Research Supports NRPA’s Certified Playground Safety Inspectors Reduce Injuries: Part 3: Conclusions that Support the Value of Certified Playground Safety Inspectors

Ken Kutska's picture
Posted By Kenneth S Kutska, CPSI
June 7, 2016

By Kenneth S Kutska, CPSI, Executive Director

International Playground Safety Institute, LLC

In Part 1 of this series Curtis wrote in his research project abstract,

“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.”

He also noted,

“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.”

Based on predominant themes derived from the review of literature and the elements of the Certified Playground Safety Inspector Certification Effectiveness Working Model (CPSI-CE), three hypotheses emerged, included:

(a) A decrease in injuries occurred when playground safety inspectors were hired.

(b) Playground safety inspectors’ beliefs in the system influenced injury rates.

(c) The value supervisors place on the playground safety inspector program affected injury rates.

Hypothesis 1 - A decrease in injuries occurred when CPSIs were hired.

Kutska (2008) asserted that agencies with experienced CPSIs on staff should prompt reductions in playground injuries. Cegielski et al. (2003) and Stoddard (2008) suggested that personnel who obtain certifications produced a more comprehensive understanding of playground specialization which promoted retention. This study sought to examine how the depth of training leading to certification, experience and available resources influenced playground injury rates. With certification, experience, and adequate resources, a reduction in playground injuries should be realized.

Hypothesis 2 - Playground safety inspector’s belief in the system influenced injury rates.

This study examined the relationship between the three elements of the CPSI-CE Working Model and playground injury rates. Results were expected to show that surveyed playground safety inspector beliefs and attitudes about how effectiveness in playground injury reduction directly reflected biases toward available certification training, resources and the amount of experience they have.

Hypothesis 3 – The value supervisors placed on the CPSI program affected injury rates.

It was assumed that a supervisor who supports the program would likely try harder to ensure the availability of adequate resources. Kutska (2008) and Iverson and Payne (2008-2009) stress the importance of adequate support to ensure an effective playground safety inspection program. This study was designed to identify the perceptions of supervisors’ about inspection programs and relate these to injury rates.

Research Outcomes: Survey Results versus Injury Rates for 2000, 2005, and 2010

The primary objective of these analyses was to examine the relationships between the certified playground inspector program and injury rates in California for 2000, 2005, and 2010. The second purpose was to investigate perceptions about how effectively the playground inspection program and certification were working, including:

(a) How much influence does employing a CPSI have on reduction of injury rates?

(b) How much do inspector beliefs in the CPSI system influence injury rates?

(c) How much do supervisors’ value and support of the program affect injury rates?

Additionally, more inductive analyses were conducted to identify whether meaningful profile groups could be distinguished based on;

(a) dimensions of perceived inspector effectiveness

(b) change in injury patterns, with differences between profile groups

Demographic Survey Results

Of the 474 California cities solicited for participation, 286 cities (response rate = 60.3%), stratified by city size, (a) small (92 sampled, 59 response (64.1%)), (b) medium (296 sampled, 182 response sampled had an inspector complete the PSIAS, a supervisor complete the PSISAS, and a risk manager provide injury data via the PSIIAS. The mean age of inspectors was 46.5 years for small cities, 46.2 years for medium-sized cities and 48.4 years for large cities, while the mean age for supervisors was 42.2 years for small cities, 45.7 years for medium cities, and 48.2 years for large cities. Small cities reported that the gender make up of inspectors was 89.8% male (10.1% female), with 86.0% male (14.0% female) for medium and 78% male (20% female) for large cities. The gender balance for supervisors in small cities was 83% male and 14% female, while medium cities were 81% male and 16% female and large cities reported 79.5% male and 20.5% female supervisors. The mean number of years of experience for inspectors in small cities was reported as 13.7 years, while medium cities were slightly more (i.e., 14.0 years) and large cities slightly less experienced (i.e., 12.9 years).

The NRPA reported that in the state of California, there were 467 CPSIs in 2000, 596 in 2005, and 690 in 2010. (C. Smith, personal communication, May 2, 2012). This certification increase of 48% over a ten year period suggests that cities in California consider the certification important.

