Modern-day playgrounds are intricately designed and constructed of both organic and manmade materials with child safety in mind. However, despite attention to safety, many playground equipment sets have been found defective through parts or general construction.
Playground equipment is primarily open for use in public places such as schools, parks, commercial childcare centers, home childcare, apartment complexes, fast food restaurants, and other such facilities. Most children who utilize playground equipment are between the ages of six months to 14 years. Playgrounds are generally used for active outdoor play, with equipment made from wood, rubber, or metals, but there are also indoor playgrounds with equipment made from plastic materials.
Playground equipment is primarily used for recreation and entertainment, as well as during socialization of children. A playground equipment set may consist of swings, slides, tower platforms, ladders, suspension bridges between platforms, rope climbing structures, “monkey bars,” hanging rings, sand pits, and seesaws.
Defective Playground Equipment
Playground equipment is subject to occasional defects, misuses, and malfunctions. Problems can cause serious and fatal injuries, particularly to young children using the equipment. Some possible playground hazards include:
- Entanglement or impalement from exposed bolts, hooks, or other objects
- Entrapment, particularly between bars of fences or barriers
- Hazardous materials used in manufacture or construction, such as lead paint
- Metallic surfaces in direct sunlight that can heat up to 120 degrees or above
- Moving parts with the potential to crush or shear, such as with a seesaw
- Sharp points, corners, and edges on exposed screws, bolts, or welded edges
- Splinters from wood
- Suspension hazards from elevated platforms, ropes, bridges, or bars
- Tripping and falling hazards in cases of sudden changes in surface elevation, loose ground covering material, or exposed anchoring mechanisms
- Used tires with protruding steel strips or stagnant water (a bacterial hazard)
Defective Playground Equipment Causing Injury or Death
Some examples of playground equipment failures (and subsequent voluntarily recalls by the manufacturer or distributor) in the past include:
TimberForm 4000 Series Play Platforms
In January 1987, the Columbia Cascade Timber Company of Oregon recalled its TimberForm 4000 Series Play Platforms. They had received reports of cases without injury of head entrapment in the spaces between metal ladder rungs and the wood platform.
In August 2002, BCI Burke Company of Wisconsin recalled “Buckle Bridges,” an above-ground bridge with hinged metal sections connecting one tower platform to another. The platform edges where the bridges were attached were found to crack from weather and wear, causing the bridge to fall to the ground while children were on the bridge walkway.
Playworld stainless steel slides
In October 2000, Playworld Systems of Pennsylvania recalled its stainless steel slides measuring 36 to 72 inches high. The noted problem was that welding of the slide bed to the slidewall could crack and separate, causing a risk of finger amputation.
Miracle Recreation metal playground equipment
In September 1993, Miracle Recreation of Missouri recalled modular playground equipment with solid metal decks which could heat in direct sunlight to temperatures of 120 degrees or more, potentially burning children who came into contact with the heated surfaces.
SportsPlay and Floteks handrails and posts
In April 2009, SportsPlay Equipment of Missouri and Floteks of Turkey recalled the Floteks-manufactured equipment including handrails and posts which contained high levels of lead paint. This presented a serious lead paint poisoning hazard if the paint chips or flakes were ingested by children.
Statistics of Playground Equipment Defects
A detailed survey of playground equipment injuries as treated by participating hospitals of the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) sampling found that from 2002 to 2004 there were 22,728 emergency room visits due to injuries sustained while playing on or around playground equipment. The injuries were most commonly resulting from monkey bars, swings, or slides, with 89 percent of the injuries stemming from these pieces of equipment. Emergency rooms reported that the five most common injuries sustained included fractures, contusions and abrasions, lacerations, sprains and strains, and traumatic brain injuries.
Playground Equipment with Documented Failures and Recalls
Some of the most widely known manufacturers and distributors of playground equipment include:
- BCI Burke Company
- Blue Imp Recreational Products
- Creative Playthings
- Jensen Swing Products
- Landscape Structures, Inc
- Mighty Swings
- Miracle Recreation
- Playpower LT Farmington
- Playworld Systems
- Rainbow Play Systems, Inc.
- Recreation Creations
Some death and injury accidents with playground equipment found to be defective include:
From 1979 to 1983, GameTime Pull-A-Rounds caused multiple children’s fingers to be shorn off and later amputated as a result of defective parts. The equipment had a screw cap that frequently became dislodged, exposing a hole into which children often placed one or more fingers which were then torn off by normal operation of the equipment.
Creative Playthings Indoor Gym Houses
In May of 1980, Creative Playthings, a division of CBS, Inc., recalled approximately 400,000 indoor gym houses due to a strangulation hazard. An 18-month-old girl was strangled to death and a 16-month-old boy was asphyxiated and later suffered permanent brain damage, when their heads became lodged in the top rung of the ladder connecting to the main platform. This particular product was sold for over 17 years, and one two-year-old boy whose ladder was not removed from the equipment post-recall suffered death due to strangulation in February 1982.
Rainbow Play Systems swing sets
In September 2000, over 7,000 swing sets were recalled to replace swing chains that were breaking during use and causing falls, one of which led to scrapes and bruises on one reportedly injured 3-year-old boy.
Miracle Recreation Tornado Spiral Slide
Miracle Recreation Equipment Company provided 3,000 slide owners with retrofitting kits to fix a defective space on each side of the top of the Tornado Spiral Slide, a product sold throughout the U.S. from 1972 to 1991. The defective spaces snagged jacket strings and other clothing, hanging three children in January 1993. Two children were hung by their jacket hood strings and one was hung by a key secured around her neck on a string.
Pixieland Climber monkey bars
In December 1983, a recall was issued for Pixieland Climber equipment after three children of child-care age were injured after being hung by the head and neck on the equipment. The Climbers, typically called “monkey bars,” posed a particularly dangerous risk for contusions, abrasions, hangings, and strangulation far above ground, where their feet could not access a surface.