Helping to Keep Playgrounds Safe
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that each year more than 240,000 children are injured on playgrounds. Playground inspections by a qualified person, such as a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI), are an important factor in reducing injuries among playground users. Playground equipment and surfacing should be inspected when it is installed, followed by regular inspections to monitor and identify potentially hazardous conditions.
All too often, playgrounds are installed, never inspected and not examined again until an injury occurs. Over time, equipment as well as surfacing can wear out and break down. Regular inspection reports, provided by CPSIs to playground owners and operators, can allow for repairs or corrections to take place before a dangerous situation arises.
For example, did you know that a bolt that extends more than two threads beyond the face of the nut can be a protrusion or entanglement hazard? Since most playground injuries are the result of a fall, did you know that inspecting and maintaining proper surfacing is one of the most important factors in reducing the likelihood of playground injuries? What constitutes “maintaining proper surfacing”? If you are interested reducing the risk of injury for your playground users and of any legal action or negative publicity that could occur as a result, then either you or a member of your staff should become a Certified Playground Safety Inspector.
The CPSI program is offered by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), under the authority of the National Certification Board (NCB). The program’s primary focus is to equip individuals with the knowledge and skills to not only identify hazards on public playgrounds and rank those hazards by injury potential but also to apply the learned knowledge to remove hazards and establish an inspection system to establish a safe playground experience. Certified Playground Safety Inspectors also develop programs for various agencies and clients, focusing on risk reduction through inspection.
Ample preparation is necessary to pass the 100-question CPSI certification exam, so we strongly encourage you to attend the CPSI in-person classroom course. This two-day course is taught by skilled instructors and is filled with information on equipment specifications, surfacing requirements, hazard identification, risk management, and inspection methods. In addition to top-notch instruction, the course provides you with the opportunity to collaborate with fellow classmates, many of whom may have real-life experiences to share. It also includes a visit to a local playground for practical experience identifying hazards, such as entrapment and protrusions, using an assortment of probes and gauges that are specifically designed for playground inspectors.
For those who may be unable to be away from the office for two days, preparation for the CPSI exam can also be done online. This course consists of eight modules and covers the same information provided in the classroom course. It’s more commonly used by those who are recertifying as a means of reviewing, as well as learning about any new information that may have been added since they were last certified. An additional online resource is the CPSI practice exam, which can be purchased separately or as a bundle with the online CPSI course. The CPSI exam can either be taken on the third day following a two-day classroom course or at a local computer testing center near them. Once the certification is earned, it must be renewed every three years to ensure inspectors are up to date on all the current standards and guidelines that are referenced when performing inspections.
CPSIs may work independently or be employed by an organization or agency. Having CPSI-certified individuals on staff is highly beneficial to school districts, childcare facilities, park and recreation agencies, homeowner associations and any other organization or agency that owns and/or operates a playground. Each state, county or local area may have different playground policies or regulations that they must follow. A certified professional will be well-versed in the standards and/or guidelines included in these policies. With that knowledge in place, the CPSI can develop and carry out an effective system of inspections.
The frequency of inspections depends on several factors, including the type of equipment and surfacing that’s present, the extent of use and the climate. Part of owning and operating a playground is accepting the liability that goes along with it. Having a comprehensive risk management plan in place is essential and establishes a commitment to maintaining a minimum level of care. The purpose of this plan includes limiting liability, controlling losses, maintaining the playground environment and, most importantly, reducing injuries sustained by playground users. CPSIs are a vital part of this plan, as they provide documentation of regular inspections. This documentation, along with that of proper maintenance and repair, are invaluable to a playground owner, especially in the event of a lawsuit.
While the benefits of having a CPSI on staff are numerous, the certified individual also receives benefits. The CPSI certification is recognized and valued by employers and can lead to career advancement. Achieving the CPSI certification shows a level of commitment and provides evidence of extensive knowledge and dedication to the safety of playgrounds. In addition, all CPSIs have access to a very active and robust online forum on NRPA Connect where they can post questions and network with their peers. NRPA Connect can be accessed at connect.nrpa.org.
With more than 7,500 CPSIs currently in the United States and around the world working to keep playgrounds safe, the benefits of this certification can be seen in communities near and far. If you are interested in finding out more about the CPSI certification or any other educational opportunities offered by NRPA, please visit www.nrpa.org.