Qualification for playground inspectors

Qualification for playground inspectors

Certainly in the course of the last few years, many operators have become sensitised, mainly because of accidents and the publicity raised, and have trained their employees, who carry out the playground inspections, accordingly.

However, annual inspections by so-called “Competent Playground Inspectors” are still being offered and carried out and the results are rather dubious. Frequently, such inspections, carried out by unqualified inspectors, lead to boring discussions with manufacturers of playground equipment, playground operators or inspection authorities.

Operators of playground equipment that do not have their annual inspections carried out by their own employees and, instead, use the services of external experts, have had little chance to get an idea of the qualifications of suppliers offering such services on the market up to now.

In the past, it seemed one relied predominantly on recommendations for selecting profession inspectors - or that the choice simply came down to cost.
However, there were objections to this in a court decision, against those responsible for town X, which led to the conviction of the affected party.
In the court’s opinion, those responsible for the town were to blame. Because of their choice of inspector, they had been grossly negligent as they had allowed reasons of cost to be the deciding factor, and no further proof of suitability of the externally-employed experts was obtained.

But how are you, as an operator, supposed to take action so that you are not grossly negligent in your choice of external inspector? How can you ensure, as an operator, that you actually receive the service being sold to you?
Experts have been working on these – and many other – questions for years now.
In fact in the 7th section of the DIN EN 1176 it mentions that after completion of a playground, a professional person should carry out an inspection of the installation in order to assess the compliance with the relevant section(s) of the EN 1176. However, we are no closer to defining what qualifications this expert is supposed to possess. The same applies to the annual general inspection that is carried out for every playground. In the DIN it makes reference to the fact that this inspection is to be carried out by competent people. But what exactly makes you a qualified expert in playgrounds and playground equipment?

In order to settle this matter once and for all, in 2007 the Federal Association of Playground Equipment and Leisure Facilities (abbreviated in German as BSFH) applied to the German Institute for Standardisation (Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN)) requesting more clarity by means of enforcing rules.

As the interest in this application was great, the DIN immediately tackled the subject matter and it was decided, after the foundation meeting, which took place in October 2007, to create a corresponding Paper.

The “playground inspectors” committee, founded in 2008, was equally composed, i.e. consisting of representatives of different circles of interested parties such as:
• manufacturers of playground equipment
• operators (professional companies for playground construction, inspections or repairs of playgrounds, etc)
• public authorities and regulatory institutions such as representatives of the Association of German Cities and Towns, the legal accident insurance companies, the Federal Association of Municipal Insurance Companies etc.
• inspection and training institutions (TÜV, Dekra, Deula)
• Consumer Council
• science and research
and rose to the challenge.

After a good three years’ work, a DIN technical report was prepared by all participating experts. This report will be made available to the public (aiming for spring 2011).

This technical report, with the DIN SPEC 161 identification, contains the necessary criteria – according to experts – which are required for the training and assessment of a qualified playground inspector.





Questions for Berthold Tempel, TÜV Rheinland LGA Products, President of the Standards Committee for Children’s Playgrounds and Playground Inspections

Playground@Landscape: Why was the DIN SPEC 161 created?
Berthold Tempel: In the past it came to light that some so-called “professional experts” were carrying out playground inspections and it subsequently transpired that sometimes serious defects were not being observed and, thus, faults, which could later lead to serious accidents, were being missed.
However, the opposite was observed too. Because of the lack of knowledge relating to the standard content, some inspectors were questioning the technical, standards-compliant constructions which had again led to unnecessary discussions with operators, manufacturers and inspection institutes.
In the meantime, reports also had to be created so that some inspectors, not demonstrating any professional competence, were commissioned by operators to assess playgrounds. Therefore, the decision was reached to establish a uniform regulation in order to make the term “professional, competent playground inspector” measurable.

