Fairfax County's campaign against tire swings -- officials banned them last month from elementary school playgrounds -- is a good example of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
The old-fashioned swing certainly has a place as a means of both fun and physical development (arm, leg, body-weight coordination), and I do not advocate its removal from playgrounds. But a tire swing offers children an opportunity to play closely together in a unified and cooperative manner. If you have ever taken a half-hour off to make a time and motion study of children on the two types of swings, you'd find the tire swing far superior.
The problem is not with the tire swing itself, but with the failure of proper, periodic and continuing inspection as well as the quality of the tire swivel and the improper installation of the swivel by novices.
Having been sued three times, I no longer build playgrounds for public schools. Instead, I help community groups create their own recreational projects and design safety programs for schools and parks and recreation commissions. The last time I was sued, I was held negligent for failure to tell the school authorities that when a Tarzan rope swing was cut by vandals, it should be replaced. The cut rope was left in place four months until a young girl fell while using it. The school never notified me the rope had been cut, never took the rope down or replaced it.
My swing swivels are the result of years of development. I have had them broken in testing labs, but only under pressure of more than 4,500 pounds. Now that they are heat-treated, they will endure even more stress. The swivels are fitted with two grease fittings, one for the universal joint and one for the ball bearing raceway. They have not broken or failed in 10 years, with the possible exception of one that came apart because of improper installation.
To my knowledge no one was hurt in that accident, and more foolproof assembly methods have been developed to prevent a recurrence.
There are more than 150,000 children injured each year on our playgrounds, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Most industries have safety classes to instruct workers how to protect themselves from injuries. The mining and quarry industry holds half-day safety classes every month. But not so the school systems of America. Can we do less for our children on our school's playgrounds than we do for the safety of our adult miners?
Does the Fairfax County school system have a safety check list requiring that workers every week look for loose or protruding bolts? What do they do each week when nails or screws come loose, when a steel post placed in concrete begins to rust at the base, when swing chains become worn, when the protective ground cover is eroded away from the base of sliding boards or the foot of ladders, or when any of hundreds of potential hazards appear?
When was the last time the Fairfax school system conducted a "Safety on the Playground" seminar for children and teachers? What is the monitor-child ratio on the playground? On most of the many thousands of school playgrounds I have visited, the ratio is close to 100 to one. How can one teacher or part-time monitor supervise 100 children bursting with energy?
I have served as an expert witness in more than 90 playground accident lawsuits -- several involving the death of children. In not one of these 90 accidents has the school or municipality ever had any sort of safety inspection procedure. Some schools have had as many as a dozen children injured in the same way on the same piece of play equipment and refused to remove the dangerous device from the playground.
Fairfax County schools and the rest of the country's schools should have a weekly inspection log for every playground. Officials should purchase materials that have been certified safe by independent testing laboratories, and they should have more frequent and better supervised recreation periods.
Then we might be on our way to a better educated child who might come closer to being physically fit, mentally alert and happy.
-- Paul Hogan