Kutska Comment: The most logical explanation for the growth of California CPSIs over this 10 year period is the 1999 State Regulations required each playground be inspected by a CPSI from NRPA Program

The sample surveys revealed that 54% of small cities reported their playground inspectors were certified, compared to 57% for medium cities, and 62% for large cities. Of those certified, small cities reported the average number of years their supervisors were certified was 5.0 years, with certification experience also 5.0 years for medium cities and 5.4 years for large cities. Two types of playground safety inspector certifications were identified. Small cities reported 100% of their certifications were from NPSI while medium cities reported 96% NPSI and 4% NPPS, and large cities reported 93% NPSI and 7% NPPS. Medium-sized cities reported 8.7% of their certified inspectors obtained both NPSI and NPPS certifications, while large cities reported 7% of their certified inspectors had both certification types.

The NPPSs’ Safety Report Card reported that as a nation, playground safety received a grade of “C-” in 2000 and a “C+” in 2004. California received a “B-” in 2000 and in 2004, providing evidence that playground safety in the State of California was above the national average and possibly the state was doing something different to receive a higher NPPS grade (NPPS, 2004.

Injury Data Survey Results

The results revealed that playground injury rates steadily declined over three assessment years, 2000, 2005 and 2010.

The three-way interaction demonstrated injury rates for small cities with certified playground inspectors declined steadily for all three assessment years, while those without certified inspectors declined slightly between 2000 and 2005, but then came back to original levels in 2010 injuries per year. Injury rates for medium cities declined in each of the three assessment years for both cities with and without certified inspectors. However, the cities without certified inspectors showed greater decline, partly due to starting with higher injury rates, whereas cities with certified inspectors demonstrate lower overall injury rates. Injury rates for large cities with certified inspectors saw a dramatic decrease from 2000 to 2010, while those without certified inspectors saw a decrease from 2000 to 2005, but then an increase from 2005 to 2010.

For the certification by time two-way interaction, cities with certified inspectors started with higher injury rates than did those without, but by 2010, those cities with certified inspectors demonstrated fewer injuries than those without certified inspectors. However, only the certification status comparison for 2010, but not for 2000 and 2005 was significant. For the city size by time interaction, each city size category showed a steady decrease in injury rates across the decade, including: small cities, medium cities, and large cities.

Dwight Curtis’s Research Conclusions:

The implementation of the California Playground Safety Regulations (R-39-97) in 1999 provided an excellent information base to examine the effectiveness of the playground safety inspector certification. While the reported national playground injury rates have been increasing, California’s have decreased over a ten-year period. The NPPS playground safety report card for both 2000 and 2004 gave California higher grades of B- than the nation overall. The data collected through this exploratory study sought to examine California’s playground safety inspectors’ certification status, its supervisory support, and if and how they have influenced injury rates in that state. The data analyses clearly support this study’s three hypotheses of

(a) decreasing injuries if certified playground inspectors are on staff,

(b) the value supervisors place on the playground safety inspector program affects injury rates, and

(c) playground safety inspectors’ beliefs about the playground safety inspection program also influences injury rates, and delivers solid support for the Curtis Playground Safety Inspector Certification Effectiveness Working Model (CPSI-CEWM).

Kutska Closing Comment: I would like to personally thank Mr. Dwight L. Curtis, PhD. for this contribution and the perseverance required to complete this work over many years. I know how hard you worked on this project.

Research is important work that can provide valuable insight into the important role the CPSI plays in injury reduction and maintaining quality play opportunities for all children. We all believe in the importance of what we do. Quite often the role and responsibilities of the experienced CPSI does not receive the recognition they deserve in providing quality playspaces that are well maintained and function as intended from the very first day until it is time to take it out of service.

Stay tuned Part 4: We will look at some additional areas that Dwight Curtis as identified as worthy of further study.

About Kenneth S Kutska, CPSI

Executive Director of the International Playground Safety Institute, LLC of Bend Oregon since retiring from Wheaton Parks District, IL as Director of Parks and Planning | Past president of the NRPA | Chair of the ASTM F15.29 Subcommittee for...

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