Q. Our community association manages a playground. What should we do to make sure we are fully safe and compliant for our neighbors?
Playgrounds are a great gathering place in the community — but unfortunately they can spell danger for HOAs if they aren’t properly inspected and maintained.
Nearly a quarter of a million children visit the emergency room every year because of playground injuries, according to the Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands at Indiana University. Ensuring playgrounds meet safety standards should a top priority for community associations.
We asked Kelly G. Richardson, cofounder and managing partner of Richardson Ober in Pasadena, Calif., a fellow in CAI’s College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL), and a CAI past president, for his advice for board members in structuring safe practices for playgrounds.
According to Richardson, board members should:
- Have a periodic maintenance schedule for all equipment. “A reasonable maintenance schedule isn’t a guarantee that nothing will break, or that nobody will be injured, but it may make the difference between an injury being considered as negligently caused by the association, as opposed to merely an unfortunate occurrence,” he said.
- Implement a risk management plan for playground equipment, looking for signs of future issues: How sturdy is the equipment? Is the material something that will degrade or splinter, requiring surface maintenance? Are the connections tight, or do they periodically need adjusting?
- Hire a qualified expert who can “turn a critical eye toward the play equipment” and offer safety advice, Richardson said.
- Don’t hesitate if you see a problem. “If the association has information indicating a potentially unsafe situation, the association should move with deliberate and appropriate pace to rectify the hazard,” Richardson says. “If the equipment is unsafe for any reason, it should be closed off with tape and a sign should be posted that states ‘closed for repairs.’
- Invest in a solid insurance plan. “In the past, $1 million was considered enough coverage, but today, that’s simply not enough protection,” Richardson said.
Finally, board members should consult the National Program for Playground Safety’s Playground Safety Checklist (below) to ensure rules and equipment are contributing to a safe environment:
Playground Safety Checklist
· Adults supervise children
· Children play on age-appropriate equipment
· Soft fall surfacing material surrounding equipment
· Equipment is safe
· No strings or ropes present
· Equipment is not too hot
· No bicycle helmets worn on equipment
· Children wear appropriate clothing
· Protect children from the sun
· Protect children from extreme temperatures
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