A devote reader commented about her childhood on the playground during grade school. The five foot tall chain link fence 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 just to mention a few. It was a great hiding spot during Marco Polo and a solid back stop for dodge ball. Reading her response brought back memories from both my childhood and my career in the fencing industry.
Fencing can be a safe place for children and kids of all ages if properly designed and installed. Below are some examples from my career within the industry of bad designs and inadequate installations that resulted in injuries on today’s playgrounds and youth fields.
• Mid rail on outfield fencing. A middle rail was installed on a high school baseball field fence. The fence was then covered with windscreen and company signage, hiding the middle rail. A young boy ran right at the fence to catch a deep flyball. At the last minute, he moved his body to allow his hip and thigh to take the impact of the fence while he reached to the upward to catch the ball. Not seeing the middle rail, he thought the net like nature of the chain link would cushion the blow. Unfortunately, his femur met the rail and snapped. Mid rail should never be installed on ballfield or school fencing.
• Rolling gates and cantilever gates. A teacher was helping others in opening a four foot tall cantilever gate on a playground. She set her hand on top of the gate to pull it open while others pushed the gate open. Her hand went back to the roller as the momentum of the gate increased. Because there was no protective 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. Protective guards should be placed on all rollers to remove pinch points.
• Outfield fence fabric protruding above the top rail. The industry standard for chain link fencing is to place the fabric a ½” plus or minus above the top rail. A high school ball player went to catch a deep flyball. He ran to the outfield fence, jumped and reached to catch the ball that was set to just clear the top of the outfield fence. He raised his glove which eclipsed the top of the top rail and got stuck on the chain link fabric. With his body momentum 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 falling. Ball field fencing should use a plastic cap to cover the top of the chain link.
• Spear top ornamental fencing. A spear top ornamental fence was used to fence in a waste enclosure. At day’s end, a student was trying to save time and cut a corner by exiting from the back of the building through the kitchen and out between the trash dumpsters. He reached the locked ornamental gates and begin to climb. Midway over he caught the inseam of his jeans on the top of the fence. This caused him to fall head first to the ground. Spear top ornamental fence should not be used in and around any schools.
There are severaly more of these unfortunate situations; all of which are preventable. The lesson is that fencing can still be a safe place for children and kids of all ages if properly designed and installed. Designers and installers must think of the “what ifs” and remove any possibility of bodily harm. These fences should be scrutinized and inspected to the same standards we would scrutinize that playground slide. Speaking of playground slides, what happened to those towering, galvanized, scorching, steel slides with nothing to keep you from falling off at the top?