Given the long lifespan that your gym will likely have, spending a little more on advance planning and possibly a small additional investment will result in a significant ROI both in terms of safety and future equipment maintenance costs.
It's never good practice to wait for an injury or a report from your Loss Control Department or insurance company to take action to improve safety.
Here are a few important tips that will help you and your design and selection team maximize safety in your facility whether it's new construction, a major renovation or equipment replacement.
Sport Specific Associated Rules
Even if the play at your facility is not governed by NCAA, FIBA or National High School Federation rules, these rule books offer some safety related specifications that you should always integrate into your equipment plans. At the university level, it is advisable to consult the NCAA rules books for the sports that will be played in the facility, most likely including basketball and volleyball, but also including other sports such as badminton, soccer or others. NCAA rules books can be ordered online at www.ncaapublications.com.
While there are no absolute rules regarding the distance from court boundary lines to walls, bleachers, or support structures, the greater the unobstructed area outside the court, the greater the player safety. Ideally, the minimum unobstructed space would be at least 10' on all four (4) sides outside the court boundaries. If space does not permit these setbacks, then it is important to concentrate on having maximum unobstructed space beyond the boundary lines under the basketball goals and to provide appropriate padding on all obstructions including walls, columns, stages, and seating.
In all cases when the court design results in a wall or similar obstruction within 15' from the court boundary under the basketball goal, it is highly advisable to install wall padding to protect players from contact injury.
While there is a wide variety of wall padding designs and specifications, all wall padding is typically at least 2" thick and 6' high and, per NCAA rules, should be installed no more than 4" from the floor. Typical padding designs have a wood backing, medium density foam and a colored vinyl covering.
All major gym equipment manufacturers can provide guidance on wall padding specifications including flame retardancy, foam resiliency and other safety related features. In some cases, states have adapted specific codes that must be followed. Your local architect should provide specific details on your state requirements.
While local shops can be used to manufacture wall padding, it is not likely that they have the expertise to confirm that the padding meets all safety standards.
All basketball rules books require that the bottom of all backboards be padded to specific dimensional guidelines. All major manufacturers offer backboard padding that meets all rules. While there are two general designs, the molded built-on padding is superior to the glue on style as the foam density, durability and the attachment methods result in more consistent and dependable safety.
There are additional safety padding rules that affect portable backstops and backboard-supporting structural components. Generally, it is advisable to adhere to the High School Federation Rules language that requires all backboard support structure that is 9' or less above the playing surface be padded to a distance at least 2' behind the face of the backboard. This padding should be no less than 1" thick.
When the gym design includes volleyball courts, it is important that all volleyball posts and officials' platforms are padded in accordance with NCAA rules which require posts to be padded to a minimum of 5' 6" high with padding that is no less than ½" thick. Most major manufacturers actually design their padding to be a minimum of 1" thick and 6' high to meet more stringent High School Federation Rules. Official stands and any hard object that is less than 5' 6" from the playing surface must be covered with a minimum ½" thick padding.
If scoring tables, team benches or other equipment is intended to be used in close proximity to the court, it is important to insure that safety is taken into consideration in the selection of this equipment as well.
NCAA rules specify where on the court volleyball standards and basketball backstops will be positioned. In the case of volleyball, standards should be at least 1 meter (3' 3") from the outside of the sidelines. This would result in the center line of the posts being at least 36' apart. Most manufacturing instructions call for this to be 37'.
In the case of basketball, the rules states that the face of the backboard is positioned 48" from the end line to allow appropriate space for safe play under the backboard. Any support structure, whether portable, wall mounted or ceiling suspended is not allowed to protrude below the bottom of the backboard for a distance of at least 8' behind the backboard.
Portable basketball systems are required to be anchored to the floor to prevent side-to-side movement and forward tip when contacted by a player. In cases where portable volleyball standards are used, the standards must be anchored to the floor or be weighted so that they do not move when a player makes contact with either the net or the portable standard.
Restraining Devices On Retractable Ceiling Or Wall Mount Structures
Due to the multipurpose nature of most facilities, it is common to have sports equipment such as backstops, batting cages, volleyball standards and divider curtains retract to the ceiling or wall when not in use. Typically, designs use electric hoists with cables and pulleys. While not likely due to durable design by reputable manufacturers, it is possible especially in the case of older equipment and improperly installed equipment, for components or attachments to fail allowing the structure to free fall. All manufacturers offer safety devices that act like "seat belts" to restrain the equipment in cases of cable detachment or other failures.
While fan shaped backboards are acceptable for recreational play, most facilities specify rectangular glass backboards. While 48" high x 72" wide glass backboards are permitted, 42" x 72" backboards are recommended as there is 6" less backboard hanging down below the 10' official rim height lessening the likelihood of player contact.
Improvements have been made by manufacturers of glass backboards in recent years that has reduced the risk of backboard breakage. Many manufacturers now offer backboards that have effectively eliminated any stress on the glass caused by dunks or players hanging on the rim. Usually there is a very small extra cost associated with selecting these “unbreakable” backboards with lifetime warranties as compared to older, standard designs.
Setup, Storage and Transport
In cases where portable basketball systems and volleyball standards need to be transported and stored when not in use, make sure there is suitable safe storage space available and, when applicable, purchase transport carts for heavy equipment that is not on wheels. It is important that all staff is trained to safely setup, tear down, transport and store equipment not only for safety but to extend equipment life.
Multi Court Facilities
Since floor space is at a premium, it is often appropriate to operate more than one court in a facility. Multiple games being played on adjacent courts create risks for players due to increased distractions and when the game ball crosses into the other court. Court divider nets can help reduce this risk, and a variety of styles and price points are available.
There are a wide variety of sports floors available, and some are better than others for specific sports. Consult your flooring specialist to see what flooring is best for your facility. Budget is often a consideration but make sure to consider factors such as skid resistance, resiliency, and other factors that affect player safety. Always keep the floor well maintained to eliminate slips and falls and investigate floor covers when non-sports activities are planned on sports flooring.
Most facilities now exclusively use breakaway goals but all breakaway goals are not alike. Recent design improvements to net attachment systems on rims have reduced the potential for players getting fingers caught in the net connectors. Additionally, if active dunking is expected, rims that breakaway both to the front and to the sides provide a higher level of player safety.
Contractors and Installers
Always choose reputable, experienced and insured contractors and installers. While some simple equipment replacement can be done by your maintenance staff, this should be done cautiously as some gym equipment, including ceiling mount structure installation and wall anchoring, take special knowledge and experience not typically found in a facility maintenance department.
Inspection and Maintenance
Even the best equipment needs regular inspection and maintenance when appropriate. Regularly inspect all padding, retractor cables, connecting hardware and other features for loose or worn parts. If desired, there are local and regional gym installation companies that will, for a fee, come and inspect your gym for any possible defects and do the maintenance and replacement work necessary to increase safety.
One of the most common safety risks in sports facilities is the lack of supervision. Most injuries occur due to improper use of equipment that is otherwise safe. Posting signage that govern player behavior and warning of specific safety risks can have a positive impact on safety if combined with adequate facility oversight and facility maintenance.
Common sense, when combined with good research and input from persons knowledgeable in sports facility design, construction, renovation and maintenance, will go a long way toward insuring that you have done everything you can to improve player and spectator safety.
Architects | DMW, Inc. Photography
is co-founder and CEO of Bison Inc. headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska. For over 30 years, Bison and its divisions have provided innovative, safe and sustainable products to schools, park districts, rec centers and private clubs for indoor and outdoor sports and recreation activities. Visit www.bisoninc.com.