Contacts
 



Keyword Site Search










Playgrounds & Supervision

By Arthur H. Mittelstaedt, Jr., Ed.D






"If a distance, height, grip size or other design character of the equipment does not meet ASTM or CPSC standards or standard of practice or care as established by comparable or industry usage, negligence can easily be proven." - Arthur H. Mittelstaedt, Jr.


Playgrounds pose safety concerns. Certainly the age group, skill level and behavioral conditions affect the degree of supervisory concerns.

Play equipment used during school hours requires supervision by teachers or aides.

Who is at fault?

Should an injury occur on the play equipment, who is at fault? Designers and operators often think this falls within the "assumption of risk" principle in law. These laws vary state to state. Many states have adopted comparative or proportional forms of contributory negligence laws to deal with an injured person's failure to exercise due care, which along with another person's (the defendant's) negligence, contributed to the injury. That is, negligence of the injured person is not a complete defense, but reduces the defendant's liability according to the degree of the plaintiff's negligence. The age of the injured party is of primary consideration. Judges and juries follow state law in this regard. With any injury or fatality there is a direct relationship of the injury to the actions or functions engaged in and the equipment or layout facilitating those actions. When the actions or functions are proper, reasonable and consistent with the equipment design there is no negligence. However, if a distance, height, grip size or other design character of the equipment does not meet the ASTM or CPSC standards or standard of practice or care as established by comparable or industry usage, negligence can easily be proven. Supervision of playgrounds is important to insure that the user, the behavior or actions, and the equipment are reasonably related.

Suits are initiated because of lack of supervision. Therefore, the necessary supervision has to be foreseen by the manufacturer, by the designer and by the owner and explicitly spelled out. If the play equipment meets the previous stated standards and all their permitted activities or actions are evident and the equipment is designed for that intent and their actions that are prohibited and are so stated, a playground does not need supervision 24-7. If there are any types of foreseen safety concerns the playground has to be supervised.

What type of supervision is necessary to foresee, forewarn and forestall injurious activity? Standards of supervision have to be established by the affected parties. Sometimes, even children are consulted in the selection of equipment. There are no printed "standards" of supervision. There may be general principles but such supervision criteria should be established and relevant to each playground. The designer or owner assumes there are inherent risks in all playgrounds. This is not correct. The inherent risks only apply to those specific actions that are not controlled or lead by the design and operation of the equipment or the playground. This means that if a child performed an action or function and fell, and that action was beyond the intent of the equipment's design, the child assumed the risk of performing the function or action. However, if the equipment encouraged a child to perform a physical action and the equipment was not sized properly or had another defect, it is the manufacturer's, designer's, owner's responsibility and they can be held liable.

Contributory negligence is often a defense. Such a theory asserts supervision of children cannot be accomplished by one or two persons unless they are in a direct control or contact position. Supervision usually involves maintaining a ratio of one adult to five or six children, although this varies dependant on the size of the area.

Supervisors should be adults or trained counselors and are designated responsible to supervise an assigned space. The following list identifies some responsibilities of supervisors.

  • Awareness of the assigned space(s) and equipment in which children are engaged at all times and the awareness of the surroundings beyond the assigned activity space.
  • Surveillance of the children in each portion of the activity to note any problems or other incapacities.
  • Verbally articulate directions and warnings to children of unsafe or improper behavior with equipment or in the space.
  • Make sure the children understand and obey the safety regulations.
  • Inform the closest senior employees or officers promptly of any problems.
  • Have acceptable demeanor and rapport with children.
  • Be sufficiently alert to observe improper or unintended activities in accordance with guidelines within their span of control.
  • Not allow children to separate from the group.
  • Not lose visual contact with any child.
  • Leave no child alone without adults present.
  • Detect risk-taking behavior and correct the behavior.
  • Recognize and attend to signs of illness, fears or erratic behaviors.
  • Know when and how to apply first aid and when to call for medical aid.
  • Not permitting or implementing abusive methods or corporal punishment in controlling children.
  • Permit children to leave (with supervision) to go to the restroom but inform other supervisors.
  • Prohibit children from hiding or entering secluded nooks and recesses.

Since there are times when direct control or contact with each child is not possible, it has been interpreted in common concerns of jurisprudence that "area" supervision is satisfactory. When the capacity of a play area exceeds the concept of contact and control, the area is just too big. For that reason, play areas with equipment limited to age groupings are designed.






As there are times when direct control or contact with each child is not possible, it has been interpreted in common concerns of jurisprudence that "area" supervision is satisfactory. Photo Courtesy of Landscape Structures


Three Crucial Elements

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in a presentation on injuries and fatalities from falls given to the National Safety Council stated three crucial elements to successful supervision. The first is proximity. The supervisor must be in close enough for contact and control of the children. The second is continuity of information, instruction and direction. The third is competency. The supervisor must have the knowledge, skills and abilities to do the correct thing in any circumstance.







Related Stories




December 14, 2019, 8:31 am PDT

Website problems, report a bug.
Copyright © 2019 Landscape Communications Inc.
Privacy Policy