Following up on the blog about fencing at schools, A devote reader commented about her childhood on the playground. The four foot chain link that separated the children from teh asphalt was as much part of the playground equipment as was the slide, swing sets, and teeter-totter. The chain link fence was used as home base for red light green light and duck, duck goose. It was also a great hiding spot during Marco Polo and a great back drop for dodge ball. While reading her response it brought back a flood of memories from both my childhood and my career in the fencing industry.
Fencing can be a safe place for our children and young ones if properly designed and installed. I have listed a few examples below from my tenure within the industry of bad designs and inadequate installations that resulted in injuries on today's playgrounds and youth ball fields.
- Middle rails installed on outfield fencing. A middle rail was installed on a high school baseball field fence. The fence was then covered with windscreen and promotional signage, which in turn hid the middle rail. A young ball player ran right at the fence to catch a fly ball. At the last minute, he twisted his body to allow his thigh and hip to take the impact from the fence while he reached to teh sky to catch the ball. Never seeing the middle rail, he thought the net like nature of the chain link fabric would cushion the blow. Unfortunately, when his femur met the middle rail, it snapped. Middle rail should never be installed on ballfield or school fencing.
- Rolling gates on fencing. A teacher was helping others in opening a four foot tall cantilever gate on a playground. She had placed her hand on top of the gate to pull it open while others pushed the gate open. Her hand and fingers quickly went back to the roller as the momentum of the gate built. Because there was no roller cover installed over the roller, the teacher's hand went in-between the fixed roller and top track of the gate, crushing her ring finger. Roller guards should always be placed on all rollers to remove pinch points.
- Outfield fence fabrics extending above the top rail. The industry standard for chain link fencing is to make sure the fabric is placed 1/2" above the top rail. A high school baseball player went to catch a fly ball. He ran to the outfield fence, then jumped to make a catch that was set to just clear the outfield fence. He raised his ball 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 ball player came down to the ground with his hand and glove still caught. He left the game with a dislocated shoulder from twisting during the fall. Ball field fencing should always use a plastic cap to cover the top of the chain link fabric.
- Spear top ornamental iron fence. A spear top ornamental iron fence was used to fence in a trash enclosure. At the end of the day, a student was trying to cut a corner and save a few minutes by exiting from the back of the building through the kitchen and out between the trash dumpsters. He had reached the locked ornamental iron fence swing gates and began to climb. He was halfway over when he caught the inseam of his jeans on the top of the fence. This caused him to fall head first onto the ground. Spear top ornamental iron fence should not be used in and around schools.
Unfortunately there are many more of these situations; all of which are preventable. The lesson is that fencing can still be a safe place for our children and young kids if properly designed and installed. Installers and designers must think of the "what ifs" and remove all possible injury situations. These fences should be scrutinized to the same level we would scrutinize the playground slide. Speaking of the playground slides, What ever happened to those towering galvanized steel slides with nothing to keep you from falling off at the top?