A Quiet Day at the Office

John, a safety engineer, for a major corporation thought he had all aspects of safety covered for his family. Both he and his wife, a chemist, had checked out possible hazards in their home for the protection of their two children, ages 6 and 8, and themselves. They made sure that the kids wore bicycle helmets when riding their bikes on the pathways surrounding their home and that they were securely fastened in the back seat in the car, even for those quick trips to the corner grocery store. The elementary school that both children attended had recently undergone remodeling to bring it up to classroom code, although it cost a little more than expected. As a result, issues with the outside play area still needed to be addressed, especially the playground structure which had been in place when John was a student at that very same school. All in all, life was as it should be until that frantic call came from his wife on that fateful day….

John's wife Claire, was sobbing as she told John that he was needed immediately at the emergency room of the local hospital where his youngest son, David had been transported after sustaining a major head injury while playing on the playground equipment during recess at school. Apparently David was playing on the top of the "monkey bars" located on the playground (see picture 1). It wasn't quite clear whether he was pushed or fell, as neither the two supervisors for the 120 children out in the play yard didn't witness the event. What the doctors had told Claire was that the over 200 bruises on David's body were probably the result of hitting the bars as he tumbled down through the play structure. But the real damage, and the one that had the doctors rushing David into the operating room came from the exposed bolt that was sticking up on the bottom of the play structure where any loose fill surfacing material had migrated away some years past. The bolt struck David's face, moving his jaw back into his head. The doctors tried to assure Claire that they didn't think that David's injuries were life-threatening. But at the same time, they warned her that David faced several medical procedures ahead.

Picture 1: Monkey Bar also known as a Jungle Gym (available in full paper).

As John raced to the hospital, he tried to figure how his son could have suffered so serious an injury just playing. Unfortunately, that is the same thing that parents of over 200,000 children ask every year, as they consult with doctors and medical personnel about injuries suffered by their children (Hudson, Olsen, and Thompson, 2004). The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons puts that number even higher at 500,000 (AAOS, 2004).

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