Monday, November 15, 2010

Playgrounds and the Law

October 6, 2010 the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a final interpretative rule on the term "Children' s Product." The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) is found under Public Law 110-314. A "children's product" is defined as a consumer product designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger. Playground equipment certainly falls into this category, often being labeled for a specific age group such as 2-5 or 5-12.

The CPSIA defines the maximum content allowed for heavy metal in coatings, phthalates and lead in substrates, 3rd party testing for certain products, and tracking labels. This legislation applies to imported as well as domestically manufactured product. With lead as a leading cause of concern under this law, it should be noted that many playground products are not "painted" but "powder coated." This lead free process exceeds the requirements under the law. Consumers should ensure what materials and process are utilized in the manufacture of their product.

So the law covers everything?

Not exactly. Actually, barely a fraction of the whole picture. While the CPSIA addresses several key and critical issues in safety, there are MANY other issues to address. The CPSC federal recommendations and the voluntary standards of the playground industry set forth by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) do not present exact and conclusive definitions and standards, either. There are certain areas which remain gray and professional judgment comes into play. The application of rules should also consider minimum standards and standard of care. One set of state rules suggests that there should be a minimum of 6-8" of playground surfacing installed beneath playgrounds. In the same publication and rules it is also stated that surfacing should be installed (at least in the case of Engineered Wood Fiber) to a depth of 12". Further reading will find that wood surfacing compacts after installation, and the suggestion of 9" compacted be applied. So, do I need: 6, 7, 8, 9 or 12" of surfacing on my playground? If I install 12" of wood surfacing, do I need to go out every week and replenish? If there is a fatal, life threatening or debilitating injury on the playground that had 6" of impact attenuating surfacing, would 12" have been a better standard of care?

More information may be found in a previous blog: "What Federal Standards Apply to a Playground?"

California (CA) appears to lead the pack in terms of legal compliance to safety. In the California Code of Regulations it is stated that playgrounds (public) shall comply with sections of the CPSC Handbook and the ASTM standards. After pages of should versus shall, recommend versus require: it comes down to basic steps. Design, inspection, materials used, assembly, installation, maintenance, training and supervision are specifically identified and called for. Some other states have specific references or applications of rules, but largely only applied to child care settings.

In the playground industry, the International Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) runs a 3rd party testing and certification program. Following every line to the letter and number won't make a difference if installation, operation and maintenance falls below standards. This means you may purchase top grade and quality product, yet fail at the simple standards due to error, neglect or omission.

I hope we aren't done, yet. With gray areas, voluntary compliance and optional concepts, playground safety may get put on the back burner. The National Program for Playground Safety suggests that our overall US safety grade in their study was a C+. States which adopted CPSC guidelines received the higher grade of B, with states not adopting guidelines the lower grade of C was found. If my child's safety is involved, law or not- my child deserves a better standard of care. The old adage "you get what you pay for" certainly could be called for. Buying the cheapest, cutting a corner, neglecting management and maintenance of the playground or following minimum standards likely will not result in your being issued a citation by a police officer. Law or no law, don't cut corners with your children's safety. Consult a professional.

Copyright 2010 DunRite Playgrounds 

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