Business and Operations
Nicer weather translates into a busier playground, which means there’s never been a better time to take a walk around your campus with your Facilities Manager to look for risks and inspiration for possible upgrades. Here are a few tips from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Public Safety Handbook to help you keep your school’s playground risk-free this spring and summer.
Pad playground surfaces.
Surround playground equipment with shock-absorbing surfaces like wood chips, shredded rubber, sand, or pea gravel for at least six feet. Grass, concrete, asphalt, and turf cannot adequately cushion a student’s fall and should be replaced with risk-reducing materials in areas of high activity—figuratively and physically! It’s also a good idea to look for exposed tree roots or protruding rocks in heavy play areas. These stumbling blocks could become liabilities and increase the risk of student injury.
Excessive sunlight and heat aren’t just hard on your playground equipment—they’re also intense for your recess-loving students. Minimize sun exposure by adding retreat locations around your playground. Utilize natural shade by placing equipment such as metal slides and monkey bars under tall trees. If your campus doesn’t offer natural shade, consider constructing roofed retreats such as playhouses or club boxes with good ventilation and open floorplans. Students and faculty need a retreat away from the sun on those exceptionally hot days.
Faculty should be trained and prepared to test playground equipment before students use it. Serious burns can result from playground equipment. Swing chains and seats, rubber mulch surfaces, metal slides, and plastic gymnasium sets can reach dangerous temperatures in direct sun exposure. Joints and clamps can also fail when exposed to harsh sun for extended times. Therefore, all equipment must be routinely checked for sturdiness and safety.
Provide sunscreen and water.
Keep recess-goers hydrated and UV-protected. Ask parents to supply their children with sunscreen to use during outside activities. (Sunscreens that turn color when applied make it easy to see patches missed during application.) Train teachers and playground attendants on the signs of sun poisoning.
Also, encourage students to drink plenty of water while playing outdoors. Classes should make a routine pit-stop at the water fountain before heading outside.
Look for critters that buzz and bite.
Check your playground equipment and grounds frequently for insect infestations. Wasp nests, biting ant mounds, snake holes—these are critters you want to banish from your play areas.
Keep your grounds ADA compliant.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that new playgrounds make appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities. Access to play space is critical. The ADA requires a 60-inch pathway that is firm, stable, and slip resistant. Surface mats are good for accessibility, while sand and wood chips are not.
Update medical files and staff training.
Accidents happen, even with precautions taken. Your school’s nurse should have updated student medical records, current prescriptions, and an EPI pen ready in case an allergic reaction happens. Faculty should be trained and certified in CPR so they can react with confidence and speed if a serious accident occurs.
Also, faculty and staff should be well versed in your school’s policies for emergencies including sudden severe weather, campus breaches, fires, facility threats, and all similar situations that require immediate action for student safety. Frequent drills are important!
Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Risk Managers Vol. 5 No. 10 Ask ISM’s Risk Manager
The Source for Risk Managers Vol. 4 No. 2 The New iPredator
The Source for School Heads Vol. 9 No. 8 According to a New Study Teachers Ill-Prepared to Teach Cybersafety
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