Several years ago my daughter Megan was almost 2 years old and we were enjoying going to the local playground, Kid’s Konnection, located in the center of our town, Billerica, MA.
We were sitting on the fire engine pretending to drive. This was an old structure with wooden planks that had an open platform with a steel frame around the outside. Suddenly my daughter got up and ran down the plank to the end. I knew right then that she was headed for the fire pole, that she would not be able to reach it and I feared that I would never make it to her in time. Sure enough, she fell on her face in the sand and bumped her head on the pole.
As I consoled her and began to look around, it was clear this playground needed some attention. Our mother’s group, Mom’s and Tot’s, just might be the team of parents for the job. We formed the Friends of Billerica Recreation and began getting advice from local sales representatives and writing grants. After several years of volunteering, I realized that I loved playgrounds and wanted to do this for a career. Getting certified as a playground safety inspector really opened my eyes. Also, getting to know all the companies in New England helped. Doing business with a local company that comes to us and is available to meet our needs seemed important too. On-the-job experience learning about writing RFPs, doing bids and working on numerous local projects was great.
The playground that my daughter was hurt on was being overseen by the Billerica Recreation Department. However, like many sites, it was initially put in and paid for by volunteers, so there wasn’t a person trained or assigned to provide for the maintenance. They decided to hire me four hours a week to maintain all five of the town’s playgrounds. One of the main reasons this was done was to cover liability as work was being done. It is important to have a CPSI on your staff and covered by your policy or for them to have their own coverage, which can get very expensive.
To set up our program, we turned to the book Playground Safety is No Accident by Kenneth Kutska. This book was an invaluable resource and provided that link from the CPSI exam to practical applications on our sites. We began by establishing policies and procedures and spelling out how we do everything. We have requirements for companies and the equipment we purchase, requirements for installers and a full maintenance plan with audits, inspections, site checks and plans for dealing with all issues. Finally we conduct safety education when we can in the community.
A few years ago our playground plans were put to the test. A young girl was hurt near the playground—not on the equipment, but nearby. The end result has been that, since we had all this documentation which clearly outlines our plans, the town has been able to directly show “due diligence” in how it manages the site. Also, immediately after the incident, we came together as a team and were able to quickly address the situation.
As things go, a large grant was received right away and a donation from a local company came in because of the incident. This addressed this issue and others, which helped everyone.
Unfortunately, accidents do happen that are beyond our control, but the town was not at fault.
At this time, as the Town of Billerica’s playground coordinator, I spend 15 hours a week developing and maintaining the town’s six playgrounds. The sites have grown every year and recently added a skate park and adult fitness circuit. We also refurbished an older structure by moving it and redoing the hardware and roof.
One year we took in the most donations ever at $71,000. This does not include the hundreds of volunteer hours that were managed with companies, Scouts, and House of Correction Work Release Crews. Having a plan and utilizing the tools given us in Playground Safety is No Accident has made it happen. Every one of our sites has gotten better every year by adding amenities or changing panels out or linking in a new balance beam. They are definitely one of our town’s greatest assets.
Now, more and more playgrounds go up all the time. If you have sites already or are putting in a new one, I encourage owners to look at your maintenance and safety education. Get someone on your staff that is a CPSI and utilize the Sixth Edition of Playground Safety is No Accident. It may be more cost-effective for you to get outside assistance. In that case, there are many CPSIs out there who can help and who use this resource.
Find someone with experience in the industry and who does not have the conflict of interest of selling their own line of equipment. Also, adding playground safety education to your program can be done in several ways. The National Program for Playground Safety is an excellent place to start. NPPS teaches how to train supervisors and has resources you can purchase off its website.
The bottom line is this will make your playgrounds safer, easier to manage, and more beautiful, which needs to be done, for kid's sake.