Following my blog on fencing at schools, a devote reader commented about her childhood on the playground. The four foot tall chain link that separated the kids from the asphalt was as much part of the playground equipment as was the slide, swings and teeter-totter. The chain link fence was home base for red light green light and duck, duck goose. It was a great hiding spot during Marco Polo and a solid back drop for dodge ball. Reading her response brought back a flood of memories from both my childhood and my career in the fencing industry.
Fencing can be a safe place for children and young kids if properly designed and installed. Below are some examples from my tenure within the industry of bad designs and inadequate installations that resulted in injuries on today’s playgrounds and youth fields.
- Middle rails on outfield fencing. A middle rail was installed on a high school ballfield fence. The fence was then covered with windscreen and promotional signage, hiding the middle rail. A young boy ran right at the fence to catch a flyball. At the last minute, he twisted his body to allow his hip and thigh to take the impact of the fence while he reached to the sky to catch the ball. Not seeing the middle rail, he though the net like nature of the chain link fabric would cushion the blow. Unfortunately, his femur met the middle rail and snapped. Middle rail should never be installed on ballfield or school fencing.
- Rolling gates. A teacher was assisting others in opening a four foot tall cantilever gate on a playground. She placed her hand on top of the gate to pull it open while others pushed the gate open. Her hand quickly went back to the roller as the momentum of the gate built. Because there was no roller cover on the cantilever roller, the teacher’s hand went in-between the fixed roller and top track of the gate, crushing her ring finger. Roller guards should be placed on all rollers to remove pinch points.
- Outfield fence fabric above the top rail. The industry standard for chain link fencing is to place the fabric a ½” above the top rail. A high school ball player went to catch a flyball. He ran to the outfield fence, jumped and reached to catch the ball that was set to just clear the outfield fence. He raised his glove which eclipsed the top of the top rail and got caught on the chain link fabric. With his body still in the air and now under the effects of gravity, the young ball player came down with his hand and glove still caught. He dislocated his shoulder while twisting and falling. Ballfield fencing should use a plastic cap to cover the top of the chain link fabric.
- Spear top ornamental fence. A spear top ornamental fence was used to fence in a trash enclosure. At day’s end, a student was trying to cut a corner and save a few minutes by existing from the back of the building through the kitchen and out between the trash dumpsters. He reached the locked ornamental fence swing gates and begin to climb. Halfway over and he caught the inseam of his jeans on the top of the fence. This caused him to tumble head first to the ground. Spear top ornamental fence should not be used in and around schools.
There are many more of these unfortunate situations; all of which are preventable. The lesson is that fencing can still be a safe place for children and young kids if properly designed and installed. Designers and installers must think of the “what ifs” and remove any possibility of harm. These fences should be scrutinized to the same standards we would scrutinize that playground slide. Speaking of playground slides, what happened to those towering galvanized steel slides with nothing to keep you from falling off at the top?