The following testimonial was received on June 29, 2020 from Tom Rocher, CPSI with the Bend Park and Recreation District in Bend, Oregon. We first met in 2006 at a Certified Playground Safety Inspector Course being hosted by the Oregon Recreation and Park Association.

Most of the guys on the Public works crew agreed that I had drawn the short straw when I was
“selected” to attend a training school on playground safety. It was 2006 and the owners’ association I worked for was preparing to overhaul an old Timberform play structure and add a few other elements, including a rotating climber. Someone from the HOA’s admin department had stumbled across an email from Oregon Recreation and Park Association advertising a Certified Playground Safety Inspection (CPSI) course and, astutely, thought someone should get a certification before we started modifying playground equipment.

At that time, I was about two years into my quest to find a fulfilling career, having abandoned an uninspiring desk job. For the HOA, I performed general labor and participated in the rebuilding of several tennis courts, a sport that is a passion of mine. I never gave a second look or thought to our sad little playground, the only one owned by the HOA.

The CPSI course turned out to be a real eye opener for me. After the first day of class I told my wife I had found my new the career. Building a playground is like building a house, I told her. Except you’re building this house for a five-year-old so you better make it safe.

While still admitted inexperienced, I was able to use the CPSI course knowledge to lobby my bosses for relocation of an existing swing set (successful), moving a barrier on the play structure to close up an entrapment (successful) and replacing the pea gravel surfacing with engineered wood fiber. The surfacing suggestion didn’t fly. Apparently, someone on the HOA board owned a gravel pit. Two out of three isn’t bad.

After that project I decided to seek employment where there was more than one playground. I was hired by the local park district which had 32 playgrounds at the time but was growing rapidly. Initially I was on a landscape crew and had little involvement with the playgrounds but about a year into my tenure I was hired to replace the retiring playground maintenance “guy.” I won’t call him a supervisor because he had no one to supervise and he had no plan beyond fixing what was broken.

At that time, I had laid eyes on less than a dozen of those 32 playgrounds and all those ASTM standards were getting fuzzy in my middle-aged brain. Fortunately, it was 2009 and time for CPSI re-certification. In addition to getting re-certified, I made some valuable contacts in the industry. And I took ownership of the Fourth Edition of Playground Safety is No Accident.

(That book sits in front of me today as I type. It doesn’t look nearly as good as it did in 2009. A little tattered, sticky notes spring from several pages. Yellow and green highlighters compete for attention. A Ken Kutska business card bookmarks a section titled “Developing a Comprehensive Public Playground Safety Program. I have the Fifth Edition, too, on CD. I use it to print out audit forms.)

The park district’s playgrounds at that time were an eclectic mix of old structures with no records and new structures with disorganized records. . Non-CPSI landscape crews were struggling to perform high frequency inspections using complex forms designed for low frequency inspections. The maintenance budget was terribly inadequate. Chip levels were dangerously low. There was no playground policy.

Where to begin? Playground Safety is No Accident has a section titled just that, a twelve-step process towards playground safety. This process took time. Playgrounds were surveyed, repairs and preventative maintenance began in earnest. Records were organized. Deficiencies beyond the maintenance budget were noted, most profoundly, surfacing issues. A 1970s era playground was identified as having several “priority one” hazards.

Initial requests for a quadrupled chip budget and a shiny new replacement playground were rejected, but the requests (“photographs with circles and arrows and paragraph on the back of each one”) did get the attention of management. Before long we had an adequate chip budget, a plan to replace our worst playground and a list of others to schedule for replacement. Patience was paying off.

Likewise, initially there was no traction for adopting a formal playground safety policy. So I created an unofficial policy, pulling heavily from the sample in this book. I agreed (with myself) on a sustainable standard of care. I decided on how often I would perform low frequency inspections and got agreement from landscape crews on how they would do high frequency inspections. My own personal unofficial playground safety policy address also addressed playground installations: the quality of equipment, the qualifications of installers, drop tests, independent audits.

Some months later a manager asked if I could put together a playground policy for the CAPRA accreditation. I opened my file drawer and handed it to him. Again, patience paying off.

