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Beware the Hazards of Parks and Recreation

From the possibility of snakebites to the dangers of weather, the employees of a parks and recreation department face numerous hazards in their jobs. There are many hazards that employers should look out for, and remember when they are training employees on what to avoid. 

The primary threat posed by animals comes from bites, and the best way for employees to avoid bites is to simply remove themselves from a wild animal encounter. Employees can communicate to animal control or a pest control company to remove the hazard, but they should also understand that they might not see the snake or spider before exposure. Supervisors should train employees on proper first aid techniques and how to request emergency services at a specific location. 

Inclement weather
Weather dangers change throughout the year, with rapidly developing thunderstorms being one of the more common issues for parks staff. Employees need to have communication devices and know their specific location if they need to call for help. Supervisors need to make sure they have a way to communicate that inclement weather is fast approaching and that employees should seek shelter.

Heat stress
Employees should also know the signs and symptoms of heatstroke — confusion, unconsciousness, convulsions, a very high body temperature and either a lack of sweating or profuse sweating in the case of an exertional heatstroke. Employees also need to know what to do to reverse these conditions immediately since heatstroke is a medical emergency requiring immediate medical attention. First aid includes cooling the worker as quickly as possible. This could be an ice bath, circulating air around the worker, and placing cold packs on the head, neck, armpits and groin. For exertional heatstroke, oral hydration is vital.

Equipment maintenance
Maintenance on all aspects of parks — sports fields, nature trails, playground equipment and facilities — should be performed and documented. Beyond completing all work orders for repairs, proper maintenance includes regular inspections for many hazards:

  • Ungrounded electrical receptacles or missing receptacle covers
  • Chemicals that are not labeled properly
  • Missing or inoperable ground fault circuit interrupters within 6 feet of a water source
  • Discharged fire extinguishers, or fire extinguishers that have not been regularly inspected 
  • Damaged personal protective equipment that needs to be removed from service immediately
Chemicals and machinery
Chemicals such as chlorine for pools, weed killers or even cleaning agents can be dangerous. Employees need to receive training on chemical hazards as explained by the appropriate material safety data sheet. When using such chemicals, employees must wear appropriate personal protective equipment. If the chemicals require eyewash and shower stations, employees should be trained on the use and location of these devices. 

Any employees who operate dangerous machinery, such as lawnmowers, chainsaws and weed eaters should receive proper training and personal protective equipment according to the operator’s instructions.

Some parks and recreation operations rely heavily on volunteers. Municipalities should take care to perform background checks on all volunteers. 

The training for volunteers and employees needs to be identical. Volunteers should receive a specific job description from which they are not to deviate from this during their time volunteering. 

To limit its liability, a municipality can purchase an accident medical insurance policy that covers those volunteers who are not covered by workers’ compensation. Another way to limit liability is to have volunteers sign a waiver of liability acknowledging the risks and agreeing to not hold the city liable for any injuries. Municipal officials should consult with their attorney before using this method.

For more information on reducing parks and recreation injuries and losses, including facility inspection, contact John Ciesielski, loss control consultant, at