How Public Entities Can Promote Safety in Playgrounds, Pools and Parks

4 Ways to Reduce Recreation Risks

Summer is no time for taking it easy when it comes to safety in playgrounds, parks, pools and natural bodies of water.


Summer shines a spotlight on playgrounds, park trails, pools and other bodies of water. But before the season’s fun commences, public entities must prepare and plan to keep their facilities safe.

  1. 1. Install materials for safety in playgrounds

    Children's playground equipment, including jungle gym with different colored slides

    There are an estimated 80,000 playgrounds in the United States run by schools or municipalities where kids from 6 months to 12 years old play. However, it’s not all fun and games. Most injuries to school-aged children occur on playgrounds.

    According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year more than 200,000 children are treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms for playground-related injuries. Three-quarters of those injuries occur on playgrounds owned by public entities.

    Based on this troubling stat, what can your public entity do to eliminate playground hazards?

    • Install the right surfacing material. Provide safety-tested rubber or at least 9 inches of loose-fill surfacing material to prevent some of the playground injuries caused by falls. Most injuries occur when a child falls from the equipment onto the ground.
    • Check that protective surfacing extends at least 6 feet in all directions from play equipment, as required by ASTM standards and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in its Public Playground Safety Handbook.

    Trident Public Risk Solutions offers more tips to help public entities control their playground risk in its Playground Review and Maintenance Process document.

  2. 2. Follow swimming pool codes and regulations

    Young girl in swim goggles diving down toward the bottom of a pool

    The Pool Safety Council reports that drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death among children ages 1 to 14. Before the pools open, public entities have some important tasks to accomplish both in and out of the water:

    • Check water quality. A best practice is to drain and fill the pool at the start of the season.
    • Get the pool house in order too. Ensure the cleanliness and safety of restrooms, showers and walking surfaces to prevent trips and falls around the pool.

    Post pool rules prominently and include hours of operation. Always enforce rules. A pool with lifeguards who don’t enforce rules can be worse than a pool with no lifeguards. Lifeguards must follow rules, as well. Many accidents involve pool users and lifeguards.

  3. 3. Perform hiking trail maintenance

    Man with large red backpack hiking along trail in lush, green wooded area

    Visitors aren’t the only ones who should be hiking park trails. Park operators, too, should hit the trails and take an inventory of the site. This is especially true in regions that endured a snowy winter. Recreational use statutes in most states allow the public to use land for recreational purposes while not obligating the owner to ensure the area is hazard-free. However, these immunities can be eroded when the owner has direct supervision of users, charges admission and is reckless or wanton in creating a hazard.

    • Remove dead limbs or standing dead trees, which could become hazards to trail users. Owners cannot be expected to know all the potential hazards that exist on the property, but inspecting the trails prior to peak-use months and occasionally during the season is strongly recommended.
    • Have trail inspectors photograph current trail conditions to document and monitor changes in terrain.
  4. 4. Understand hazards of natural bodies of water

    Small boy wearing swimming goggles running with arms outstretched into ocean

    From beaches to lakes, many public entities own or control property with large bodies of water and should recognize the many hazards they present. These may include but aren’t limited to riptides, limited visibility, sudden depth changes, underwater vegetation, aggressive or venomous wildlife, motorized water vehicles, wakes, and waterborne illness.

    Public entities sponsoring activities or programs in natural bodies of water should:

    • Provide intense supervision of participants by adequate personnel.
    • Pay constant attention to water conditions.
    • Avoid sponsoring extreme sports such as water skiing with ramps or jumps, parasailing, whitewater rafting and surfing.

    In most jurisdictions, public entities benefit from protections afforded by state recreational use statutes when bodies of water are used during unattended personal recreational activities or during events that are not sponsored or supervised by the entity. Recreational use statutes were originally developed in many states to protect property owners from people that get injured while trespassing for recreational purposes.

    Consider erecting warning signs informing users that no lifeguards are on duty, that use of the water is governed under the state’s recreational use statute and that the user assumes all responsibility for injuries and property damage. All recreation areas, including trails, ponds, ball fields, etc., should have similar signs.

No matter where activities take place this season, communication and coordination among departments are key in the planning process, said Marty Maynard, risk manager for the Town of Windsor, Connecticut. Policy changes, reported incidents and other pertinent developments need to be shared.

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Download the above tips and more with Trident’s resource flyer, “Playing It Safe in Summer.”