The years go by. We now have 40 playgrounds. Several older playgrounds have been replaced. My computer tells me when inspections are due. My repairs are documented with work orders. Chip levels are good. Unitary surfaces get patched and seal coated.

I am not aware of any significant playground injuries on my watch. The playgrounds in my park district aren’t perfect. I could name at least one example of non-compliance for most of them: a use zone encroachment, a missed elevation. A slide that is too steep because the installer removed a section so the exit would not be within six feet of the perimeter curb. This book discusses how to evaluate non-compliant safety issues: possibility, probability and consequences.

We manage that which we cannot change. Playground safety is a marathon, not a sprint.

A Playground Story
By Sandra P. Libby, M.Ed., CPSI

This Testimonial is over 10-years-old now and she could not update her story for legal work related issues. It is still very much related to possibly your story. See her current vita at the end of this story to see where you could end up if you put your mind to it.

About twelve years ago my daughter Megan was almost 2 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, 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, I began to look around. This playground needed some attention. I thought, my 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. I learned about writing RFP’s and doing bids and worked on numerous local projects.

Later I learned that, 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 providing for the maintenance. They decided to hired me four hours a week to maintain all five town-wide playgrounds. One of the main reasons this was done is to cover my liability. It is important to have the CPSI on your staff and covered by your policy, or 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 the 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 do supervisor trainings and safety programs for kids, parents and staff every year.

About three 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 that clearly outlined our plans, the town has been able to directly show “due diligence” in how they were managing 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 six town wide playgrounds. The sites have grown every year and this spring we are adding a skate park and adult fitness circuit. Last 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. The playgrounds have become a valuable, safer and more beautiful part of our community.

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 Fourth Edition of “Playground Safety is No Accident”, which even comes with a CD now to help you. It may be more cost effective for you to get outside assistance. In that case, there are many CPSI’s out there that can help and that use this resource. Find someone with some experience in the industry and that does not have the conflict of interest of selling their own line of equipment. Also, adding the playground safety education to your program can be done several ways. The National Program for Playground Safety is a good place to start. They train people to teach supervisors and have resources that you can purchase off their site. The bottom line is this will make your playgrounds safer, easier to manage and more beautiful, which needs to be done, for the kids sake.

Sandra P. Libby, M.Ed.,CPSI

Playground Coordinator with Town of Billerica, Author of “Hey! Let’s Play” a book on playground safety, Certified Playground Safety Inspector with AMARA, LLC, Owner of P.S. Play Safe providing safety education to supervisors and kids, S.A.F.E. certified educator, Member: Mass Park & Rec., NE Park & Rec. and International Playground Contractors Assoc., Forest & Park Supervisor MA State Parks, OSHA 10 hour certified, and FA/CPR instructor.

A Comprehensive
Playground Safety Program-
“Walking the Talk”
Testimonial by Pete Cralidis, CPSI

For quite a few years now there has been increasing interest and effort to build more, better, and safer facilities, particularly for the youngest members of society-our children. This interest and effort has encompassed everyone from local, state, and federal governments to private day-care providers, summer camp groups, and others involved with children.

Of particular interest are playgrounds that not only have newer, safer, and more diverse designs, but also provide previously inaccessible play opportunities for children with disabilities, including children who may be wheelchair-bound! These children can now play and enjoy the same opportunities on many playgrounds right alongside their friends who may or may not have a disability! Playgrounds can readily provide children with more diverse equipment and activities which present increasing challenges for them to test their abilities while having a lot of fun! Now . . . how do you keep the fun environment for the children safe and going strong . . . or create it for them in the first place?

A most essential aspect of operating any playground for children is having an established and functioning playground safety program in place. It is not enough to just be able to show a written document and say, “This is our playground safety program,” or to say, “Yes . . . we have a safety program and maintain our playground on a regular basis.” Neither of these statements are going to “make the grade,” so to speak, and certainly not in a civil action related to a playground injury/incident. You have to be able to “walk the talk.” This is where the knowledge and expertise of a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) is an invaluable tool.

