Danger at play parks

A see-saw is bent at a severe angle in Rondebosch Park.

An inspection of municipal playparks in the southern suburbs has revealed that faulty playground equipment is putting children at risk.

The Tatler investigation follows a report last week in which Hout Bay mother Julie Luyt raised the alarm about a roundabout in Rondebosch’s Keurboom Park (“Injuries come into play,” Tatler, September 15).

In January this year Ms Luyt’s daughter, Kate, lost her footing on the roundabout and her leg became trapped under it. It took a fireman using the jaws-of-life to free her.

Ms Luyt complained that her daughter’s leg had been caught in the roundabout because it was incorrectly installed on sloping ground. The City rejected the claim she lodged to cover her daughter’s medical bill, arguing she had not submitted an appeal within a prescribed 21-day period. Ms Luyt notified the City of her intention to appeal before the deadline but only sent the paperwork two weeks after it.

Following the report, several readers contacted the newspaper to share their own scary encounters with dodgy playground equipment at city parks, including the Keurboom Park roundabout.

Rondebosch resident and Keurboom Park regular Joost van der Ploeg said he had taken his then four-year-old nephew, Max, to the park about a year ago. Max and a few other boys had “just got up to speed” on the roundabout when “Max lost his grip and started to slide off”.

Max gripped the outside upright but he lost his footing off the edge and was dragged.

“As he was dragged along, his left knee went under the high gap. The gap closed, trapping his knee joint. This caused an almost instant ‘braking’ action, totally trapping the knee under the protruding steel lip.”

As Mr Van der Ploeg tried to feel for his nephew’s trapped knee, his fingers found protruding nails used to secure the planks.

“My fear was that maybe one of these nails had caught and pierced Max’s leg.”

I was unable to lift the roundabout, and I was unable to get the knee straight out, so I had to make the roundabout go back, causing Max to scream. I dragged Max and the roundabout back about a metre, and the knee came free.”

Because no wound had been sustained as a result of the protruding nails – “simply grazes and a bit of tears and trauma” – and no medical bills incurred, Mr Van der Ploeg said he had regularly returned to the park.

“But where the professionals make a recommendation , every effort should be made to adhere to the advice, and in this case level ground is a must,” he said.

Reader Ken Alrick also alerted the Tatler to the much loved train installation at Choo Choo Park, in Belvedere Road, Claremont.

“The steps of the engine at the park in Belvedere Road are extremely corroded, which, in my opinion, could result in a child losing a finger/fingers in certain situations. I vaguely remember just such an occurrence many years ago on a badly corroded playground slide,” Mr Alrick said.

“All of these playpark facilities should be inspected regularly at least once a month by someone properly qualified in health and safety issues,” he said.

“I also don’t believe that the City are are able to hide behind the disclaimer ‘at your own risk’. Next we will be driving on roads or walking on sidewalks ‘at own risk’. If the City erects any form of facility anywhere it should be maintained or repaired to safe working order at all times.”

This week, the Tatler inspected several playparks in our readership area, and we sent pictures of play equipment in these parks to Patrick Uys, owner of Bokkie Playground, one of the country’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of playground equipment.

The Tatler showed the City photographs of what was discovered at the parks on Tuesday. Anda Ntsodo, mayoral committee member for community services, said the City did not have enough time to respond to our questions about five different parks, but it was investigatingand would give feedback at a later date.

With Bokkie Playground advising Tatler on what to look out for during our inspection, it was clear that three Woodstock playparks – Trafalgar Park, Woodstock Town Hall Park and Fairview Road Park – are in good working order, and meet many of required standards.

All equipment wasinstalled on soft-tar bases with excellent run-off spaces onto soft grass.

However, at Mowbray’s Durban Road Park, we noted several structural deficiencies on some playground equipment.

Underneath a slide in the park, a flange on one of the metal support poles had rusted away, leaving a bolt exposed. Mr Uys said this was an example of “poor maintenance”and could prove dangerous.

More glaring was the bottom of one of the supporting legs of a nearby jungle gym which had rotted or rusted away and become unattached from its base. “This potentially could result in the collapse of the entire unit,” Mr Uys warned.

Unfortunately, the situation was not much better at Rondebosch Park on the corner of Campground and Sandown roads.

While the roundabout appeared to be in good working order, it was fixed to a hard surface. Mr Uys said a tarmac base would not be accepted in any First World country.

By far the most obvious structural transgression was the appearance of the see-saw, which is badly damaged. The one end of the apparatus has been severely bent, almost to a 90 degree angle. This, Mr Uys said, was an example of “abuse”, in that the see-saw had been “overloaded” with children.

A little way down the road at Keurboom Park, the roundabout where Ms Luyt’s daughter was injured nine months ago was still positioned on sloping ground. The Tatler took a rough measurement and estimated the gap underneath the roundabout platform to range from 30cm at its highest point to 10cm at its lowest. “This is very dangerous. It is clear the installers did not have a clue,” Mr Uys said.

When this reporter placed his foot underneath the roundabout, it was evident that the gap closes considerably as the apparatus is spun, corroborating Ms Luyt’s and Mr Van der Ploeg’s findings.

Finally, the Tatler visited Choo Choo Park to follow up on Mr Alrick’s comments about the corroded steps. As pointed out, the upper steps in particular, are badly corroded leaving sharp edges which could easily cut a child’s foot or leg. “Rusted metal is obviously dangerous,” Mr Uys said.

Although most of the parks included traditional tyre swings, Mr Uys cautioned that most tyres these days were steel belt radials.

“This means they have a very thin stainless steel wire mesh inside the rubber. This, if exposed on the cut edge, can cut like a razor blade,” he said.

“In addition, they can break at any time. Kids tend to jump off swings while moving, and sharp edges can rip their hands when letting go.”

Mr Ntsodo said the City of Cape Town encouraged residents to report any maintenance needs to the Parks Department at 021 400 9538 or Konanani.Phadziri@capetown.gov.za.

“Although City Parks does have a limited budget for repairs and maintenance, with over 3 500 community parks in Cape Town to manage, the department does prioritise the repair of vandalised or damaged play equipment which may pose a safety risk to users. In general, the department also tries to install play equipment which can withstand high levels of usage,” he said.

“Litter-picking and litter removal occurs twice per week at parks, while playground structure inspections take place on a monthly basis and other maintenance occurs every four to six weeks. At most parks where there is a maintenance worker employed, this person will report any damages to the play equipment, as well as any other maintenance issues requiring attention.”