Safety is Paramount when Planning and Maintaining Playgrounds

You’ve heard the old saying, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to.” Well, that is a good thing when it comes to playground equipment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it has been estimated that 220,000 children ages 14 and under are injured each year by playground equipment-related incidents; about 76 percent occur on public playgrounds and the remaining 24 percent happen on residential playgrounds. That’s a lot of trips to the emergency room.

Whose idea was it to create play areas? In the 19th century, developmental psychologists such as Friedrich Fröbel proposed playgrounds as a developmental aid and as a method to instill in children a sense of fair play and good manners. Early in the 20th century, as streets became reserved for motor vehicles, children were confined to segregated areas, playgrounds, to keep them out of harm’s way (Playground Facts for Kids, Kiddie Encyclopedia, May 2020). Since then playgrounds have been popping up everywhere. And wow, playground design has changed significantly since the days of tire swings and metal jungle gyms. Play equipment is no longer one size fits all, and the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission staff has put into place safety guidelines for the proper use of public playgrounds.

In order to reduce the liability for your cooperative, establishing a program to ensure the safety of children on your playgrounds is recommended.

Choose equipment constructed of durable materials with finishes, treatments and preservatives that will not harm the users, as well as, material that will not absorb too much heat as burns are a big concern.

Conduct an annual detailed audit of the play equipment and play surface. During the inspection look for signs of damaged equipment, loose anchoring, the condition and placement of fasteners, rusted or corroded materials, potential entrapment locations such as cargo nets and other potentially dangerous conditions. The protective surface surrounding the equipment should be made of shock-absorbing material that meets the ASTM F1292 Standard Specification for Impact Attenuation of Surface Systems Under and Around Playground Equipment criteria. Note that these types of surfaces are not needed for equipment such as sandboxes and play houses if the child is to be sitting or standing at ground level. A certified playground inspector can perform an audit to determine if the playground is in general conformance with the current playground safety sub-codes in your state

The design of your playground is just as important as the materials used in constructing it. Equipment should be age-appropriate and separated by age group as much as possible. Use paths or other buffers to separate younger children from older, more active children.

Ensure a clean sight line for parents and caregivers to see their young charges as they move between activities. Organize equipment so there is less chance of someone accidentally being knocked down by another child using a swing or exiting a slide. And, in accordance to the Disabilities Act of 1990, Titles II and III, ensure even those with disabilities have easy access to equipment while encouraging integration within the play area. Also, post signs stating safety rules and the ages that are appropriate for the equipment and then enforce it.

You’ve probably also heard the mantra “Location. Location. Location.” It holds true with playgrounds as well. They should be located at areas that are easy to access. Be aware of nearby hazards such high-traffic roads, dangerous dropoffs and bodies of water. Fences are a great way to contain children in the area as long as the fence conforms to local building codes and/or ASTM F-2049. The area should also have a low-sloped elevation with drainage so there are not any water issues or the risk of protective surfaces washing away. And do not forget the sun. People all need Vitamin D, but when that hot sun is beating, temperatures can reach up to 160 degrees on play equipment. Strategically placing your playground in a shaded area will help.

In summary, develop a playground safety action plan even before installing a playground. The plan should include annual inspections and regular maintenance schedules for the structure and play area to ensure a safe environment for your youngest residents.

Kids learn by taking risks. Let’s eliminate the hazards.

This article was featured in CHQ fall 2020 issue. Click here to read the PDF newsletter.

John T. Stevens, vice president and general manager at Kipcon Inc., has more than 35 years of experience inspecting new construction and existing buildings, as well as playgrounds. He is intimately familiar with the codes and sub-codes on many topics.

Stacey Imber, marketing director at Kipcon Inc., has marketed engineering services for the past 10 years. In her former life as a pre-school teacher, she supervised many children on playgrounds.

