Owners of family oriented resorts can’t afford to have an unsafe playground and hopefully the information provided herein would draw attention to the issues that need to be addressed for playground safety at Resort Hotels.

In an effort to promote playgContact us to Order the CSA Standard for Playspaces or other Hotel Fun 4 Kids Programsround safety at Family Resorts, the CSA  Standard can be purchased from HOTEL AND LEISURE LIVING SERVICES LTD. at a cost of $50.00 Cdn plus applicable g.s.t. and shipping and  handling. Please contact us to order a copy of the CSA Standard.

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The Hotel Fun 4 Kids™ Program for Children's Clubs  incorporates the Playground Inspection Checklist from the CSA Standard under copyright permission from CSA.

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The Hotel Fun 4 Kids™ Program for Children's Clubs contains an Injury Report Form specifically designed for Resorts and Hotels and consulting services are available to create Injury Report Forms to meet individual Resort and Hotel needs.  This form has been adapted from the CSA Injury Report Form contained in the CSA Standard, with copyright permission from CSA.

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We pride ourselves on providing our clients with individual attention to their needs and ask that you contact us to find out more about our products, pricing and services.  Hotel Fun 4 Kids™ Destinations receive Special Discounts on many Products and Services.

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