Playground Safety: We investigative how often they're checked

Ian is a man on the go.

"He loves the park and he loves the water," said Allie McLeod, Ian's mom.

When he's not on the splash pad he's on the playground where another curious toddler, Scarlet, is also always on the move.

"Very energetic, very adventurous. Has no concept of fear," said Shawn Hensley, Scarlet's father.

With Scarlet and Ian taking every opportunity to explore, their parents get a little worried sometimes.

McLeod worries about the playground's structural safety.

"Sometimes I do worry what if that wood isn't safe on the upper level and he could fall," said McLeod.

"Nothing is as important as her safety, but you keep an eye on them," said Hensley.

Last November, playground safety was all too real.

"A little girl was in a mulch pit. She was playing a game where other kids were burying her," said Jack Bubenik, a certified playground inspector for Tulsa Parks.

The 9-year-old girl later suffocated at Penny Park.

"It wasn't anything that we were doing as a department that caused that but that kind of drove home the importance of having people that are trained to look for things that are obvious and not obvious with our playgrounds," said Bubenik.

The tragedy prompted change. Two city employees who were already inspecting the playgrounds went through official certification to keep the play areas safe. Jack Bubenik was first and Jim Lowe soon followed.

"We take the test, we go through our training every three years. We're updated on current standards, updated on modern equipment and again, we're involved in real-world scenarios on what to look out for in both modern and older equipment," said Bubenik.

For example, inspectors use tools to make sure children's heads and torsos don't get caught.

"This is a head test probe we use on the playgrounds and we test for the circumference for this to go through. This is a torso probe so this is for them not to be able to go through areas where they can get their feet and legs through there," said Jim Lowe.

If they do find something wrong, it gets fixed.

"We're all about the safety here and we try very hard to maintain the parks as best as we can," said Lowe.

Inspections are done every four to six weeks. We poured over dozens of the latest inspection reports of Tulsa park playgrounds and found only minor repairs needed and those were already being addressed.

"As far as an ongoing program to replace equipment, we have that. We have a capital list that looks out five plus years. We can take a critical look at a lot of our equipment and say, 'We'll, it's got three to five years left in it. We need to plan on replacing it'," said Bubenik.

It's certainly a relief for Hensley and McLeod, in case their little explorers ever get ahead of them.

"That boosts my confidence in the equipment and the people that are running it," said Hensley.

"It makes me feel great as a parent knowing that, that's being taken care of and how lucky we are to live in a place where that can happen," said McLeod.

If you'd like to report a problem with a piece of equipment you can call Tulsa Parks at (918) 596-7275.

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