[Update: The good folks (despite being defense lawyers) at Abnormal Use have posted a defense of the slide, one worth reading.]
When I first saw it, I did a double-take to make sure I wasn’t reading The Onion. The headline at the Consumer Product Safety Commission was, “Children’s Slides Recalled by Landscape Structures due to Fall Hazard,” and one of the pictures included the slide in question:
Who designed that? How did they think it was going to work? I have no doubt the manufacturer is right that “The Evos® Slalom Glider® is a thrilling ride that promotes balance and coordination,” because odds are pretty good a kid is going to fall off and break their arm or knee when they land. Standing on the roof of a moving car is also a “thrilling ride that promotes balance and coordination.”
Unsurprisingly, the CPSC recalled the things after at least 16 children under 8 years old were seriously injured by falls, and at least one lawsuit has been filed. (Thank goodness for those playgrounds conforming to ASTM F1292 surface impact specifications; if the kids had been on asphalt or concrete, we would probably see far more skull fractures and brain injuries.)
I’ve written before about the legal issues raised by playground safety.
Maybe there’s some societal benefit to less safe playgrounds. Maybe we should have “danger playgrounds” that are more challenging to children because they encourage better decision-making behavior by children, akin to how removing lights and signals at intersections can make people pay more attention.
But none of the advocates for dangerous playground equipment ever admit that, in general, dangerous playground amusements really are more dangerous, and so will result in more injuries. Instead, it’s all just have-and-eat-cake-too reasoning, with claims that we can somehow install less safe playground equipment and yet have the same injury rates we do with safer equipment.
The company isn’t commenting on the lawsuits, but did say:
“Our utmost concern is for the safety of children,” the company said in an email. “We are working in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in the voluntary recall of the Slalom Glider due to concerns regarding falls. LSI is no longer selling the Slalom Glider.”
I have no reason to doubt that’s true now, but what if the complaint filed against them is correct that:
The only instruction regarding the use of the ‘Evos Slalom Glider’ was a sticker on the ladder of said slide/glider with an illustration demonstrating the proper use. The proper use demonstrated in said illustration showed a child straddling said slide with one leg over each side of the slide, with the child placing his hands behind him.
Where was the concern for the safety of the children then? The slide was undeniably intended to be riskier than your typical slide, so why didn’t they warn parents about those additional risks?
Surely somewhere along the way in testing they noticed that kids would unintentionally fall off of the slide even while using it properly, and would have noticed a handful of problems that were more common than others. How hard would it have been to have come up with some sort of solution for that particular danger (e.g., a larger transition platform, so kids could stabilize themselves before they began), or to at least have warned of the particular risks of the slide?
It’s commonplace for people to complain about there being too many lawyers with too much influence on business decisions, but this look like a situation in which having a couple more lawyers around from the beginning would have made a big difference.