Skip to content
Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Playground Safety

About 200,000 children are rushed to hospital emergency rooms every year due to playground injuries. The customary explanation for these injuries is that “kids will be kids.” They get carried away with themselves and they fall or bump their heads on the recreational equipment.

Well, closer study has shown many injuries either to be caused by dangerously designed or constructed playground equipment or not prevented by anticipatory safety environments. Placing a concrete wall near a swing is an invitation to a fatal collision. Thirteen year old Patty Verbarnac died after she slipped from a swing at a day camp and struck her head on a wall.

For almost a decade, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has had safety guidelines for playgrounds and equipment. These are voluntary standards filling two volumes. They are not enforceable — just wishes, not life-saving safety rules. They cover specifications that cushion falls, the need for proper maintenance and supervision, warnings against sharp edges, entrapments and protrusions that could choke a child caught on a shirt or jacket.

Playground designer, Jay Beckwith, conducted a random sampling of playgrounds around the nation which found that over 90% of them failed to meet the minimum standards that are contained in the product safety guidelines. But since the Reagan-Bush governments do not believe in mandatory safety standards, the preventable deaths and injuries to children continue. So, negligent manufacturers get a green light to cut whatever corners they choose when they build and sell playground equipment.

Professor Joe Frost of the University of Texas called some of this playground equipment “extremely dangerous.”

Frost has gone through many catalogs and picture slides of playground equipment. He finds slides 15 feet high without surfacing material to protect a child in a fail from that height.

CPSC realizes that the guidelines are not current enough and has a “priority project” to revise them. But they will remain voluntary. The revised handbooks will be available to manufacturers, parents, school officials and other interested parties. In other words, take the taxpayers’ money and give back exhortations instead of some law and order for the playground industry.

If the Reagan-Bush bureaucrats are pushovers, some bereaved parents are not. They are suing manufacturers for the deaths or injuries to their children from dangerously built playground equipment. A few hefty jury verdicts are starting to come down. This is the kind of language that the negligent manufacturers need to hear to put their shop in order.

While lawsuits will send a message and divulge very useful materials about hazardous practices in the equipment manufacturing process, they can stimulate but not substitute for mandatory safety standards. The occasional deterrence of lawsuits and the regular prevention of enforced safety standards, kept up to date, together will reduce ambulance trips to the hospitals significantly.

Parent-Teacher Associations need to focus on the Bush government to issue the safety rules. In the meantime, a survey of your children’s playgrounds with safety specialists carrying along the CPSC guideline books is a good immediate safeguard. But don’t let the federal government off the hook; make it earn its keep by putting the federal cop on the playground equipment beat.