Risk Management Advisories
- Playground Triage
- Using Playground Triage as a Risk Management Strategy
In March, 1998, the Canadian Standards Association released the first edition of the CSA-Z614 standard on Children's Playspaces and Equipment. The standard is constantly reviewed by a Technical Committee made up of industry stakeholders, including manufacturers, inspectors, and playground users. A revised standard is released approximately every 5 years. While school boards are not required to upgrade or replace equipment to meet new versions of the standard, maintaining the equipment to the current version of the standard is good risk management practice.
The following provisions of the standard are recommended for school boards, as follows:
- All newly purchased, newly installed or donated playground equipment should comply with the current version of the CSA- Z614 standard. It is recommended that letters of compliance with this standard from the equipment manufacturer be requested and retained with all other documents for this equipment.
- An audit of all existing playground equipment should be conducted to determine the general age, condition and compliance level with the CSA standard. A plan should be in place to systematically replace the oldest equipment or that which is in disrepair with equipment that complies with the current version of the CSA standard. See Playground Triage method of assessing equipment. Unsafe equipment should be removed from service immediately.
- Equipment installation should be done by qualified personnel (e.g. manufacturer/ vendor) in accordance with the current version of the CSA-Z614 standard. Volunteer installations are not recommended unless supervised by qualified personnel.
- As per the standard, all newly installed equipment, as noted in Item 3, must be inspected prior to use by a qualified playground inspector. Retain inspector's check-list for future reference.
- Implement a daily/weekly visual inspection program. This activity can be conducted by the principal or a custodian, and should be recorded in the daily maintenance log book at the school location. Follow the link for a sample Daily/Weekly Inspection Checklist.
- Implement a monthly inspection program. Use monthly maintenance inspection checklist provided by the manufacturer, or a sample provided by CSA or OSBIE: Monthly Playground Maintenance Inspection Checklist. These inspections can be conducted by the principal, a custodian or Plant Services department. Retain monthly inspection checklists.
- Each playground structure should be inspected annually by a qualified playground inspector in accordance with the Standard. The written inspection report should be retained with all other documentation for the playground structure, to be produced for inspection if required.
- Each school should conduct Playground Safety sessions outlining the playground rules applicable to that location. These sessions should be held for students, teachers and any volunteer yard supervisors at the beginning of each school year. Post signs to notify users of safety rules.
For more information on managing playgrounds, see the Special Edition of the OSBIE Oracle - Are School Playgrounds Safe? Volume 10, No. 2.
With the introduction in 1998 of the CSA-Z614 standard for Children’s Playspaces and Equipment, owners of commercial play structures were faced with the need to quickly assess and prioritize hazards associated with their equipment.
The best approach to any risk management issue is to develop a systematic approach to identify and analyze the risks, determine the best risk management strategy, implement the solution and monitor the results.
One such systematic approach is known as triage. Although triage is traditionally associated with the prioritization of military casualties, by applying its' principles to playground issues, the definition can be reworded to read:
"The sorting of playground equipment by a system of priorities which ensures that the equipment which poses the most serious dangers to users receives appropriate attention first."
Using this definition of playground triage can be an effective risk management strategy in reducing student injuries on school playgrounds. The following recommendations demonstrate how these principles can be applied to systematically identify, prioritize and address the issues related to CSA Standard compliance and playground equipment safety.
(1) Risk Idendification/Analysis
Often the most effective way to identify and analyze hazards or risk is by way of an audit or site inspection. Although qualified playground inspectors are recommended, either an inspector or experienced school board staff can conduct a preliminary inspection of the playground equipment to determine its age, condition and level of compliance with the current CSA Standard.
The equipment in service should be grouped into the following three categories:
Category I –Equipment pre-dating the 1998 version or Self-designed/built equipment;
Category II –Manufactured/Installed March 1998 – March 2014;
Category III –Equipment installed after March, 2014
It is expected that most equipment grouped under Categories I & II will not be in compliance with the specifications of the current version of the CSA Standard. Keep in mind that no version of the CSA Standard requires a play structure to be removed simply because it pre-dates the current standard. If properly maintained, most Category II structures can safely serve the balance of their expected 18-20 year life span.
Although the Standard does not require removal of Category I or II structures, if injuries occur on these structures, the issue of Due Diligence and negligence on behalf of the school board will certainly be placed under scrutiny. Questions will be posed to determine if the school board knew, or should have known, that these two categories of play structures did not comply with current safety standards and may have contained hazards that caused the injury to a student. Did the school board take all reasonable steps to assess and remove known hazards? Was the equipment being properly maintained?
Using Playground Triage as a Risk Management Strategy:
In determining whether the equipment in Categories I, II and III, as described previously, can be operated safely, a "triage" system of prioritization can be useful in identifying equipment that needs appropriate attention, and to determine what actions are required.
The three hazard prority levels for playground equipment are as follows:
Priority I - Hazardsd present which are life-threatening or permanently disabling;
Priority II - Hazards present which may cause non-disabling injury; e.g. pinch/crush/shear points, protrusions, inadequate ground cover.
Priority III - hazards present which may cause slight injury, or equipment not in compliance with current CSA Standard, other than those listed under Priority I and II.
Once the identification and analysis has been completed, then the appropriate risk management strategies can be identified and implemented, as illustrated on the following table:
It is recommended that the Maintenance program noted in the table for Category I and II equipment be a Daily/Weekly, Monthly and Annual inspection program as described under the current version of the CSA Standard. Since all Category III equipment post-dates the implementation of the first edition of the CSA Standard in 1998, it is implied that the equipment would conform to whatever version of the Standard existed when it was manufactured/installed. Category I equipment with Priority III hazards should be scheduled for removal/replacement over a 5 year period, and can be operated safely until then with proper maintenance and inspection.
Once the risk management strategies are implemented, the monitoring process should consist of retaining the documentation of each of the daily/weekly, monthly and annual inspection reports, with noted deficiencies and copies of completed work orders to validate that the deficiencies have been corrected.
This documentation is valuable not only to ensure your equipment is being properly maintained, but can also assist in proving your organization took reasonable steps to ensure the playground was kept in a safe condition, should a law suit occur in spite of your best efforts.
(REVISED 2015) E&OE
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