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There are an estimated 200,000 emergency room-treated injuries annually, sustained from the use of playground equipment. Studies from the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS), have shown that 73% of playground related injuries annually come from public playgrounds. Churches and schools that maintain playground equipment for their child and students provide a valuable form or recreation, but also open themselves to liability from accidents.
After checking out the flashy infographic from the Children’s Safety Network, we should be asking two questions (1) What can we do to make playgrounds safer? and (2) Do we have coverage for an injury or lawsuit?
What do we do about it?
Avoid these problems:
- Age Appropriate Equipment – Playgrounds should be built for two age groups, 2-5 and 6-12. A young child, age 4, playing on equipment that was designed for a 10-year-old will find the steps and railings too far apart and will not possess the strength needed to use the equipment appropriately. The NPPS found that 64% of all public playgrounds did not have any safety signs posted to inform users of safety concerns and age appropriateness of equipment. Posting a sign may not prevent an accident or injury, but it may mitigate the damages awarded in a lawsuit.Here is an example of age appropriate equipment:
Ages 2-5 Ages 6-12 Areas to crawl Climbing pieces Low platforms Horizontal bars Ramps with handles Cooperative pieces like tire swings Low tables for sand and water Seesaws Flexible spring rockers Swings Short slides Open space to run Open area to manipulate materials Semi-enclosures for fantasy play
- Surface Material – Falls constitute the most common cause of injury at all playgrounds. These falls will come in various forms, including off, onto or into equipment. Regardless of the height of the fall, the surface material will have a lot to do with the severity of the injury. The chosen surface material should accommodate the potential fall hazard of the equipment. Wood chips, sand, pea gravel, shredded tires and rubber mats cushion falls well, but they require different amounts of material based on the height of equipment. For example, 6 in. of shredded/recycled rubber are required to protect falls of up to 10 ft, however 9-12 in. of wood chips are required to protect falls from the same height. For a full chart of appropriate surface materials and depths, download this excellent 8-page Risk Management summary on Playground Safety from Philadelphia Insurance.
- Maintenance – 23% of all playground injuries are equipment-related. Injuries can come from the smallest wear and tear and from the most open and obvious hazard. If you own and use a playground, a regular, DAILY maintenance plan should be in place. Not only should the equipment be inspected for things like splinters and sharp corners, but also water damage and paint peeling.The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has a great 2-page checklist for playground maintenance, I recommend you download it for free. If you’re a glutton for punishment and want their whole 57-page Public Playground Safety Handbook, you can download that for free as well.
Do we have coverage for an injury or lawsuit?
General liability insurance policies do pay medical expenses, damages and provide defense for lawsuits from accidents on playgrounds. To ensure your general liability policy provides this protection, you’d have to make sure there are no exclusions for this type of equipment. Generally, if you have a playground on the premises, you will be paying a separate, line-item premium charge for each playground and there will be no exclusions. However, if the insurance company doesn’t know about or charge for playground exposure, they may include an exclusion on the policy. If there is an exclusion on the policy for playgrounds, there would be no coverage or defense in the event of an injury or lawsuit. It is critical that you work with an insurance advisor that has inspected the premises and has structured the General Liability policy to include playground exposure.
To view our complete risk management library of articles for churches and non-profits, click here.
John Keller, CRM ARM CIC AAI is Client Advisor & Risk Manager at Gulfshore Insurance specializing in non-profit and religious organizations. John works with a wide range of business clients to deliver strategic risk analysis and guidance. Comments and questions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
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