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Proper facility maintenance ensures safety for athletes and spectators

This is an excerpt from NIAAA's Guide to Interscholastic Athletic Administration by National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA).

Facilities Maintenance

Maintenance personnel are essential for periodic inspections, preventive maintenance measures, and repairs that directly contribute to the safe operation of athletic facilities. The early detection of facility problems and the expedited response by these staff may directly influence the success of all academic and athletic personnel. To ensure the school's facilities are adequately maintained, the school district should develop and implement scheduled preventive and reactive strategic maintenance plans for all its facilities. Records of completed preventive maintenance work and the dates completed should be maintained and securely filed.

The structure and organization of the preventive maintenance program must be communicated to administration and staff before effective maintenance work can be initiated. Operations and maintenance departments should establish a cross-discipline preventive maintenance work center. The purpose of this center is to inspect various systems and components and write maintenance work orders. After the inspection, a specific section of the maintenance department (e.g., plumbing, electrical) is assigned to do the actual work tasks.

In rural and smaller school districts, challenges may exist when establishing an organizational structure for preventive maintenance. The availability of trained workers, limited accessibility, and logistical concerns are among factors that influence the maintenance department in these settings. A common structure for many rural or smaller districts is to supplement the work of one or two on-site custodial and general maintenance personnel with a traveling crew of maintenance workers with journeyman skills in the various building trades. Rau (2010) discusses some of the legislative and political issues related to maintenance of sport facilities.

Another option is to augment a small in-house workforce with open contracts to provide private-sector preventive maintenance service or maintenance repair services. Open-ended mechanical, electrical, and plumbing contracts are common ways to augment the in-house workforce.

Liability can be a major issue for sports facilities. Often, maintenance of the facility plays a role in litigation. There are three main areas of potential litigation involving sports facilities:

  1. Problems exist with the initial design and facility construction or installation and any subsequent renovations.
  2. The actual facility usage differs from the purpose for which the facility was designed.
  3. Hazardous maintenance issues and facility conditions resulted from failure to inspect for and identify potential problems and rectify them.

“Adequate and appropriate,” “reasonable and proper,” and “foreseeable and fixable” are phrases that crop up repeatedly when discussing facility issues and liability for injury or loss in legal proceedings. Although there may not be published industry-wide standards for all aspects of sports fields, generally accepted reasonable expectations apply. Athletes anticipate an appropriately graded playing field that is free of debris, holes, divots, depressions, ridges, lips, and other potential safety hazards. This expectation also pertains to loose seams, worn patches, or uneven in-fill on synthetic fields.

Field maintenance should focus first on safety. Thus, maintenance personnel or the groundskeeper should inspect the playing field surface before each contest. When potential risks of injury are identified, they should be rectified before play begins. The challenge is consistently providing fields and other facilities that meet or exceed safety expectations and documenting that preventive maintenance has been implemented.

Dr. Gil Fried, a sport management professional, is a longtime advocate of risk management programs. The steps he has developed for this process are outlined here (Fried 2013).

  1. Reflect: Determine your primary interest in safety and develop a comprehensive plan to address it.
  2. Deflect: Utilize appropriate strategies of deflection (e.g., contracts, insurance) as a tool to help manage ultimate financial and legal liability.
  3. Detect: Critically examine the facility to determine what type of disasters could occur and what issues, occurrences, or events will trigger each disaster.
  4. Inspect: Inspect the information gathered during the detect phase, seeking potential problem areas and developing potential solutions.
  5. Correct: Whenever problems or concerns are identified, correct them. Proceeding with a problem is an invitation for disaster and potential liability.
  6. Reinspect: After problems have been corrected, reexamine the concern to ensure the correction is appropriate and adequate. Once a facility manager knows about a problem, he cannot hide behind the excuse that he ordered something to be corrected and assumed the work had been done.
  7. Reflect: After an event, analyze what occurred, gathering input from all parties involved, jointly exploring methods of improvement.

When establishing a maintenance plan for indoor and outdoor athletic facilities, the key is to develop and follow a written plan. Although the format for the inspection of individual facilities can vary, certain basic criteria­ apply for daily, weekly, and seasonal inspections. During an inspection, each inspection item should be dated and documented. Identified problem areas must be rectified and the work dated; detailed records of the repair or maintenance process should be retained. The duties owed to invitees to an athletic facility are as follows:

  • Keep the premises in safe repair.
  • Inspect to discover hidden hazards.
  • Remove hazards or warn users.
  • Anticipate foreseeable usage needs (e.g. football, soccer, field hockey, rugby).
  • Conduct operations safely.

Siedler and Miller (2008) have provided important insights concerning risk management measures for sport facilities. Trusty (2010) provides specific guidance on risk management related to sport field management.

High-quality operating and maintenance procedures can strengthen a well-planned eco-friendly construction or renovation project. Effective maintenance is necessary to ensure equipment operates more efficiently while consuming less energy. Although maintenance personnel were once focused solely on basic upkeep, today's professional workers must be well-versed in a number of environmentally friendly techniques and materials. Their skills and knowledge must include awareness of the latest energy issues; toxic materials management; storm water drainage methods; and best practices for the operations of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

Over time, reliable building performance can be ensured through measurement, adjustment, and upgrading processes. Aside from the financial and environmental benefits, eco-friendly building systems do not require an excessive amount of upkeep. A preventive maintenance schedule can be put in place with little effort and minimal expense.

Learn more about NIAAA's Guide to Interscholastic Athletic Administration.