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Mother Of Child Strangled On Slide Fighting For New Standards

May 26, 1994

DETROIT (AP) _ Thelma Sibley carefully read all the safety warnings about cribs, car seats and toys. When her daughter was 3, her husband took the toddler to a playground, holding her hand as they went down the circular slide.

That was two years ago. Earlier this year, Sibley’s daughter Nancy died at age 5. She was strangled when the drawstring on her hood became tangled in the same slide at the Ann Arbor school playground.

Sibley learned her daughter was the fourth child to be strangled on playground equipment in southeastern Michigan in three years.

″Not one person I know knew that,″ said Sibley, who became an activist bent on improving playground safety and warning other parents about hidden dangers.

″I don’t want Nancy dying in vain. If we can save one child’s life, that means the world to me,″ she said Wednesday from her Ann Arbor home.

America’s playgrounds may look safe, but nine of 10 contain hidden hazards are partly to blame for accidents that send about 170,000 youngsters to emergency rooms every year, two consumer groups said Thursday in Washington.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Consumer Federation of America investigated 443 playgrounds in 22 states and the District of Columbia in March and April.

″Unfortunately, the federal government has not done enough to improve playground safety,″ the groups’ report said. ″There are no national standards for the design and construction of outdoor play equipment.″

Hard surfaces, sharp edges and high equipment also contribute to the 17 playground deaths that occur each year on average, the study said.

Falls accounted for 75 percent of injuries, the study said. Ninety-two percent of the playgrounds surveyed lacked a protective surface under and around equipment.

The most common injuries occur when children are hit by moving swings or are strangled.

″Slides are the most frequent cause of injury for children under the age of 6,″ the report said. ″Superficial facial injuries ... and serious head injuries ... are the two predominant patterns of injury for young children on slides, swings and climbers.″

Group investigators found obstacles and other equipment in ″fall zones″ - areas under and around equipment where a child might fall - in 75 percent of the playgrounds examined.

Higher-than-necessary equipment was found in 57 percent.

In 76 percent of the 390 playgrounds with swings, the number and spacing of swing seats increased the risk that a child would be hit by a moving swing, the report said. Swing seats were made of wood, metal or other rigid material in 26 percent.

The groups want stricter standards for playground equipment and called on parents, school administrators, child care providers and parks personnel to evaluate their playgrounds and work to make them safer.

Sibley alerts parents to the dangers posed by items that are part of a child’s everyday routine - like drawstrings on coats. She wants warnings posted on playgrounds advising parents of possible hazards.

″I just don’t want another set of parents going through what Bob and I are going through,″ she said. ″It was preventable and that’s what hurts so bad.″

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