The Legalities of Owning A Playground

To avoid serious issues, you should be aware of the major legalities to owning a playground. Most importantly, you should know what type of equipment and materials to use for building a playground to make the area safe for the kids.

People tend to love playgrounds. After all, a trip to a playground could be the highlight of a child’s and their parents’/guardians’ day. However, there are many legalities to owning a playground that a builder needs to consider before building a playground.

The legalities to owning a playground are plentiful and require many considerations. Most of the legalities will cover safety of individuals when it comes to playgrounds including safety standards established by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s guidelines. However, there are still potential real estate and inclusion legalities to consider when building a playground including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Owning a playground could be quite an endeavor and not knowing the legalities to owning a playground could lead to issues that could blindside you. I will explain some of the legalities to owning a playground to help you stay informed.

Know the Legal Safety Requirements Before Setting Up

Many states require you to follow the US CPSC guidelines when making a playground. The legalities to owning a playground are well illustrated in their Public Playground Safety Handbook. Some of these guidelines can even be applied to private playgrounds.

These are excellent guidelines to follow even if the state does not require you to follow these guidelines. As of 2016 only fifteen states require playground owners to follow these guidelines. Regardless, showing that you followed these guidelines will at least prove you have considered safety when setting up your playground.

A parent guiding his son,
Most of the legalities will cover safety of individuals when it comes to playgrounds.

However, local customs may include further guidelines on setting up a safe playground. It would be worth contacting city council for any other guidelines you should follow, even if they completely overlap with the US CPSC’s guidelines.

Know What Materials to Use

The safety of the children on the playground will be very dependent on the materials you use to build the playground. The materials of the equipment may affect the safety of the children.

For instance, using wood for the playground equipment could lead to splinters which may become severe issues. Furthermore, manufacturers could chemically treat the wood to prevent wood damages from aging. These chemicals may not be safe for children.

Even exposed metal is not advisable. Metal can hold heat from the sun and burn children when touched.

Using safe materials including plastic, painted and covered metal, and rubber coated materials could prevent many injuries on the equipment.

Do not forget the materials used on the literal ground. Many injuries children have on playgrounds are caused by falling on the ground itself, not from equipment failures. You should use material addressed in the CPSC’s guidelines even if you are not legally required to. Building a playground over grass and dirt or asphalt is not only unsafe, but such design could indicate that you have not taken precautions seriously.

Some safe materials including wood or rubber mulch or rubber tile can prevent injuries from falls and show that you have taken these precautions.

A kid having fun on the round swing.
Along with selecting safe materials for playground equipment, you should choose the right surface coating.

Whatever you do, do not be cheap with these materials. You need quality materials when building a playground. Materials that lack quality or otherwise do not reach compliance could lead to injuries or even show you have not considered safety when building your playground.

Know What Type of Equipment to Use

Kids grow up so fast. Playgrounds will not grow an inch. Some of the equipment and playsets on a playground are designed for children of specific ages and will not fit children of all ages. Designing a playground where children of different ages can play is crucial. You probably noticed playgrounds are divided in certain areas where very young children can play on a small playground set while older children can play on the main playground set.

A outdoor playset.
Playground equipment should be selected based on the three main age categories.

Playground equipment is categorized in three main age groups: children under 2 years old, children 2-5 years old, and children 5-12 years old. Designing a playground with a variety of equipment for all age groups is a good way to make sure children play with sets that are age-appropriate. Parents will consider playgrounds safe if the playground is built to consider children of all ages so children can play safely on age-appropriate playsets.

Furthermore, you must follow guidelines on exactly what equipment you should use. For instance, netting is popular for children to climb on at playgrounds. However, there can be entrapment and even strangulation hazards. These nettings should have holes where the perimeter around each hole is either no larger than 17 inches or larger than 28 inches. In other words, if the perimeter around each hole in the net is between 17 and 28 inches these nets could be hazards.

Make Sure the Playground Complies with The ADA

Make sure your playground in in compliance with the American Disability Act. The ADA code is not so much a matter of safety as it is a matter of inclusion. While a child with a disability may not be capable of using all or even any of your playground equipment, they still should have access to the playground. Sometimes children just want to be around other children even if they cannot necessarily play. It is a way to have them feel included.

