Downtime in Sports Facilities: An Opportunity to Improve Safety

Unexpectedly empty gyms and sports fields have far-reaching impacts on the sports and education industries, but many facilities are choosing to invest their staff time in facility maintenance and improvements that are usually difficult to schedule around busy practices, game, public access, and non-sports schedules.

For facilities without a regular inspection program, this is an excellent time to start. Facility managers that do inspect their sports equipment can use the information in this article to improve or expand their process and records management. Identifying and fixing a minor issue now can prevent costly equipment replacement and reduce liability risk.

While ASTM International provides voluntary consensus standards for many products used in sports facilities, and while the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) also offers standards for playgrounds, there is no regulatory agency or inspection process in place for sports courts and fields, leaving facility managers and users to manage risk on their own.

The burden of improving safety often falls to officials, coaches, and parents, yet most injuries occur during practices and unsupervised play. Facility managers can be proactive in preventing injuries and limiting liability by acting on the suggestions below and consulting with their insurance company.

Special Considerations for Ceiling and Wall-Mounted Equipment

Most manufacturers of these items will provide an inspection/maintenance form with their equipment, but if you are not purchasing new equipment or don’t know the manufacturer of your existing equipment, you can contact me for templates to start your recordkeeping. It is not uncommon for facilities to purchase locally fabricated equipment or to make post-sale modifications.

If you are unable to find the manufacturer and age of your ceiling or wall suspended equipment, or any sports equipment with moving parts, it would be wise to budget for new equipment as safety standards and liability requirements continue to change. Periodically inspect your backstops and all related equipment and attachments. Frequency of inspections depends on use of the equipment.

Below is a checklist to assist you in keeping a record of backstop inspections and maintenance. Monitor the date inspected and the current status (satisfactory, cleaned, needs repaired or replaced, or problem found) for each of these items: Winch Drum, Winch Belt, Winch Attachment, Aircraft Cable, Safety Belt, Pulleys/Sheaves, Back/Front Braces, Side Braces, Jackknife, Ceiling Attachments, Wall Attachments, Cable Clamps, Backstop Clamps, Hangers, Y-Frame or Wall Structure, Height Adjuster, Goal, Backboard, Backboard Padding, Finish, and Nets.

Divider curtains also require a record of previous inspections and equipment repairs on each curtain to maintain function and safety. Store the data online or in a traditional binder that staff can access. Monitor the date inspected and the current status (satisfactory, cleaned, needs repaired or replaced, or problem found) for each of these items: Winch Belt, Winch Attachment, Aircraft Cable, Safety Lock, Ceiling Attachments, Wall Attachments, Cable Clamps, Curtain Clamps, Hangers, and Finish.

Ceiling and wall suspended structures should have a safety belt added in case of equipment failure and portable systems must have ballast installed properly. Padding on all surfaces subject to player contact should be replaced every ten years or more often if damaged. Keeping a log of inspection dates and problems identified is important for safety and liability reasons. Look for frayed cables, loose bolts, weak welds, rough edges, or any excessive wear and tear, and bring any concerns to the facility owner’s attention and follow up on suggestions.

Safety Padding

With active play comes the risk for head and limb injuries from hard or sharp surfaces. Invest in wall and stage padding and make sure the padding on all sports equipment, scorers tables, and bleachers is in good condition and properly installed.

Wall, stage, and any custom safety padding in your indoor and outdoor facilities also needs inspection, care, and cleaning on a regular basis to confirm it can still perform the important function of protecting players and fans. Periodically inspect wall pads for proper attachment to wall surfaces. If fasteners appear to be loose or damaged, tighten, repair, or replace as required.

The wall pad vinyl surface may be cleaned using a mild solution of 10% household detergent and warm water, or with a mild cleaning product such as Formula 409/Windex. Test the cleaning solution on an inconspicuous area of the wall padding (e.g. side of pad) before trying on the original stain. Do not use harsh solvent type cleaners. Solvent type cleaners cause cracking, hazing and general deterioration of vinyl materials.

Wall padding systems protect players from virtually any surface from simple flat walls to columns, doorways and overhead obstructions, both indoor and outdoor and solid color or with full-color graphics. With a wide variety of foams, fabrics, backing substrates and mounting methods, we will help you provide the padding system that best satisfies your program’s needs.

Manufacturers offer many indoor padding systems and padding upgrades including standard padding with polyurethane foam and vinyl covering, fire retardant or resistant padding with neoprene foam as well as varying thicknesses and treatments.


Most volleyball standards are heavy and awkward to carry and install in sockets. Consider replacement with competition-quality portables or lighter weight materials such as carbon fiber or aluminum to improve safety. Portables and freestanding portables are often the best solution for multi-purpose venues. Purchase wall brackets or carts to reduce the risk of injury during storage and transport.

Soccer Fields must be level and free from obstruction for each practice and game. Goals should be commercially manufactured according to ASTM standards and must be installed with the proper ballast and anchors for the goal design. Most tip-over injuries occur during non-game times, so proper storage procedures, including net removal, are critical.


To prevent injuries to spectators, bleachers should be labeled for safety concerns such as pinch points or sharp edges. Bleachers are subject to regulations by various local and state agencies, and older bleachers should be updated or replaced if not in compliance. On the field, goalpost padding is replaced frequently but, goalposts often just require finish maintenance.

Equipment Storage

Many sports injuries occur during practice and, often, players are responsible for equipment setup. All balls should be safely off the floor in a cart or bag and larger equipment should be properly stored in specially-designed transport carts or attached to the wall. Safe lifting techniques as well as set up and tear down training should be provided for everyone.

Equipment Age

Generally speaking, commercially manufactured sports equipment is built to last, but the intensity of play and the popularity of unsupervised play is increasing the expected stress on equipment. Visually inspecting the static equipment may not be enough to identify serious safety risks, so observing the equipment in use is advised.

New equipment may be necessary if older equipment cannot be confirmed to meet current standards or activity levels. It can’t be denied that athletes are demanding more of sports equipment today than they were 25 or even 10 years ago, so purchasing new equipment from major manufacturers that continuously redesign equipment to meet changing safety requirements is recommended.

Reach Out

Sports equipment manufacturers have product design engineers that, in many cases, are continuously improving products based on customer feedback. Give them a call if you have any safety concerns. Also, keep a copy of all installation instructions on file and review them for installation tips and maintenance schedules, contacting the manufacturer with any questions.

Know the Facts

According to the most recent data from the CPSC regarding sports and recreational equipment injuries, basketball is responsible for an estimated 536,840 injuries annually, nearly twice the number as from playground equipment.

Football-related injuries were estimated to be 467,731, and soccer at 214,053. Volleyball and hockey each account for about 60,000 injuries per year, while the lacrosse, rubgy, and miscellaneous ball games grouping accounted for nearly 90,000. Organizations such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association publish standards that sports equipment is required to meet and there are many safety organizations that provide guidelines for specific items. Manufacturers should be able to advise which equipment is suitable for your intended purpose and are up-to-date on ASTM International technical standards.

About the Author
Nik Ditzler lends his background in engineering, product design, customer satisfaction, and business development to Bison, Inc. and IPI by Bison as Director of Specified Products.  Since 1985, this Nebraska-based company has manufactured sporting goods equipment for schools, park districts, rec centers and clubs. The author is available at or 800-637-7968.