How can municipalities minimize risk?
Municipalities must be proactive when it comes to assessing and managing risks involved with public park and
recreation facilities. Not only does good risk management reduce the incidence of injury, it also insulates the taxpayer
from massive lawsuits against public agencies and prevents the shutdown of park amenities.
Injuries on playgrounds are among the most common risks at parks and other recreation facilities. According to the
Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 200,000 children ages 14 and younger are treated in emergency
departments for playground-related injuries each year. Some of these are quite serious, including head and spine
injuries. With the increase in jury awards for injury-liability claims, municipalities must take safety and insurance to a
new level of diligence.
Hosting community events (such as festivals, races and farmers markets) can increase liability risks as well, particularly
when outside vendors or other organizations are involved. Knowing how your event sponsors are insured and having
detailed indemnity language in use-of-facilities contracts is part of great risk management. Your insurance agent or
broker can help you make sure your contracts don’t increase your risk exposure, so include those contracts in your
insurance planning sessions.
There are steps municipalities and recreation departments can take to minimize some of the most common risks.
Conduct regular inspections of playgrounds and equipment areas. Inspections should take place before
installing new equipment and periodically after equipment is installed.
Ensure that all playground equipment and play areas are properly maintained following public safety guidelines.
Keep playground areas free from hazards such as rocks, tree limbs or other debris.
Make sure there is adequate signage and communication regarding proper ages for using equipment and
other safety precautions.
Sports fields and athletic areas
Ensure that sports equipment, such as movable soccer goals, are installed properly.
Regularly inspect sports fields and equipment.
Remove hazards such as fallen tree limbs, branches or rocks.
Prominently place signage for proper operation and use.
Make sure all staff and youth sports coaching personnel are trained and the never-alone rule is followed.
Parking areas and sidewalks
Make sure all parking lots and sidewalks are maintained and cleared of snow and ice.
Repair any sidewalk damage, such as broken concrete or pavement, to prevent tripping and falling.
Use surfaces with good traction. Avoid installing slippery or slick surfaces.
Make sure walkways and parking lots have adequate lighting if they operate at night.
Theft and vandalism
Prevent and discourage theft and vandalism with the use of security cameras and motion sensor lighting.
Establish crime prevention procedures such as public reporting hotlines and public information campaigns.
Provide written rules and requirements for community events.
Require outside vendors or organizations to submit certificates of insurance for each event.
Due to the pandemic, public parks and recreation facilities are also following additional state and local guidelines
regarding cleaning, sanitizing and disinfection protocols. The CDC has guidance for disinfection that focuses on staff
Insurance coverage options
Municipalities have a number of different options to address their insurance needs for parks and other recreation
facilities, from self-insurance to municipal pools that operate in many states. Public parks are generally covered within
the municipality’s insurance policy, but that doesn’t mean the coverage should be generic within that policy.
Your government’s risk manager should be evaluating your insurance policy to make sure the most frequent and
most calamitous exposures have adequate coverage. That includes the breadth of losses your parks and rec facilities
and programs are exposed to as well as the dollar limits of coverage.
Insurers offer municipal insurance packages that bundle various liability and specialized risk coverage. There are also
options for property insurance coverage specifically for parks.
Along with general liability, additional liability coverages for public parks can include blanket liability, professional
liability and crime insurance. If parks provide services to children and youth, sexual misconduct and physical abuse
coverage is another typically requested policy option.
Property insurance for public parks can cover a range of areas, including infrastructure, maintenance equipment,
buildings and structures, and playground or sports equipment. Vehicles would be covered under commercial auto
coverage (physical damage plus liability). If swimming pools, tubs or spas are involved, you have extended concerns.
By developing and implementing detailed risk management and safety programs, municipalities can help diminish the
risks and hazards that often accompany a vibrant and diverse community program. Your municipal risk management
plan should have a section devoted to parks and recreation and include a detailed treatment of your loss control and
insurance plan. With these fully operational, your parks and rec programs should be safe and enjoyable for all.