Kids on a wheelchair playing a team sports.
Compliance with ADA is important for making the playground accessible for the kids with disabilities.

You may be required to add accessibility equipment including ramps and lifts to your playground. The accessibility points to your playground should not be difficult for a disabled person or child to enter your playground. You may even need to establish the correct material for the ground itself. Wooden and rubber mulch could prevent disabled people including people in wheelchairs from accessing a playground. Using rubber tiles or wood carpet would allow them to be on the playground.

Your Playground Needs Regular Inspections

After setting up the playground, you should make sure it is safe and up to code when applicable. You may have purchased the right material, placed warning signs in the correct place, and set up everything to protect everyone who is interested in your playground, but you may a few issues you need to address that you missed. Having an inspector check your playground will help to ensure your playground is safe and deter many lawsuits.

A boy on a red shirt.
To keep the kids active and safe while playing on the playground, you should regularly inspect the area.

Get used to the idea of consulting an inspector to check your playground regularly. The CPSC may legally require you to do this in some states. Even if the law does not require regular inspections, you should hold yourself to that standard. Children will play of your playground which will mean they will be rough with some of the equipment. An inspector will help catch some safety issues.

Furthermore, while the safety and compliance laws regarding playgrounds have not changed much in the last few decades an inspector can ensure your playground is up to compliance with any changes. Even if those changes are minor details.

Who Has Responsibility?

Many local and state customs grant public schools, city, and state governments some immunity when it comes to occurrences on their playgrounds. This will not apply on a privately owned playground including:

  • Daycare playgrounds
  • Private school playgrounds
  • Private indoor playgrounds
  • Playgrounds for rental properties

If you intend to build a privately owned playground, you must establish who is responsible for watching the children play. For situations including playgrounds at private schools and daycares parents will assume that you or someone you hire will supervise their children.

However, this could be different from privately owner indoor playgrounds or playgrounds built for tenants at a rental property. Supervision is not always the responsibility of the owner in these situations.

A playset with a shade.
Supervision is not always the responsibility of the owner.

You need to establish who will be watching the children and exactly what the supervisors should do while supervising the children. You will need to establish shifts and exactly how the supervisors will watch the children.

If you own a private playground (such as one for a rental property) where children can play but you are not expected to be responsible for watching the children, you need to establish that as clearly as possible. A consent form could establish this clearly.

Include Proper Warning Signs

The phrase “do not leave your children unsupervised” may appear around many (probably even every) playgrounds you and/or your children have visited. This phrase is not intended to annoy people. It is meant to remind parents they should have a good idea of where their children are and what they are doing.

Even the most cautious parents will take their eyes off their children for more than one second multiple times, even if it is just to pull out their children’s snack or drink. This sign will remind people to watch their children, even if it is for staff at a daycare or private school.

A sign.
To make the playground area safe, include the warning signs that are visible to both children and parents.

Warning signs only work if they can be seen. It is unlikely that visitors will see a sign off the beaten path. If your warning sign is in a place it cannot be seen it will not be a good legal deterrent. Placing these signs on the equipment or near the entrance of the playground will all but force visitors to see these signs. The placement of these signs can convince others that you have considered their safety.

Signs Can Be Deterrents from Lawsuits

These signs can be deterrents from legal actions when it comes to the injury of children. It even applies to situations outside of injury. For instance, adults could come on the playground without children. This could worry parents. Having a sign saying “no adults without children allowed” on your playground could deter adults without children from visiting. It may also prevent parents from filing a lawsuit against you if they are worried, whether their fears are legitimate or not. 

Note: These signs are legal deterrents. They can avoid lawsuits, but they will not completely deflect lawsuits if anything happens.

Control Access to The Playground

A playground is a great place to be during the day. But what about night?

Technically, there is nothing wrong with having children on a playground at night. However, allowing easy access to the playground during the night could invite injuries. Children who come during the night are less likely to be supervised leading to more injuries.

Furthermore, if you leave the playground accessible during the night people could use the playground for illegal reasons. Parents may deem the playground as unsafe if this happens.

In addition, if someone is injured on your playground outside of operational hours, they could file a lawsuit against you. Having some control of access including a fence may help deter a lawsuit if the situation ever arises.

