Incorporating Safety into Play Time Recreational Playgrounds in Co-ops, Condos and HOAs

One universal truth on which we all can agree is that kids like to play. They love little more than getting together and having a bang-up good time. And in almost any cooperative, condominium or homeowners’ association, there is likely to be a gaggle of youths who need to burn off some energy. A board is left with the choice between letting this roving band of rapscallions traverse the property unchecked, wreaking havoc on carefully-manicured lawns, or providing a designated place for kids to gather and enjoy some fresh air. Should said board wisely adopt the latter strategy, there’s a name for this type of consolidated entertainment structure, what we call: a playground.

Clearly, the imperative when housing a playground on a condo or co-op premises is safety. There may also ensue shifting community dynamics or potential lawsuits should a child get hurt. Thus every precaution must be taken to prevent that from happening. So what’s new in playground safety? What materials are being adapted into the works? Are kids playing differently than they were, say, a decade ago? 

The Local Report

Rules and regulations regarding playground safety—while a priority everywhere, obviously — can vary from state to state. In Massachusetts, there’s a Code of Mass. Regulations, or CMR, an umbrella under which playground regulations fall. “CMR spells out that there are numerous playground-related injuries annually, with children needing emergency room treatment,” says Frank Flynn, managing partner of Flynn Law Group in Boston. “Thus, playgrounds are highly regulated. Outdoor spaces must offer at least 75 square feet per child, they have to be accessible to children with disabilities, and they have to be appropriate for the specific age groups which they’re meant to serve.”

Meghan O’Brien, president of O’Brien & Sons, Incorporated, the largest supplier of outdoor recreation equipment in New England (and a certified playground safety inspector), urges boards to implement regular documented maintenance of their playground equipment. “Whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly, a board needs to set up a schedule and make [playground maintenance] someone’s responsibility, so that it’s covered in terms of liability,” she says. After the snow and ice has melted and the weather grows increasingly nicer, “you'll want to look for anything that has been vandalized, or is just broken. You’ll want to give the whole playground a once-over to make sure that it’s in sound condition, in regard to missing parts. You’ll want to make sure that the surfacing is adequate, as you typically need a ‘loose-fill’ surfacing with at least a 12-inch depth. Also, look for broken bottles or other objects in the area, and sticks that may have fallen.”

And should no one on hand have the time or the desire to scour the playground for hazards, O’Brien notes that a board can hire a playground inspector, whom it would pay to audit the space. “Everything stems from a risk management viewpoint,” she says. “If you set up an inspector to look at your playground or designate a board member to become certified themselves, and you’ve built yourself a maintenance plan according to regulation, then you’ve increased your risk management and reduced your liability.”

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