Keeping Kids Safe on Wooden Swing Sets

January, 6, 2014

Why the Buzz-Kill? As play system designers we are always looking for new fun ways to improve upon the basic kid-fun elements - swinging and climbing. Sometimes I feel I hear more “why don’t you offer that?” or “why can’t you do that?” rather than “why do you do it that way?” As beneficial as it may be for children to experience new successes and failures on their own, we refuse to believe it needs to come at the price of head injury, broken bones, entrapment, or God-forbid, strangulation. This is where the buzz-kill comes in.

SAFETY BARS - All openings for climbing options on our swing sets are topped off with Safety Bars, basically a 2x4 board that spans the opening at a height of roughly 30” off the deck. Many of our installers have affectionately nicknamed these “headachebars” due to the need for grown-ups to duck to enter theplay set. However, their purpose is serious - when Bobby gets mad at little Suzy for taking her turn at the new Ship’s Wheel and pushes her away, she may bump into that Safety Bar, but she certainly will not be tumbling backward off the play set.

PROPER SPACING - All spaces between boards and beams are always a measurement less than 3-1/2” or greater than 9-1/2”. We do this so that a child’s head can never become entrapped while playing either up in the play house, climbing up a ladder, or hanging from the monkey bars. This is similar to how crib and stair railing manufactures have to take this into account for all new designs over recent years. A small child only needs about 5 or 6 inches of space to wiggle their entire body through a railing, but the head is the largest dimension on their body and may not make it through.

TETHERED ROPES - All ropes on our play set options are tethered securely to the ground and/or the play house itself. Rope Ladders and Knotted Climbing Ropes are tied right through wooden base supports, and our Buddy Pail is virtually a vertical close-line - tethered into the ground with a ground anchor so that as one side gets pulled down, the pail goes up. We do not, never have and never will sell roped disc swings. A quick CPSC.gov search regarding rope injuries on playgrounds suggested that many were the result of owner-modifications such as climbing ropes and rope swings and children tying ropes and leashes to their plays sets.

COLLISION-FREE - We have never and will never combine swings with monkey bars (overhead ladders). A good percentage of all playground injury is a broken arm or leg while falling off of climbing activities such as monkey bars. But as dangerous as this activity can be for youngsters just starting to build their upper-body strength (and possibly keep up with the Jones’ - namely older sister Sally and cousin Timmy), it becomes a battle-zone if you are trying to make it across 10-feet of swinging siblings and friends! I personally have no idea how this design was ever deemed a good idea, but it was all too popular during most of my years in this industry. A recent standard by the CPSC has finally warned against manufacturing or importing swing sets with monkey bars that go over the swings. It’s about time!

Overall we are charged with a difficult task - keep it fun, keep it safe! We have always looked to our own children’s play habits when designing new ideas, but we have to see the future as well. I sometimes hear myself say to my kids, “how did you manage to do that?!?!” So it’s not so much about IF they do it, it’s WHEN they do it, and they WILL do it, so let’s keep them SAFE!

-Jaclyn Wooding, Co-owner of Triumph Play Systems, Inc