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Danger Areas in School Gymnasium and Sport Facilities

May 21, 2008
Safety is a concern to education administrators in today's lawsuit-happy society. It should be of particular concern around a school gymnasium because the gym is an area that generates a large number of student injuries.

Unfortunately, injuries are often the result of common but inconspicuous equipment and facility hazards.

To identify some typical injury risks, I contacted Cliff Knuff, a consultant who performs school safety checks as part of his duties with The Vinyl Doctor out of Val Caron, Ontario. Described below are some of the safety hazards Cliff often sees in the course of his safety inspections.

1. VOLLEYBALL NETS & FIXTURES
a. The welds that connect the angled supports to the bottom of volleyball posts often become broken and jagged. These can be re-welded and covered with a protective plastic covering.

b. The crank used for tightening the volleyball net is often at a student's eye-level. They can be replaced with a collapsible handle and lowered to an area near the floor, within the angled supports where they will cause little damage.

c. The holes in the gym floor that accept the volleyball and badminton posts are often lost or left flipped up. They can trip students and break fingers if fallen upon.

2. MATS
The vinyl covering on mats often cracks and becomes worn, exposing the rough, webbed "scrim" beneath. This rough surface can cause cuts and abrasions. And the covering on old mats often flakes off. These flakes can end up in a student's eye. The solution is to either replace these mats or to have them re-covered.

3. STORAGE AREAS
Equipment is often hastily and dangerously put away. A good example is a volleyball standard placed upright on a mat. Any student tugging on the mat is in danger of being struck by the volleyball standard. Another problem is placement of equipment on the floor, requiring students to walk on top of it to access the rest of the room.

In addition to safety hazards, improper storage may cause hundreds of dollars of damage to equipment each year. A common example is equipment left on top of mats or lying atop deflated balls. The result can be torn covers, reduced cushioning in mats and the need for frequent replacement.

A few minutes spent educating your students on proper replacement of equipment could prevent some of this damage.

4. JUNGLE GYMS AND CLIMBERS
Hazards include exposed hardware such as nuts, bolts, and worn or loose pulleys, fasteners, cables and locking devices. All hardware should be tightened and exposed fasteners can sometimes be relocated or given a protective plastic covering. Also check that mats - not just carpeting - are placed beneath such climbers.

5. Gymnasium Walls
Hazards on gym walls include fi re extinguishers and their fastening hooks, electrical panels with doors that pop open, unpadded walls and stage edges beneath basketball backboards, and storage doors beneath stages that pop open or have exposed hardware that can be bumped against.

INSPECTION TIPS
If you plan to perform a walk-around inspection yourself, Cliff has a good tip. Look at your facilities from the eye level of your students - even if it means getting down on your hands and knees. Schools were built and are maintained by adults, and it's easy to overlook situations that are safe for us but are a hazard for people half our size.

A PROFESSIONAL INSPECTION - ADVANTAGES
You might also wish to have a professional safety inspection performed. There are several advantages to having professionals perform your inspection.
First, such companies know what hazards to look for and may identify situations you have overlooked.

Second, in the event of a lawsuit, you can use a professional inspection as evidence that you do take careful precautions to ensure a safe building.

Third, some schools have apparently received reductions in insurance premiums as a result of having an inspection performed.

And finally, you'll know yourself that you've done everything possible to ensure a safe environment for your students.
About the Author
Dick Moss (editor@peupdate.com) is the publisher of PE Update.com - a website that keeps physical educators and coaches up-to-date on over 40 sports, fitness and coaching topics. The website also provides a free newsletter, blog and sample articles. Check it out at: www.peUpdate.com
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