P@L: For whom is the DIN SPEC 161 created?
Berthold Tempel: Operators of playgrounds should not base their choice of external professionals on costs, but should ask that they possess corresponding professional qualifications. Up until now, however, there has been no standard regulation about the content of training to become a qualified playground inspector and also no standard, comparable “proof of competence”. Therefore, the operator cannot easily base their choice on a standard basis.

If a competent professional is qualified in accordance with the basis for DIN SPEC 161, the playground operator will now in future have bidding criteria (competent professional expert in accordance with DIN SPEC 161) available in order to be able to make their selection from a choice of applicants.
Furthermore, this can ensure that applicants, who can provide evidence of competence in accordance to DIN SPEC 161, also all have undergone a standard form of training to make them a qualified professional, and where they have undergone fixed methods of testing with a training course with fixed content.

Moreover, it is important to know that this technical report was allegedly created for the implementation of an inspection after a playground is completed as well as the implementation of an annual general inspection and is not to be seen as proof of training to carry out functional inspections which, as a rule, are carried out by operators.

P@L: How are you qualified to be a playground inspect in accordance with DIN SPEC 161?
Berthold Tempel: Not just anyone can immediately apply for training in accordance to DIN SPEC 161. The necessary participation requirements for admittance to training are determined in the Paper. Furthermore, it should be ensured that future professionals can produce corresponding proof of training or show that they have several years’ experience working in the field of playground equipment and playgrounds.

Only when these admission requirements are fulfilled, can he or she apply for the corresponding training / assessment.

P@L: What are the contents of the DIN SPEC 161?
Berthold Tempel: The DIN SPEC 161 contains comprehensive stipulations, not just pertaining to the minimum range of a playground inspection but also how an inspection report is compiled and the minimum content this must offer.
However, the amount of training and assessment content to qualify someone to be a playground professional is defined in this technical report.

P@L: Which training topics does the training contain, in accordance to DIN SPEC 161?
Berthold Tempel: The content of the training concerns - amongst other things - the safety-related stipulations of the series of standards DIN EN 1176 and also the legal basics of the inspections and maintenance of playgrounds, as well as information on organising the inspections and maintenance, and the necessary safety management of a playground.
However, the training is not just based on academic knowledge, but also contains practical training for the playground.

P@L: Who will carry out this training?
Berthold Tempel: Trainers, who carry out the training in accordance to DIN SPEC 161, have to be able to demonstrate corresponding professional experience in the field of playground safety and also an educational aptitude and have to adhere to the procedures stipulated in the DIN SPEC 161.

P@L: How is the assessment and the certification of professionals carried out?
Berthold Tempel: The assessment itself will consist of both a theory and practical assessment component. The test questions will consist of a pool of questions with over 400 questions with individual questions for each training element. It’s only just before the assessment that trainers and assessors may open up the test questions and hand them out to training participants. Consequently, it should be ensured that trainers are not just prepared for the test question, but also adhere to the comprehensive training content stipulated in the DIN SPEC with the specified training times.

The practical assessment – as this must be reproducible and carried out for all participants under the same conditions – is not carried out on the playground, but on a “test wall”, which is also specified more precisely in the DIN SPEC 161.
The evaluation of the test results takes place on the day of the assessment and those who pass the test are given a certificate in accordance with DIN SPEC 161.

The certificate will have a standard layout and the contents will be defined too. So the reference to the DIN SPEC 161 will be an essential part of this certificate.

P@L: Will there be DIN SPEC 161-certified playground inspectors in the future?
Berthold Tempel: No, that’s not the goal of this Paper. In the interests of playground safety and also the safety of our children, we hope, through DIN SPEC 161, to be able to give operators instruments to use in their decisions relating to awarding annual general inspections or accepting recently constructed playgrounds so that they can rely on the applicant possessing well-grounded expert knowledge on presentation of the DIN SPEC 161-based certificate.

What we all wish for in this context is that the operators will use this possibility in the future with their calls for bids and, consequently, the “black sheep” of the industry will not get the chance to endanger the safety of the children who play in the playgrounds.


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