Swing Shift: Backyard Playsets Evolve

New safety guidelines for backyard playsets mean that manufacturers no longer can hang swings from monkey bars. So swings typically now hang from beams, and monkey bars are an optional feature.

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When it comes to backyard-playset safety, you might say that manufacturers no longer can monkey around with where they hang swings and trapeze equipment.

All manufacturers of playsets now comply with an international standard that says no equipment should hang from horizontal climbing bars (also known as monkey bars) because of risks that children could get tangled in chains or ropes. As a result, most manufacturers of playsets eliminated monkey bars as standard equipment, which means that you’ll have to pay extra if you want to add the playground staple to your backyard.

Meanwhile, one manufacturer introduced a twist on playset expansion that allows you to connect a series of playsets over time rather than just add features individually. The playsets grow with your child in the form of longer slides, higher decks and taller climbing walls.

In general, prices for backyard playsets and playhouses increased slightly compared with 4 years ago. We found that the prices for multipurpose playsets increased little or remained flat among most models. Playhouse prices, however, increased by around 10 percent over the past 3 years across the industry, says Dan Schlabach, who is president of Little Cottage. He attributes the price hike to an increase in the cost of raw materials—particularly wood—and also to higher regulatory costs.

PLAYING IT SAFE. Swings and trapeze bars typically were fastened to a thick overhead beam (typically a 4-by-6 beam) on playsets. As recently as 4 years ago, a common design had the swings placed under monkey bars that were constructed to be part of that beam. That changed in June 2009 when product-testing organization ASTM International revised its voluntary standards for residential playsets to prohibit the attachment of swings and trapeze bars to a beam that includes monkey bars.

The change in the standard was prompted by the death of a child who fell off monkey bars and was strangled by the trapeze bar that hung underneath it. Eliminating attachments underneath monkey bars removes the risk that kids will be strangled by chains, swings or a trapeze bar below if the kids fall off the monkey bars, says Marcye Bears, who is vice president of Bears Playgrounds, which is a playset manufacturer. Not having swings under monkey bars also takes away the risk that kids will be hurt by a fall if they stand on the swing to reach the bars, Bears says.

“That’s been the biggest change to the design. We still have monkey bars, and we still have swings. They’re just not together,” Bears says.

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Manufacturers tell Consumers Digest that they initially placed the monkey bars over swings and trapeze bars because it allowed them to build the same size play structure for multiple activities. Before ASTM revised its guidelines, about 90 percent of backyard playsets had monkey bars over the swings, says Barrett Brown, who is president and co-owner of manufacturer CedarWorks.

Danny Bears, who is co-owner of Bears Playgrounds, says the strangulation danger that was posed by hanging swings under monkey bars “was not self-evident” until ASTM raised the issue. Manufacturers didn’t believe that attaching swings to monkey bars was potentially dangerous, he says.

Today, swings and trapeze bars are attached to overhead wooden beams that are purely structural. The beams don’t provide any play function. Although the ASTM standards are voluntary, manufacturers adhere to them. Of the 150 backyard playsets that we evaluated, no model had a swing or a trapeze bar that was attached to monkey bars, although we found some swings that are attached to bridges that connect playset components. The bridges that have swings hanging from them also have walls that prevent a child from falling and getting tangled in the swings, however.

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