I am the CPSI for a county Division of Parks and Recreation in the State of Virginia. At the time I first obtained my CPSI certification in 2003, the Division of Parks and Recreation did not have any type of playground safety program in place-written or otherwise. At the request of the superintendent of Parks and Facilities, I began work on developing one. I will describe how I proceeded with its creation.
I had actually been given the task of inspecting our playgrounds a year before taking the CPSI course. After taking and passing the course/exam, I began finding a whole host of hazards/non-compliances which I would never have found had I not taken the CPSI course and studied the supplemental reading text, Playground Safety Is No Accident.

The primary source material I utilized for guidance in the development process was the Playground Safety Is No Accident book published by the National Recreation and, Park Association and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the CPSI Course binder for Certified Playground Safety Inspectors. Both these texts are part of the CPSI certification course materials and reading them carefully is most essential if you are to develop and maintain an effective playground safety program.

I utilized almost verbatim the examples given in the Playground Safety Is No Accident handbook to word the outline for a written public playground safety program (this outline is included in our program manual within the table of contents) and the Public Playground Safety Policy Statement. In the case of the policy statement, it was necessary to re-word some parts of the suggested sample shown since the sample’s wording would be applicable for a county-wide or municipal-wide program of involvement. In our case, the playground safety program is applicable only within the Division of Parks and Recreation (a division-wide program). Each objective (or goal) statement made in the policy statement is then qualified by a section within the playground safety program manual that details specifically how we will accomplish the objective.

In drafting the Division Playground Safety Program, I reviewed each part in the Playground Safety Is No Accident handbook for guidance and the suggestions given for addressing each of the stated goals outlined in our policy statement. I then drafted each section of our Division Playground Safety Program in such a manner as to reflect it being applicable to Division Parks and Facilities Personnel, with a few exceptions. Such exceptions might include volunteers or outside contractors, for example, who may be performing work on, or services for, any or all of our division playgrounds.

Throughout all our entire program documents, I endeavored to word each section in such a manner as to be explicit enough in what I was describing, but yet “generic” enough so as to reduce future needs to have to go back and frequently revise the written program unnecessarily. One example, for instance, is, instead of using the term “weekly or daily” to describe our High Frequency Inspections, I use the term high frequency. This allows for possible future changes in the inspection frequency schedule without having to go back and reword the Playground Safety Program Manual just to accommodate the inspection frequency change.

In designing the inspection forms for both the HIGH Frequency and LOW Frequency Inspections, I felt the examples in the Playground Safety Is No Accident handbook were quite thorough and extensive. Given the size of our division, however, I chose to utilize a somewhat less complex format. This format simplicity I’ve found to be more readily understandable for those staff members performing inspections, as well as, parks and facilities management staff that may be reviewing or referencing the inspection documentation.

To enhance our playground maintenance, in June 2007, after consultation with my supervisor, we instituted a Yearly Surfacing Replenishment Program to further ensure that each playground has the correct amount of recommended surfacing. This is an essential part of our playground safety program, particularly since seven of our eight playgrounds utilize a wood product for surfacing material.
As an adjunct to our playground safety program, I created a computerized Central Data File, which contains specific information about each of our playgrounds. This helps provide more rapid access to information than having to go searching through a file cabinet every time we may need some information on a particular playground, whether it be an inspection report, playground injury/accident report, or other related data. We also maintain hardcopy files of each playground’s inspection reports, etc., in secured file cabinets. This is also in adherence to the provisions of our playground safety program regarding the security and storage of playground documentation.

In conclusion, I have found the book Playground Safety Is No Accident in particular provides an excellent source of information on how to proceed with developing a playground safety program. It is well-written such that it provides the basic guidelines with which to draft a safety program and yet there is the leeway to modify the content of the material to accommodate the needs of our particular agency, both now and in the future. I’ve found the CPSI Course Manual for Certified Playground Safety Inspectors to be of immense help, particularly as a reference source as well. The clarity and expertise of the written material contained in both documents are a most definite credit to the authors!

(As a little side note, I always carry BOTH documents with me when I am out inspecting any playground-for reference.)

About the author...
Pete Cralidis is a CPSI who has been with the James City County Division of Parks & Recreation in Williamsburg, Virginia since 1994, having spent the last five years as the division’s CPSI. He is also a member of the Virginia Recreation and Park Society.