While no one usually gives a second thought to playground slides, a recent recall thrust the issue of playground safety into the public conversation. Here's what we know so far and why 1,300 defective slides are subject to a manufacturer's recall.
Who Makes The Affected Products?
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the recall was issued by the company Playworld Systems Incorporated.
Which Products Are Affected?
The specific product recalled by Playworld is the "Lightning Slide" model of stainless steel playground slides, which come in both single- and double-slide formats. According to the terms of the recall, the weld between the slide's walls and its "bedway" can become compromised, at which time the pieces may separate. The space between the separated pieces can make a hole in which a child's fingers can get caught, or worse. To date, the company states that it is aware of 13 incidents of a broken weld on their Lightning Slides; in two reported incidents, children have suffered finger amputations.
How Widespread is the Problem?
Playworld's recall covers approximately 1,300 units that have been sold to parks, schools, and cities across the United States between November 2000 and October 2016. Units cost between $1,500 and $4,000.
What Can Be Done About It?
Playworld encourages purchasers to block access to the slide until a free replacement unit can be installed. The CPSC's recall report also indicates that "A temporary barrier will be shipped to consumers prior to shipment of a replacement slide to prevent children from using the slide." Unfortunately, the slides themselves do not have any manufacturer stamp or identifying marks; they will likely have to be identified by the company's records of buyers.
What Does All This Mean?
Sometimes we write articles about products that have unforeseen flaws. It happens all the time, be it design defects that went unnoticed by quality assurance, a surprising allergy that wasn't revealed during testing, or imprecisely-calibrated factory equipment that machined parts so they wouldn't quite fit together. A lot of the time, we're looking at a generally-acceptable product, assembled well, that may have a simple faulty component or a danger revealed through unconventional use.
This isn't one of those times. Fundamentally, a slide requires fairly little effort to fabricate. It's sheets of metal welded together. It's not full of moving parts or complex circuitry. There's no paint involved, so toxicity isn't an issue. It's just shaped metal stuck to other shaped metal. Is it a great deal to ask that the attachment be done carefully and thoroughly, especially considering that its targeted consumer is an active child?
Kids aren't terribly prepossessed with safety. It isn't exactly fair to expect children to don hard hats and conduct on-site safety assessments before they climb the monkey bars, any more than they'd pen environmental impact statements prior to flinging fistfuls of playground gravel at one another. It is the job of reasonable adults to ensure that minimally-harmful play is conducted during recess, or at the park. Those adults' role is primarily to watch the kids themselves. They accept it as a given that the equipment itself is manufactured to a certain standard--which these days, it generally is. It wasn't always that way; I vividly remember that my playground had a scalable wall, easily ten feet tall, covered in jingling industrial chains. Come to me, that jingling said. Test your mettle.
The equipment isn't supposed to be the x-factor on a playground; the children are. They may bleed during recess thanks to one questionable decision or another, but you don't hear the word "amputation" very often. By creating insufficient welds on these slides, Playworld has created circumstances for severe injuries, well beyond skinned knees or bitten lips. The edge created by the separation of the bedway from the wall doesn't even have to be especially sharp if one goes over it at a decent speed. Those poor kids' missing digits are understandably making headlines, but how many other little ones could get slashed legs, arms, or rears as well?
Lay the Responsibility Where It Belongs.
Many personal injury attorneys could misconstrue this issue as a premises liability claim against the city or school where the damage occurred. After all, they are the maintainers of the property where the damages happened, and they additionally own the slide upon which the injury occurred. One could argue, though, that they were sold a false bill of goods by Playworld. There's a few reasons why a weld might crack and fail--rust, dirt/debris/air pockets in the weld joint, temperature fluctuations--but much of this can be prevented by carefully doing the job the first time. Property owners bought these slides in good faith, and while there may be some minor argument for a lack of inspection on their part, the primary liability should lie with the manufacturers.
The families of these injured children (and any others that might sustain damages from this problem) would most likely find purchase in an argument that Playworld exhibited negligence in the form of manufacturing defects. A slide that's put together correctly offers little more danger than a possible bruised rump from too rapid a descent. In the situation we're examining, the slide takes on a very dangerous aspect that clearly violates its intended purpose as an amusement for kids.