Whether you’re building your own swing, repairing an old one, or just evaluating your local playground for safety issues, there are a few things that parents should keep an eye out for when deciding what play equipment is right for their kids.
A swing is conceptually a simple toy, but to keep your children safe when they’re playing on them you’ll need to know a bit more about the potential issues that might make a swing unsafe.
Whether a swing is mounted on a living tree or a wooden frame, the rope should never be wrapped around the wood. On a living tree, the rope could eventually constrict the growing branch and kill it, leaving it weakened and relatively brittle. If the rope is loosened slightly to prevent this, it is likely to rub against the branch or beam, damaging both the rope and the wood over time.
To avoid this, swings should be suspended from eyebolts that are inserted vertically through the supporting wood, and secured at the top with rust-resistant washers and nuts. This prevents friction damage, and allows the wood to grow around the bolts if you’re using a living tree, securing it even more firmly.
Local authorities, schools, daycares, and other institutions don’t want to and can’t afford to deal with possible liability issues with their play equipment. Because of this, public and semi-public playgrounds often opt to use galvanized steel chains to build their swings. Unlike plastics, these don’t degrade and wear out, and don’t need to be carefully maintained to prevent accidents.
Unfortunately, while chains aren’t going to break under a child’s weight, they will inevitably pinch little fingers, which is never fun and can sometimes cause very painful (though non-serious) injuries. Additionally, exposed metal can get extremely hot under direct sunlight, posing a burn risk on particularly warm summer days. That doesn’t mean that all chain swings are bad, though. Newer models that have a protective plastic covering address these issues nicely.
Tire swings in general are more dangerous than most other kinds of play equipment. The heavy tire puts constant stress on the the tree or frame that it’s mounted on, and can eventually damage it if it’s not designed to handle that burden. Older DIY tire swings in particular are dangerous because of the types of tires that people tend to use.
Old, used tires are a terrible choice as a children’s toy. The cracking and crumbling rubber will expose sharp (and often rusty) wire mesh, and the crumbling rubber itself can contain benzene, mercury, arsenic, and a variety of other toxic chemicals. If you’ve used one of these old swings yourself, you may have noticed how easily residue comes off and clings to hands and clothing.
If you love tire swings and want your children to enjoy one, make sure to use proper components that are meant to be used for play, not an old tire from the landfill, or an old car.