Our playgrounds and the surfacing beneath them are not usually the primary focus of our day until our organization is choosing new playgrounds or renovating the ones we already have.
When playground safety concerns increase in priority, we may consider scheduling a playground audit. What is an audit and how can one benefit any organization?
A playground audit is an initial or follow-up comprehensive examination of a playground. The purpose of an audit is to review a playground for compliance with:
- Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Guidelines
- Public Playground Safety Handbook (Publication #325)
- American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) Standards
- Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use F1487-17
- Standard Guide for ASTM Standards on Playground Surfacing F2223-15
Audits should always be conducted by a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI). This certification is available from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).
When should any entity schedule an audit?
- When a playground is newly installed
- After catastrophe or serious damage (earthquake, mudslide, vehicle strike, etc.) occurs to the playground
- When the playground is relocated
- When playground regulations are updated
What are the benefits to your organization?
People often assume that a newly manufactured and installed playground will always meet the requirements, but playgrounds might be installed by contractors who are uneducated about playground equipment, accessibility, or surfacing.
For example, a playground may be correctly assembled and installed, but the use zone around the equipment may be inadequate. The playground could then be installed too close to a fence, parking lot, other playground equipment which could then lead to frequent injuries or a fatality.
A playground audit will improve your peace of mind about a new installation or renovation. In addition, audits provide safety documentation from an independent third party.
What is the difference between a playground inspection and an audit?
A playground inspection can vary greatly in type and may be done at various intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually). Playground inspections are often determined by the amount of use a playground receives and they can be conducted by different individuals, such as in-house facilities staff, playground vendors, the insurance company, or other interested parties.
There are two general types of playground surveys:
This type of survey quickly identifies items such as broken parts, loose-fill surfacing that needs redistributing or vandalism that needs to be addressed on a daily or weekly basis. This type of survey may not be written and is usually conducted by someone who is very familiar with the location. Problems noted during high-frequency inspections may include examples such as missing hardware or worn S-hooks located at the top of the swing sets. A written checklist should be utilized for this type of inspection. The low-frequency survey is typically done quarterly or annually. This process also examines the overall playground setting and may address accessibility, environmental factors, and age appropriateness.
These inspections are a more comprehensive and thorough analysis. By looking at, under, inside, and around the equipment, this type of inspection will result in the discovery of needed repairs that may otherwise be overlooked.
A Playground Audit differs from all other types of inspections because it is the most thorough review available to identify any problems with each playground. An audit includes a review of the equipment, layout, accessibility, and surfacing. The written documentation of an audit should always be completed and on file before accepting a playground and allowing children to play on the site.
Who should conduct a playground audit?
An audit is best completed by an independent, third-party contractor who specializes in playground safety and has a comprehensive knowledge of playground equipment, surfacing, and accessibility. This auditor should:
- Know all applicable standards/guidelines
- Be competent using the playground inspection kit
- Understand playground hazards
- Prepare a detailed summary report of the audit
What are the qualifications of a playground auditor?
- Experience with auditing, not just playground inspections
- CPSI certification
- Independent party
- Insurance certificate with professional liability coverage to cover the services being rendered
What occurs during a playground audit?
During an audit, the CPSI must check each component of the playground, to ensure that parts are secure and free of compliance issues. The possibility of entanglements, protrusions, and head entrapments should be checked on each piece of playground equipment. These hazards account for many playground injuries and fatalities. The inspector will also check the depth and condition of the playground surfacing.
The inspector will use gauges, probes, and other measurement tools to conduct the audit. Some other items needed to complete a thorough audit include a copy of the playground plan (when possible), a notebook and pencil, a copy of the standards/guidelines, a camera, a stepladder, and tools.
What types of problems are typically uncovered during an audit?
Many problems could occur with a new playground, especially one that is installed, relocated, or repaired by an uneducated installer. Here are examples of items that may be discovered:
- Inadequate use zones (as discussed earlier)
- Surfacing which is not adequate in depth
- Equipment which is installed too high
- Loose, incorrect or missing parts or hardware
- Missing infill panels which can lead to head entrapment hazard
- Exposed concrete anchors which protrude above the playground surfacing
After a playground audit, what should an entity do next?
- Keep the playground closed until all critical problems discovered by the audit are corrected
- Keep all documents on file
- Enjoy your playground
- Continue to conduct ongoing inspections and necessary repairs
What documents should your organization keep on file for playgrounds?
- Bills of sale
- Insurance certificates from the surfacing firm, equipment manufacturer, salesperson and installer
- Test data from surfacing manufacturer
- Audit reports
- Contact information for the auditor, installer, salesperson and equipment manufacturer and surfacing firm
- Any recall information
- Ongoing - inspections, repairs, and replenishment of surfacing.
How long should your organization keep an audit report on file?
An audit report should be completed for every piece of play equipment for each playground being audited. These reports should be kept on file for longer than the life of the equipment, because a child may bring about a playground lawsuit at a later date. Discuss with your attorney for a more specific answer in your state.
A completed playground safety audit for each playground should be a priority since the benefits are numerous and easily outweigh the expense. Be sure your next playground audit is from a company that has the proper expertise to assist your organization by reducing the chance of injuries and fatalities, avoiding playground claims, and improving your peace of mind.