Loss Control Insights for Public Sector

Improve Resident Safety with Help from Your Parks and Rec Department

feet walking outside

If you have a parks and recreation department, it likely provides a variety of recreational services to people of all ages in your community. This frequent contact with the public creates an opportunity to help keep residents safer in their everyday lives. Here’s how you can get your parks and rec department involved in your safety efforts.

Play it Safe with Regular Playground Inspections
Inspecting playgrounds regularly is important to help keep children safe from common playground hazards.

  • Cushion the fall — Materials such as shredded rubber, mats, wood chips or sand are all common surfacing choices that help protect kids in the event of a fall. However, these fill materials only work if they’re deep enough to adequately disperse the force of impact — not the case if you don’t add enough material in the first place or if it’s displaced by kids playing. In fact, improper or inadequate surfacing material underneath equipment is the largest contributor to playground-related injuries. Fill material should be checked regularly to make sure it’s deep enough and frequently raked back into place when needed. Check out Playground Surface Protection for more information on fill materials.
  • Check the equipment — When inspecting playgrounds, look for broken equipment, protrusions or places where kids might become entangled. Protruding bolt ends or anything sticking up from the ground should be removed or guarded to prevent impalement or cuts. Watch for gaps in equipment that can strangle a child if they catch on a drawstring or scarf around the neck.
  • Consider equipment design — Elevated surfaces should have guardrails or protective barriers in place to prevent accidental falls. Think about materials used to build your equipment - wood can splinter with age, while metal surfaces can easily become hot enough to cause serious burns.

Want to make sure your community’s playgrounds are as safe as possible? Read our Playground Inspection Program document or the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Public Playground Safety Handbook.

Take a (Safer) Walk in the Park
Your parks and rec department likely manages a variety of facilities that could be home to slip and fall hazards, a common cause of injury both for employees and members of the public. Help keep your users safer with periodic audits and regular maintenance.

  • The great outdoors — Take a look at outdoor walking surfaces including sidewalks, trails and stairways looking for slip and fall hazards. Not sure what to look for? We’ve got some helpful guidelines here and in our Slip, Trip and Fall Prevention Guide. Don’t forget about parking areas. If they are used before dawn or after sunset, make sure they have adequate lighting by conducting an audit after dark looking for dark spots and burned out lights. Repair potholes which do double duty as trip hazards in nice weather and pockets of slippery ice in cold weather.
  • The inside story — Indoor facilities can house slip and trip hazards, too. If you’ve got community centers or sports facilities, make sure you’re checking for issues like cluttered hallways, spilled liquids, moisture tracked in from the outside and cleaning procedures that could actually make floors more slippery.

Hire the Right People
Parks and rec employees have access to lots of people and places, so it is important to hire the right employees.

  • Check for past issues — Consider background checks for positions that are sensitive in nature, such as those that have access to non-public resident information or that spend time with kids. Make sure you’re following federal and state regulations, such as getting the applicant’s consent beforehand (we recommend checking with your legal counsel to make sure you’ve got all the bases covered).
  • Stay safe behind the wheel — For employees who will be driving municipal vehicles, make sure you’re hiring someone who meets your driver qualifications.
  • Seasonal concerns — Do you hire seasonal workers to help with summer programs or assist with maintenance work? Seasonal workers are often young and inexperienced, so take the time to provide them adequate training and a mentor they can consult for questions. Young workers (those under 18) are prohibited from performing certain types of hazardous work. Check OSHA’s Young Workers page for more information.

Make Swimming Safer
If your parks and rec department manages a public swimming pool, there are additional ways they can contribute to community safety.

  • Prepare your lifeguards — Make sure all pool employees, and especially lifeguards, have the right training to keep pool users safe. This includes experience with first aid and CPR, and a clear plan for how to handle emergencies. If you have an automated external defibrillator (AED), make sure workers know how to use it.
  • Chlorine concern —Employees should know how to properly handle, mix and store pool chemicals to avoid dangerous chemical incidents.
  • Be inclusive — To make sure your pool is accessible to all patrons, make sure your facilities are meeting ADA requirements for pool entry.

Connect Safety and Security
Concerned about security in your parks and public recreation areas? There are lots of ways to help users feel safer.

  • Perform routine maintenance — Keep public facilities in good repair, removing litter and graffiti so it’s clear that the area is cared for. Allowing vandalism to remain can increase the perception that a public area is unsafe.
  • Provide information — Use signage to display maps and descriptions of the area so users know where they are and how to get where they want to go.
  • Encourage widespread use — Develop programs and attractions that will encourage visitors throughout the day and evening.

For more security suggestions, read Creating Safe Park Environments to Enhance Community Wellness from the National Recreation and Park Association.

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