Windsor to spend $120K on playground safety audit
The City of Windsor will pay a consultant $120,000 to audit the playground equipment at the city's 150 parks.
Heidi Baillargeon, a landscape architect for the city, said the audit is being done in the name of safety.
CBC News has learned more than 28,000 children are injured every year on playgrounds across Canada, and the rate of hospitalizations has gone up by eight per cent between 2007 and 2012.
In all jurisdictions in Canada, play structures only need to adhere to the Canadian Safety Association Standards in the year they were built, and no upgrades are mandatory.
The city employs two playground inspectors who check parks on a daily basis, rotating through all 150 throughout the year.
"They make sure the surfacing is being topped up and there are no hazards on the playgrounds," Baillargeon said. "It is a lot to manage. They try to get out as often as they can. We could use a couple more bodies to do inspections."
Baillargeon said in a perfect world, sand beneath structures would be "fluffed" on a daily basis to prevent it from hardening.
It is recommended parents look for sand and pea stone landing areas and look for any broken or dangerous pieces of playground equipment and report them to 311.
New parks have rubber surfacing and absorb a lot of falls off the playground equipment. But they're too expensive, Baillargeon said.
So the city is looking at building fewer larger structures as it replaces older equipment around the city.
"We're trying to build more destination parks," Baillargeon said.
Baillargeon called playground equipment "a big risk" for the city.
That's what the Greater Essex District School Board learned three years ago.
The board hired a consultant to inspect its playgrounds across the city and county.
Spokesperson Scott Scantlebury said "a high percentage were unsafe."
Scantlebury said the board's insurer also questioned the safety of some of the equipment.
So the board started building "naturalized play areas." They include boulders, hills, walking paths, grass mazes, tree stumps and logs.
One of the newest ones is on Windsor's west end, at Marlborough Elementary School.
Principal Ron Brown said when he arrived there was one slide and one piece of playground equipment.
"It was in disrepair. We had concerns about the safety of our children, not only during school hours but after hours," Brown said.
He said the students still get "bumps and scrapes" but that injuries have been "greatly reduced" since the new natural play area was built.
Brown also claimed the new playground increases social activity and imagination.
"Kids are much more careful on natural things than on anything engineered," he said. "I think it's because they assume safety if it's engineered."
He also said a natural area is cheaper to maintain, which is important, because he said the Ministry of Education doesn't provide funding for playground equipment.
"What we have here doesn't cost me a cent [in upkeep]," he said.
Scantlebury said an average new piece of engineered playground equipment would cost approximately $60,000.
"It's also environmentally friendly to have these naturalized play areas," he said.