We all know that supervision is the key issue involving playground injuries and often results in serious lawsuits for school districts. On a side note, the funny thing is that supervision doesn’t seem to play a role in municipal playgrounds, since they are always unsupervised. But that is a topic of a different article.
If we supervise playgrounds at all, how we go about supervising them is the paramount question. Sure we assign noon aides to watch over the playgrounds, but do they really know what to look for; how to use the equipment; and what to say or do when the equipment is being improperly played upon? Probably not. And I find even if playground supervisors do know all of the above, they rarely know the first thing they should know – how many kids can be on this structure at one time.
The Missing Element – Occupancy
Too many people in a theater – problem. Too many people in a elevator – problem. Too many people on a boat – problem. Too many people on a playground structure – problem.
Occupancy numbers tell you how many kids can safely play on the structure while being supervised properly. The number also ensures the structure can support the weight of all those users; ensuring that the structure doesn’t prematurely fail due to stress, wear and tear. Occupancy allows users to move freely around the structure and utilize the equipment as it was intended to. It also allows supervisors to see what is transpiring at any given moment. So, where do you find this occupancy number?
Playground stickers and entrance signage will not list occupancy, but you can bet your last public dollar there is a maximum number of users for each playground design layout. Playground manufacturers and design architects list the occupancy rate (number of users) for each playground design and typically provide this information to you upon purchase. If you are not getting this information, then start demanding it in your contracts.
Arming your supervisors with occupancy information can drastically reduce the level of chaos on your playground and at the same time increase the level of attentive supervision taking place.