Condo Media - March 2012 - (Page 22)

ASKED & ANSWERED Playground Liability Keeping the Fun in Your Community Q A QUESTION: Our community association is thinking about installing a playground in one of the common areas of our neighborhood, but some of our members are concerned about liability issues. Can you provide some guidance regarding what liability the association may be taking on by installing a playground and what we should do about those risks? ANSWER: The short answer is the liability risks are real. The glib solution is: install the equipment (to provide an amenity owners would like) but don’t let children use it. More helpful advice comes from Meghan O’Brien Taylor, CPSI, president of M.E. O’Brien & Sons, Inc., a manufacturer’s rep specializing in playgrounds and other recreational equipment. She has several suggestions for you: • Make sure the equipment you select is age-appropriate. “You don’t want to have three-year olds playing on equipment that is too high for them, too sophisticated or requires too much body strength,” Taylor explains. Associations can also design their own playgrounds, she points out, adding features they want and eliminating those they think are too dangerous or otherwise inappropriate for the children in their community. • Install an appropriate safety surface. Nearly three-quarters of all playground injuries occur not because children fall off the equipment, Taylor says, but because they fall on inappropriate surfaces — rocks or concrete, for example. An appropriate surface would be wood chips or “engineered wood fiber,” which, Taylor explains, consists of wood chips broken down into different sizes to create a more compact surface. A wood chip surface should have a depth of at least 12 inches, and have “a good edging” to contain it, Taylor advises, so the chips aren’t scattered with regular use. Putting rubber mats on top of the chips can prevent erosion in highintensity areas, under swings and at the bottom of slides, for example. “Unitary surfacing” — essentially poured-in-place rubber — has some advantages over wood chips, Taylor says. Among them, it is seamless, has a consistent thickness that can be correlated with the height of the equipment, and unlike wood chips, which must be topped-off periodically, the unitary surface is virtually maintenance free. It is also more expensive, she says, and many communities reject it for that reason. Some calculate that what they will save in maintenance over time will offset higher up-front costs. • Select a reputable manufacturer with a good reputation and a good safety record. “They have most of the safety issues figured out,” Taylor says. Reputable firms will also certify that their equipment complies with applicable safety standards — specifically those set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Society of Testing and Materials. “Manufacturers of playground equipment take those standards as seriously as the companies that manufacture cribs, car seats and seatbelts,” she says. • Have signage on the playground explaining the rules, including the ages for which the equipment is appropriate and the need for supervision. Many damage claims result from “a failure to warn,” Taylor says. Establishing appropriate rules and warnings reflects “due diligence” by the association that can reduce its liability risks. • Establish a regular maintenance program. Inspect the equipment, repair or replace it as needed, and keep the ground surface well maintained. Wood chips erode over time and have to be topped off approximately every four years, Taylor points out. Documentation is also important, she emphasizes. “Keep good records of inspection timetables, inspection reports, maintenance, and equipment repair and replacement.” Common sense measures such as these can reduce the liability risks related to playground equipment, Taylor says, but nothing will eliminate those risks — or any other liability risks — entirely. “It’s important to remember that schools, camps and parks departments are still installing playgrounds, despite the liability concerns,” Taylor says. They recognize that playgrounds are good for children and that some risks are unavoidable and acceptable. The goal, she says, is to eliminate risks that are unnecessary, excessive or hidden. Selecting the right equipment, maintaining it, adding the proper signage and documenting those due diligence measures should provide the liability protection associations need, Taylor says. But she has one additional suggestion: “Make sure you have a good insurance company behind you.” CM 22 CONDO MEDIA • MARCH 2012

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Condo Media - March 2012

Condo Media - March 2012
From the CED’s Desk
Editorial Board
CAI News
CAI Regional News
Asked & Answered
Homeowner’s Corner
Volunteer Spotlight
Vendor Spotlight
Self-Managed Association Boards
2012 CAI-NE Spring/Summer Service Directory
Advertisers Index
Classified Service Directory

Condo Media - March 2012