What a Board of Directors Needs to Know about Rain Barrels

Rain barrels are becoming a popular way to collect and store rainwater for lawn and garden watering. However, such installation and use of rain barrels does not come without issues for cooperatives. A cooperative Board of Directors must consider the following prior to permitting the installation of rain barrels on cooperative property:

The Board Must Determine the Location, Selection and Installation of Rain Barrels

Prior to a member installing a rain barrel, the Board of Directors must approve the location for the installation of the rain barrel. Board members should walk the property with a professional contractor who is experienced with the installation of rain barrels to determine the appropriate location for the rain barrels. Board of Directors should only permit members to use Board approved contractors to install rain barrels. It is vital that the contractor carry the required insurance and provide the cooperative with a current certificate of insurance before the installation begins.

The Board could also select the rain barrel, thus creating uniform rain barrel design, gallon use and height. The Board ought to make the purchasing and installation of the rain barrels the financial responsibility of the member.

Typically, rain barrels are installed outside and next to the exterior foundation of a unit and connected to downspouts. Rain barrels must not be installed on the roof, walls, chimneys, fences or in any common area. The rain barrel must also be placed on a pad such as patio stone pavers, concrete, etc., which must be level to the ground to catch water from the adjoining downspout. The Board must also determine the dimensions of the pad for uniformity purposes. It is vital that the placement of any rain barrel does not cause damage, present a hazard or present maintenance problems to the property.

A Board may find it wise to contact its insurance agent prior to adopting and implementing the installation of rain barrels to be sure that there will not be any denial of coverage.

The Board Must Adopt Strict Regulations for the Installation, Maintenance, Use and Removal of Rain Barrels

Boards must adopt a strict policy for regulating the installation, maintenance, use and removal of rain barrels. Below are examples of regulations that boards ought to adopt:

  • Members are responsible for all costs of purchasing, installing, maintaining, removing, cleaning, and storing the rain barrels;
  • Restricting members from installing rain barrels themselves;
  • Requiring that installation must not damage the dwelling unit;
  • Prohibiting drilling holes in railings, exterior walls, the roof, or any other location when installing the rain barrel;
  • Requiring that the rain barrel be installed in accordance with the Board approved location and specifications;
  • The emptying of rain barrels daily;
  • The emptying of rain barrels continuously during wet weather events to prevent flooding and damage;
  • The use of collected rainwater for gardening and landscaping only[1];
  • Ensuring that rain barrels’ spigots are tightly sealed at all times to prevent danger to children and pets as well as to prevent an attractive breeding ground for mosquitos and other insects that carry diseases;
  • Members are responsible for the maintenance of any rain barrel;
  • Ensuring that rain barrels are maintained in a clean, good working, visible and attractive condition to prevent a haven for mosquitoes or other pests;
  • The regular cleaning of rain barrels to prevent unpleasant odors;
  • The regular inspection of rain barrels for leaks;
  • A strict prohibition of a member to remove the screen inside the rain barrel, unless the member is removing the screen to clean debris;
  • Ensuring that if a hose is hooked up to the rain barrel, then the member must secure the hose after use to prevent tripping hazards;
  • For cooperatives that experience all four seasons, restricting the use of rain barrels to the spring and summer monthly only; specifically, the months of April, May, June, July, August, September, and October;
  • Ensuring member responsibility for the draining, cleaning and removal of the rain barrels during winter months or upon a member vacating the unit;
  • Ensuring that the member returns the downspout to its original condition during winter months or upon a member vacating the unit;
  • Strict enforcement provisions for repairs, including immediate emergency repairs in the case of health and safety hazards or imminent property damage;
  • Strict enforcement of a member’s non-compliance which would be considered a violation of the Occupancy Agreement and the cooperative’s Governing Documents and Rules, Regulations and Policies;
  • Fines for non-compliance, including possible removal of the rain barrel, and/or termination of membership;
  • Ensuring member responsibility for any and all damages that are incurred from installing or removing the rain barrel; and
  • Implementing a deposit to cover damage or expenses that may occur during installation, use or removal of the rain barrel.

