Swing Accident Puts Schools' Playground Safety To Test

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School officials are investigating a schoolyard swing accident that sent a 10-year-old girl tumbling into the sand Monday, but the man in charge of playground safety says he considers the equipment safe enough for his 8-year-old stepdaughter.

Joe Martin, Payson's director of school support operations, inspected the Julia Randall Elementary School swing after the accident and said he found no obvious signs of equipment failure.

"There were no broken links or other signs of weakness," he said. "I couldn't force the S-hook back into the link it pulled through. It looks like it may have just been a freak accident."

The district adopted a playground safety plan about five years ago, Martin said.

The plan, which includes monthly inspections and daily on-site maintenance, is working well, he said. "This is the first equipment-related accident that we've had that I can recall."

The student was playing on the swing during morning recess when one of the chains supporting the blue vinyl seat she was sitting on pulled through its primary link, spilling the girl to the ground.

The girl, who experienced temporary numbness in her fingers, was taken by ambulance to Payson Regional Medical Center, where she was examined for spinal injuries and released to her parents. The girl was shaken but otherwise uninjured and was back at school Tuesday, said Gaylene Riepel, the girl's mother.

When idle, the swing hangs 18 inches above the playground. At its apex, it can swing more than five feet high. According to students who witnessed the accident, the girl had just started swinging and was about three feet high when she fell.

"You have to let them be kids and play," Riepel said, "but when you send them to school, you put them in the district's hands and expect them to be safe."

The playground equipment at each school is supposed to be checked every month, Martin said, but he was unable to say exactly when Julia Randall's swing sets were last checked because he hadn't yet obtained the school's maintenance records.

After photographs were taken of the broken swing -- an action required by the district's playground safety protocol -- maintenance workers repaired the swing and checked the rest of the set for problems, Martin said.

"We don't take any injuries lightly," he said. "We made sure the student had the medical care she needed and investigated to see if we could identify any equipment failures."

The swing set is at least 10 years old, Martin said, but the major components have all been replaced.

"We try to replace old equipment regularly because playground equipment designed 10 or 15 years ago generally isn't suitable for today's standards," he said. "But swings can be upgraded. They're basically just steel poles, chains and other components."

In addition to the district's monthly equipment inspections, each school has a maintenance person on site every day to perform repairs and spot inspections, said Martin, whose 8-year-old stepdaughter is enrolled in the district.

"I feel totally comfortable with her playing on the equipment," he said, "especially with the day person checking all the time. To my knowledge, this is the first equipment-related accident we've had this year."

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