A gate locked.
By controlling access to the playground, you will prevent unwanted accidents from happening in the nighttime.

Nothing you do will fully prevent someone from using your playground if they really want to even without full access. However, some standard safety measures can prevent unwanted activity on your playground including:

  • Fences
  • Lockable access points
  • Security cameras

It will also show that you have done everything possible to prevent misuse of the playground.

The Legalities of a Business

If your playground is part of a private school, or a daycare you may not need to receive any new business licenses related to the playground itself. You should already have a business license related to your established business.

However, there is an increase in demand for play areas for children that many entrepreneurs have built playgrounds that are a standalone business. This includes indoor play areas for children, or even climbing gyms or climbing courses for children.

These are not public playgrounds owned by any government, but one owned by entrepreneurs. You may need to pay for access or otherwise purchase something for access. 

If you are building a playground as a new business opportunity instead of building a playground on a previously established institution you need to establish yourself as a legal business. Usually, you will need a general business license. However, you may need more licenses depending on the area you establish your business or the intent of your playground.

Differences with Private Playgrounds

Private playgrounds can be held to a different, and sometimes higher, standard than public playgrounds. For instance, rental property associations may hold playgrounds on rental properties to a certain standard. Other standards are frequently dictated by local law. Make sure to check your local regulations to know what standards you should have for a private playground.

Get Insurance

No matter how well a playground is set up, injuries will happen. Parents could sue you even if you did everything right. Unfortunately, since playgrounds incorporate some added risk you will need some insurance with the playground in mind.

General liability insurance will generally cover expenses caused by injuries related to your playground so if a lawsuit arises it will not be too costly. Other forms of insurance including a business owner’s policy, workers compensation (if you have an employee), and an umbrella may further protect you if something related to your playground goes wrong.

Zoning and Private Nuisance Conflicts

There could be real estate issues with building a playground that may prevent you from building one in the first place. You cannot build a safe playground if you cannot build a playground at all.

Zoning laws could interfere with your plans to build a playground. Zoning laws dictate what can be built in certain zones of any city or town. However, playgrounds have very few restrictions in terms of zoning. Even the most restrictive residential zoning allow construction of playgrounds.

Residents could consider playgrounds as private nuisances. This may not necessarily be a legality to owning a playground, but I will include it since private nuisances are cited in many legal disputes related to real estate even with playgrounds.

Private nuisances are any form of interference with someone else’s property that prevents the owner from reasonably using or enjoying their property. This could range from dust or pollen to noise. Noise could be the private nuisance addressed most when it comes to playgrounds.

The most likely source of the nuisance could be noise. Playgrounds can be full of children playing and screaming which could be a nuisance to the people near the playground. This could not only be annoying to residents, but it could even lower the value of their property depending on the conditions.

Some residents have tried to bring legal action against playgrounds because of both issues. Granted it is hard to win because they might as well be indicting a legal battle against children.

While many people see a playground as appealing, there are many who may not share the same opinion. Some nearby residents could be annoyed by the noise from playgrounds and some others could see a playground as a hazard.

Location Location Location

Like building a house or any other property, you need to consider the location of your playground. Is the playground in a neighborhood which is full of families with young children who would generally love a playground? Would the place you build the playground be near anyone who would not like it? Would the not in my backyard phenomenon where people do not want a certain construction near them apply?

Make sure to respect the people around the playground and their space so more people could benefit from it.

A top view of the block. n
If you have decided to build a playground in a neighborhood, consider people’s values and preferences living in the area.

Concluding Thoughts

Building a playground is a great endeavor. However, the legalities to owning a playground could overwhelm people. If ill-prepared they could even end up blindsided.

You should know the legal requirements for building a playground with safety as a strong consideration. Note that if you are building a private playground you may need to follow other standards. You will also need to establish who has responsibility for watching the children. Be sure everyone can have access to your playground. If all of this is set, you should hear very few issues from an inspector.

While it may be exciting to start designing and building a playground you should take real estate into mind. Conflicts with real estate may come up when building a playground.

A playground could be a center for legal issues. However, it can also be a center for children’s joy and exercise. This can provide benefits towards whatever endeavor you are trying to achieve.

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