The Board Must Adopt Liability, Insurance and Indemnity Regulations to Protect the Cooperative

It is vital that a Board adopt a provision that requires members to obtain liability coverage. The Board must require that members be liable for any injury or damage to persons or property caused by member’s rain barrel or the operation of the rain barrel. The cooperative must be held harmless in any claims for vandalism, injury or damage to persons or property caused by the rain barrel. The Board must require that the member obtain HO6 insurance, for the use of the rain barrel in the event of injury or damage to persons or property which must be in an amount reasonably determined by the Board of Directors to accomplish that purpose. The insurance must remain in force while the rain barrel remains installed.  The Board must also require that the member agree to defend, indemnify and hold the cooperative harmless from all claims related to the installation, use, maintenance and removal of his/her rain barrel.

In sum, rain barrels are becoming a more popular way to collect and store water for lawn and garden watering. However, as explained above, prior to the installation of any rain barrel, a Board must take many factors into consideration. As always, an experienced cooperative attorney will be able to draft a rain barrel policy that not only will allow for members to collect and store water for lawn and garden watering, but will also fully protect the Cooperative.

[1] Rainwater collected from the rain barrels should not be used for household consumption as rainwater is not safe for drinking and may contain pollutants, like bacteria or chemicals from roof systems.


Alyssa Gunsorek is an associate attorney with experience in contract negotiations. She has contributed articles for various publications including the MAHC Messenger, NAHC’s Housing Cooperative Quarterly, and Pentiuk, Couvreur & Kobiljak’s Cooperative Law Journal.

Elevator Safety: Deadline Looming for NYC Condominiums, Cooperatives

Condominiums and cooperatives in New York City have until Jan. 1 to comply with a safety regulation from the city’s Department of Buildings that requires installation of door-lock monitoring systems to prevent an elevator from moving if the doors are not fully closed, The New York Times reports.

This safety regulation, adopted in 2014, was prompted by a fatal 2011 incident. It’s estimated that about 44,000 automated elevators in the city need to be fitted with door-lock monitoring systems, says Donald Gelestino, president of elevator maintenance company Champion Elevator.

The installation cost of the door-lock safety systems depends on the elevator’s age, with newer ones needing only an activation of the device that is likely already in place or a software update compared to elevators that are at least 5 years old, which would either need to go through a retrofit or a complete upgrade.

Dennis DePaola, an executive vice president and director of compliance at New York City-based management company Orsid Realty, says the company communicated early on with approximately 170 condominium and cooperative clients in the city to let them know about updating the systems.

“The cost could be anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 per elevator, and many of our buildings have four, five, or six elevators, so it could be a costly endeavor,” explains DePaola. He adds that because the safety devices do not contribute to the operating life of the elevators, Orsid provided boards with evaluations about the remaining useful life of the equipment before they decided whether to either retrofit or upgrade.

Orsid got the discussion started early at each of its properties, but DePaola says that there has been “a lot of anxiety through the management community in New York City about the ability of elevator maintenance companies to go and retrofit all the elevators in the city. There’s only so much personnel and equipment to go around.”

Several trade groups have been in talks with the Department of Buildings to request an extension for some buildings that cannot complete retrofits or upgrades before the Jan. 1 deadline.

The city’s Department of Buildings also is requiring elevators to have a secondary emergency brake installed by 2027, which is prompting many boards to contemplate a complete elevator modernization project for systems that are more than 20 years old, according to The New York Times.

DePaola recommends that condominium and cooperative boards looking to modernize their systems hire an elevator consultant to find out what specifically needs to be upgraded or brought up to code. The consultant will typically suggest that boards get bids from three or four maintenance companies before undergoing a modernization project. CHQ

Reprinted with permission from Ungated, a blog published by Community Associations Institute.

Kiara Candelaria is associate editor for CAI’s print and digital publications.

 

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