Readers — If you want to watch the decline and fall of Western Civilization, check out this article in yesterday’s Washington Post about a suburban D.C. school, Stratford Landing, Â whose PTA purchased a rather cool-looking piece of climbing equipment. They bought it, Â using bake sale and other fundraising money, Â from a playground company that naturally makes sure all its products meet national (and international) safety standards. Nonetheless, the school district decided was too dangerous. It has literally wrapped the structure in police tape and forbidden kids to use it. Says the Post:
Never mind that the same equipment is installed at more than 1,200 parks and schools across the country, including a public park in Fairfax County….
While parents say the kids just want to have fun, officials say the school system wants to avoid potential lawsuits should a child be injured on the equipment. According to statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 200,000 children visit emergency rooms annually after playground accidents.
What does that statistic prove at all? If kids go to the E.R. because they play on playgrounds, does that mean that they shouldn’t play on playgrounds at all? Because that’s certainly one way to lower the number of playground-to-E.R. visits. But are kids really safer if theyÂ don’tÂ run and climb and get used to falling, jumping, being active?
And while we’re at it: Are 200,000 visits a lot or a little, considering there are 40,000,000 kids age 10 and under in America? There’s zero context given to this number. A statistic about kids getting hurt can always be thrown into an argument to make parents or bureaucrats think, “What an outrage!” Â It’s like a stop sign for rational risk-taking: Don’t even THINK of of doing X or Y, some kids were hurt somewhere, sometime doing just that. Let’s make sure they never do that again!
The facilities department says the new equipment must go. But to make amends, the county is offering to revamp the Stratford Landing playground, using about $135,000 from the countyâ€™s coffers.
Can you believe the amount of $$$ we’re talking about?
Anyhow, the equipment was installed over the summer, complying with what APPEARED to be all the safety regs — and the kids were delighted to start using it in the fall.
Soon, however, a Fairfax County playground inspector was on the scene, declaring the structure a hazard.
In a written report, the inspector found that among other safety issues, parts of the structure were too tall. One part of the obstacle is 94 inches above the ground, 10 inches higher than the school system allows. The report said that deviating from the school systemâ€™s playground protocols â€œplaces users at an increased life-safety riskâ€ and that the Evos system could lead to head injuries and neck entrapment. â€œThe equipment should be removed from the property,â€ according to the report.
And here’s the final, infuriating quote from the school district’sÂ chief operating officer, Dean Tistadt, who retired on Dec. 31, but offered this explanation before heading out:
â€œThis is a litigious society,â€ Tistadt said. â€œIf someone gets hurt using this equipment, the PTAs arenâ€™t getting sued, we are. They seem to be emotionally invested into this apparatus and they think we are being overly bureaucratic and overly intractable and overly cautious, but they arenâ€™t the ones who would be in court and they donâ€™t have the same safety expertise as we do.â€
This shows me two things: 1 – Fear of litigation is as stymying as REAL litigation. And 2 – The field of safety expertise needs some oversight, too. Otherwise, “safety inspectors” are given carte blanche to declare almost anything unsafe. Which seems to be exactly what they’re doing in Fairfax. – L
A climber like the one branded “unsafe” in suburban D.C., despite the fact it met national and international safety standards.