Feature Article - October 2002
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Playing It Safe

A guide to playground diligence and maintenance

By Stacy St. Clair


2. Maintaining Structure
PHOTO COURTESY OF GAMETIME
Raking loose-fill playground surfacing is an important
maintenance issue, especially at the base of swings
and slides, where kids tend to displace it.

Playground surfacing isn't the only area requiring a dedicated maintenance schedule. The structures themselves need constant attention.

On ladders, for example, the protective caps and plugs should be checked regularly. Crews also should scrutinize swings for severe wear, openings on S-hooks and deterioration of bearing hangers.

Supervisors should ensure their employees regularly inspect the structures for flaws. The maintenance plan should include everything from mundane chores such as picking up broken glass and trash to more critical examinations of bolts, welding points and moving points.

"It's frustrating," King says. "If they just did this, it would be so much better. And [the structure] would last so much longer."

Experts recommend daily inspections, though many concede it would be impossible given the size of some park districts and budget constraints during an anemic economy. In most cases, they say, playgrounds can suffice with review two or three times a week.

However, the only way such examinations will work is if they become a top priority. Supervisors need to show their crews they're committed to the idea by carving time out of busy workdays for inspections.

"It's really not that complicated," King says. "But the guy on top has to be for it."

New Dog Teaches New Tips

First, Smokey the Bear cautioned only we could prevent forest fires. Then, Woodsy the Owl instructed us to give a hoot and not pollute.

In recent years, McGruff the Crimedog has urged us to take a bite out of crime.

Now, Slyde the Playground Hound hopes to emulate the safety trio's iconic status.

Idaho resident Curtis Stoddard created Slyde as a entertaining way to teach children about playground safety. A member of the National Playground Contractor's Association, Stoddard has spent the past 18 years installing playground equipment.

ART COURTESY OF SLYDE

As he tracked changes in industry safety standards over the years, Stoddard realized no one was addressing a key player in providing playground well-being: the children. Even if the construction requirements became stricter and the materials more user-friendly, he believes playgrounds still posed a danger if kids aren't taught how to avoid potential problems.

"Playground manufacturers have spent millions of dollars and have created rigid standards to ensure the safest possible play structures for our children," Mitch Brian, Playground Hound marketing manager says. "One thing that hasn't been done is there has never been a concentrated effort to make kids more aware."

Roughly 200,000 preschoolers and children visit hospital emergency rooms for treatment of injuries sustained on playground equipment, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Seventy percent of the injuries, or about 140,000, are classified as severe—meaning they include traumas such as fractures, internal injuries, dislocation, amputations and crushes.

"The statistics speak for themselves," Stoddard says. "We send our kids off to the playground and we expect them to come back. Well, last year, 17 kids didn't come back, and that is tragic."

To spare further tragedies, Stoddard created Slyde, a floppy-eared cartoon mutt who sort of looks like McGruff's kinder, gentler nephew. He gave Slyde both a personality and a story to appeal to children.

According to legend, Slyde was a frequent visitor to his local park, where he would frolic with the kids and play on the equipment. One day, he climbed to the top of a slide and prepared to go down the slippery chute. His leash, however, became tangled around the apparatus, and he nearly choked.

Fortunately, an adult came to Slyde's aid and saved him from an early appearance in doggie heaven. A grateful Slyde has since dedicated himself to helping children avoid similar tragedies. He tells them he survived, but more than a dozen children each year aren't so lucky.

ART COURTESY OF SLYDE

Stoddard has packaged Slyde's message in curriculum that can be purchased by local schools and park districts. Geared toward students in kindergarten through third grade, the classroom kit includes a storybook, puzzle, board game and worksheets.

Students receive Slyde stickers, patches and coloring books. The packet also includes a teacher's guide and a 42-page copy of the CPSC guidelines for playground safety.

Slyde offers catchy phrases to remind children of the dangers around the playground. For example, two of his biggest safety concerns are hooded jackets and sweatshirts. The apparel easily can get wrapped around the apparatus and present a choking hazard similar to Slyde's leash. As such, the playground hound tells students with hooded clothing to either "tuck it in or take it off" when playing.

"If we can save one child from dying or being seriously injured, we've done a wonderful thing," Stoddard says.

The kit also includes playground signs to remind children of the safety lessons once they go outside. With enough exposure, his marketing team believes Slyde could become the next icon of American safety.

"I remember as a boy, learning from Smokey and Woodsy," Brian says. "I think Slyde will be just as influential—if not more so."

For more information on the Slyde the Playground Hound program, call 800-388-2196 or visit www.playgroundhound.com.