An $18,000 tool intended to reduce the severity of playground accidents has sat in city storage for more than a year.
In 2010, the City of Winnipeg contributed $3,600 toward the purchase of an $18,000 Triax 2000 machine, which measures the impact of falls from play structures. The remainder of the money was raised through grants and partnerships with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the Manitoba Association of School Trustees.
The Triax 2000 stands on three legs and has a steel baseball-size device hanging by a cord in the centre. When the device is activated, the ball drops to the ground and measures the hardness of the surface in G-force units, generating a graph that can be viewed on site and later uploaded to a computer.
Accidents happen, but the severity of them can be reduced if the machine's measurements are used to make changes to a playground.
However, the Triax needs a tune-up.
In 2010, the year it was purchased, it was used a total of 30 times. It hasn't been used since, as it has to be sent to the New Jersey manufacturer to be recalibrated at a cost of $822, plus shipping. The city said the machine is sitting in storage.
"Thankfully, we've had no injuries to our children. However, accidents happen. The schools really need to take a look at the incidents that happen on their playgrounds," said Melissa Shatford, who has two children going to Highbury School in the Louis Riel School Division.
"If this tool is available for them to determine whether their playground is safe or not, then they should be utilizing it."
Dave Domke, the city's manager of parks and open spaces, said the city purchased the Triax machine as a research tool and never intended to use it on every playground. He said the machine is used to audit one aspect of current playground safety conditions, and inspectors typically monitor playground safety through visual inspections.
He said winter is the best time of year to send it for recalibrating, but the city went all last winter without sending it in for that purpose. As a result, no research using the Triax was done during the summer this year.
"We never contemplated using it on a regular basis as part of our safety program. We just use it as an additional thing," Domke said.
Keith Thomas, Manitoba School Boards Association risk manager, said the machine wasn't used enough on playgrounds.
"I'm quite aware of the Triax 2000, and we probably haven't used it as much as we should have. But on the other hand, I think we are trying to work within the Canadian Safety Association guidelines and keep our protective surfaces as deep as possible."
These guidelines recommend surfaces below play structures be surrounded by pebbles to a depth of 25-30 centimetres within a 1.8-metre radius of the structure.
Manitoba's Healthy Schools initiative notes falls are the leading cause of hospital treatment of children between the ages of five and 14.
Schools are responsible for playgrounds on their property, and the City of Winnipeg looks after public playgrounds. Between 1998 and 2007, 2,192 playground injuries were reported in Winnipeg, including 1,086 incidents at schools, according to a 10-year report by IMPACT, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's injury-prevention program.
The Winnipeg School Division keeps monthly playground inspection reports, but officials said it would cost $2,714.25 for Red River College students to obtain reports from 2009 to 2011 through a freedom-of-information request.
With the help of Free Press staff, students in Red River College's Creative Communications program learn how to mine freedom of information legislation for stories. At the start of the school year, students submit access to information requests. Over the next several weeks, the Free Press will publish some of the stories students wrote based on their requests. Visit wfp.to/opensecrets to see them all.