Being a CPSI for 12 years now, I get asked a lot how to decide to shut down a playground based on the hazards that I find during an inspection. My answer typically involves a reference to the book “Blink”, but that never seems to satisfy the inquirer. So, I am going to try to quantify my “professional judgement.”
First, I understand that there are some standard priority schedules which can be used to determine which playground should be fixed first. That’s seems to be pretty straight forward in my mind. Determine the number of hazards, the age of the equipment and the cost to upgrade it, the labor hours to upgrade it and you then have a priority based on your budget and time available. But today, we are talking about when to shut a playground down immediately.
The first thing I look at is the age group using the equipment. Is the structure at a child development center where the age group is on the youngest end of the spectrum – 2 year old’s? Two year-old’s just don’t have the cognitive ability to understand how things work and that means if they find themselves in trouble, they won’t know how to begin to get out of trouble or call for help.
The next thing I look at is the type of injury that is likely to occur. Falls to the surfacing is a big problem that results in a lot of injuries. And when the surfacing protection material is in poor condition and falls are likely to occur, the probability of shut down gets elevated. When you combine falls with younger children, you have a real issue on your hands. This basically occurs because, again, younger children don’t have the cognitive ability to understand that they need to try to land on their feet.
The next thing I look at is pervasiveness. It’s a lot like sexual harassment and bullying, the more pervasive it is the more likely it is that the structure should be shut down. Sure a head and neck entrapment is serious and should garner immediate attention, but 18 head and neck entrapments will require immediate shut down. If you have a bunch of entanglements and head and neck entrapments combined with younger users then I am more likely to shut it down.
The age of the equipment is another big concern. Old pieces of equipment typically have more issues and just don’t seem to be worth the trouble to fix them. This combined with the above make it a slam dunk for shut down.
When it comes to determining when to shut down a playground, it really is a “Blink” moment – a know it when you see it moment – and a professional judgement call. Using the above decisions points will help you decide when you should shut down your playground. The key is to keep as many open as possible and that requires regular inspections and maintenance.