Some organizations lease fields and complexes from recreational boards for their youth sports activity schedule, and then become responsible for all the potential problems that may occur. A smart organization will do a safety and liability walk-through to identify, and then discuss, concerns before they sign the lease. After the lease is signed, it becomes the organization’s responsibility to assume all the financial accountability in solving the problems and handling the insurance claims for incidents that do occur.

This damaged fence presents a potential safety hazard. Make sure all pesticides and herbicides are disposed of properly.

Prior to signing a lease, develop a basic checklist to assess potential liability and use the information gathered to your organization’s advantage. Compile a written list of any concerns you discover and present it to the facility owners. Plan to work with them to negotiate limits to the extent of your organization’s liability exposure. The facility owners should be willing to remedy identified problem areas to reduce their own liability exposure, as well as that of the potential leaseholder.

Simple, direct signs are the most effective.

Preseason inspections should take place in advance of the date set for signing the owner’s proposed use agreement to allow sufficient time to correct any problems discovered. Bear in mind that some use agreements will contain language making your organization responsible for all injuries occurring while you occupy the premises. You may, or may not, be able to get that language modified. If not, it is doubly important to present the property owner with a list of any defects that you’ve discovered in your inspection. Ideally, you will request that these defects be corrected prior to your signing of the use agreement and that request will be honored.

If the required work is extensive, you might consider signing the use agreement with an attachment of written agreement from the facility owner to make the repairs prior to your organization’s actual use of the facility. You would then need to schedule a post-repair inspection to ensure the work had been completed prior to your first use of the facility.

The sample checklist assumes the facility will be inspected when it is not occupied. When conducting the inspection, visualize the facility both with the average number of players and spectators you expect for your events, as well as the maximum number that might be present. Stands and walkways that are adequate at normal levels of occupancy might be dangerously inadequate for overflow crowds.

When you are in charge of the field or fields and/or the facilities, you should treat them as if they were your own, which means assuming that you will be held responsible for all losses that occur while you are in control. It is important to inspect your own athletic facilities or leased facilities prior to the season and before all practices and games to identify and eliminate any undue safety hazards. Adopt steps to avoid loss to your organization and formulate protection against liability when conducting sports activities at your own facility or a leased facility:

Position your call boxes in prime locations. The number "3" designation on this sign helps guide emergency response personnel to the right location.

• Develop “standards of reasonable care” for your facilities and ensure the standards are maintained.

• Maintain accurate records of maintenance to facilities.

• Perform required maintenance at regular intervals.

• Conduct safety audits within the facilities to evaluate mechanical and employee safety procedures.

• Have qualified staff and train them as needed.

• Develop safety and emergency plans and practice the plans continually.

• Post rules and regulations (cautions) where possible. Educate the public about the use of the facility.

• Use waiver forms to alert participants to any conditions and enlist their agreement to certain responsibilities.

• Develop and institute an accident reporting system.

• Develop and institute health and safety committees (accident review committees).

• Hold supervisors accountable for accidents or injuries.

• Adopt a corporate policy in regard to loss prevention.

• Post emergency phone numbers, procedures and hospital locations in permanent places at work sites.

• Train supervisors and employees in first aid, CPR and other life-support procedures.

• Offer incentive programs for employees who demonstrate good safety records.

• Institute a voluntary or mandatory physical fitness program.

• Inform employees of loss due to injury/illness.

• Incorporate safety considerations into specifications of equipment purchases.

• Ensure the availability and use of proper safety equipment.

Be proactive. Recognizing and eliminating a source of loss is far better than legal wrangling over who is responsible for loss that does occur.

Floyd Perry travels throughout the United States and abroad conducting Grounds-keepers Management Workshops. He is the author of four books. For more information, visit www.gmsforsportsfields.com or e-mail perrygms@gmail .

SIDEBAR 1

SAMPLE CHECKLIST

Playing field or fields:
• Is the playing surface level and free of divots and rocks?

• Is the turf coverage and maintenance adequate for player safety?

• Is the condition and maintenance of non-turf field areas (skinned areas of baseball and softball fields, warning tracks, etc.) adequate for player safety?

• Are the stress areas (low sections, corner areas, etc.) tamped and firmed for superior performance?

• Are backstops, fencing and/or goals properly placed and in adequate condition?

• Are player dugouts or benches adequate and in good repair?

Areas adjacent to field or fields:
• Are there adequate numbers of waste containers? (Be sure to check again during the activities to be sure waste containers are not overflowing.)

• Is there debris or other materials that would present a trip-and-fall hazard?

• Are there banners or signs that could present a danger if they become loose?

• Are ropes fastened in such a way that an individual could trip on one of them or be clotheslined?

• Are there protrusions from fences or the surfaces of structures that could cut a passer-by?

• Are there slippery mud spots or puddles next to water fountains?

• Are there rocks or other projectiles that kids could throw?

• Are safety signs placed accordingly so fans and visitors are aware of facility rules and regulations?

• Are walkways and entry areas adequately maintained?

• Are spectator seating areas adequately maintained?

• Are spectator areas separated from, and protected from, player-related hazards (such as thrown or kicked balls, flying bats, etc.)?

• Are cars or other vehicles in the parking lot liable to be hit with fair or foul balls?

• Are restroom facilities on-site, accessible and adequately maintained?

Concession stands:
• Are there waste containers nearby? Are they emptied regularly to avoid spilling over?

• Are stoves or other cooking equipment situated where spectators could come into contact with them?

• Is there a switch to stop all appliances in case of fire?

• Are there concession stand safety procedures and emergency telephone numbers listed in full view?