Are Cape Town’s playgrounds safe?

A mother outlined in this week’s Southern Suburbs Tatler, a Cape Town community newspaper, how her daughter Kate suffered a severe injury after becoming trapped under a roundabout and that she was unable to get compensated by the City after making a claim. The incident happened in well-known Keurboom Park, Claremont.

According to Julie Luyt, Kate lost her footing and her leg became trapped under the roundabout. The police, other playground revellers and a paramedic  couldn’t help get the girl out and eventually the fire department managed to free Kate’s leg with the jaws-of-life.

The City told the Tatler that its insurance department had repudiated the claim (medical bills amounted to R7,000) because it believed that the roundabout was in fully functional order. Luyt did appeal this decision but for some reason she didn’t submit the paperwork on time and this appeal got dismissed on this technicality.

Is there a case to answer for? 

At first I thought this was just another namby-pamby mother seeking to lay the blame on someone else for a simple accident in a park that no one could have prevented. Kids, after all, in my view have accidents all the time.

Children are notoriously boisterous, fail to listen to instruction and genuinely believe they are super heroes as they navigate the monkey bars or hurtle down a slide backwards. They don’t think of the consequences and get injured often because, well, kids are kids. They expose themselves to hurt and injury through simple play. It’s the nature of the world and it has been like that for generations.

But as I read on I began to think that Luyt had a point and that the City or council perhaps had something to answer for. The Tatler approached Bokkie Playground, which it describes as the country’s leading playground equipment manufacturers based in Gauteng. It provides playground equipment, including roundabouts, to public parks across South Africa and the African continent. Bokkie Playground gave The Tatler the following insights:

  1. Playground equipment should be installed on level ground.
  2. There should be 1.5m of empty ground around the equipment.
  3. Playground equipment should never be installed on a hard surface as a hard fall could result in an injury. Surfaces should be well maintained with grass or play sand.

Luyt told The Tatler that aside from the uneven ground, the roundabout was on a soft tar surface. I had to go and see this for myself. So armed with my Sony Aqua phone I took snaps of the roundabout and took shots from different angles to demonstrate that it was indeed on uneven ground (see images below).

I also got down on the ground and posed my leg next to the lowest part of Keurboom’s roundabout (don’t say I never do anything for this blog). I found that while its not possible to stick your leg under the lowest part it is possible to get it underneath on the opposite end. I did the same with Laurier Park’s roundabout (also in Claremont), which to me seems to be on even ground, as a comparison.

It’s clear that there seems to be no consistency between the two roundabouts. Laurier’s is on even ground and is level all around, while Keurboom’s roundabout is not. So while a child’s leg could still get wedged and trapped underneath Keurboom’s roundabout the same doesn’t appear possible with Laurier’s roundabout as there’s a bit of clearance from the ground. I reckon that if an adult leg like mine has a bit of room for manoeuvre a child’s leg won’t get trapped.

I also photographed the roundabout in Treehaven Park in neighbouring Kenilworth. It too has some clearance off the ground but it has a massive gaping hole as a plank is missing from it. It hasn’t been cordoned off to prevent kids from playing on it though. All three roundabouts, I feel, deserve a bit of repair as the planks are either uneven, missing or look a bit worn. They need a good paint job and the ground underneath all three appear to be hard (again see pictures) so that really should be looked into as well to prevent further injury.

Health and safety gone mad or is the council at fault? 

So, are Cape Town’s playgrounds safe? It’s hard to make a proper assessment of this considering I am not a professional playground inspector. However, what is evident is that some playground equipment is in dire need of some repair and something needs to be done to the ground underneath the three respective roundabouts to soften the blow of any major falls.

What’s worrying is that the Keurboom accident happened in January, according to the Tatler report, and that eight months down the line the roundabout is still on uneven ground – just like Luyt claims. It seems nothing has yet been done to adjust the height of the roundabout, move it or cover up the area underneath in order to prevent another child from getting his or her leg stuck in the same way that Luyt’s daughter did.

The paper does say that City parks director, Chantal Michaels, said that her department would carry out “additional investigations” at Keurboom park to assess the conditions on the ground on which the roundabout is located. I really hope this happens sooner rather than later.

All over Keurboom park, there are signs up with rules about how we should conduct ourselves. If there are rules or guidelines out there prescribed for the way in which playground equipment should be installed is the council or City not obligated to follow them? Perhaps Luyt did not do enough to file the right papers on time, but we should also question whether the council or City has done enough to prevent another similar accident.

*Mombabbles has contacted Claremont’s ward counsellors as well as the City for further comment and has sent in the pictures for the City to review. Mombabbles will update the blog or add a follow up post once the City or counsellors respond.

Height of Keurboom Park’s roundabout on one side. There’s enough ground clearance here for at least a child’s leg…
Height of Keurboom Park’s roundabout on the opposite side. Here I couldn’t get my leg underneath.
Keurboom Park’s roundabout is fixed on uneven ground which means the roundabout slopes. Earlier this year, Julie Luyt’s daughter Kate suffered injury after getting her leg wedged underneath it. And is the soft tar enough to prevent injury? 
Laurier’s roundabout. Definitely enough ground clearance all around. A leg can’t get caught underneath it though as it’s not low enough to wedge a limb of my size.
Laurier Park, Claremont. This roundabout is also in need of some TLC.
Treehaven Park, Kenilworth. The roundabout has seen better days. But there’s it’s not cordoned off to prevent children from playing on it. The ground appears rough and hard. 
Front page of the Southern Suburbs Tatler (September 15, 2016). Source: Facebook. 

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