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Social Commentary from the C-Suite to Main Street℠

A Blog by Gary Wright II

Playground Safety - What every parent should know!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

This message started out as a posting from Tammy on my friends list. I normally don?t repost things that I haven?t independently confirmed as true, but I am making an exception on this posting because it contains an important message that every parent should hear:

First, is my summary statement, then the original message, and last is my first response to the original message. I have taken the liberty of removing blank spaces to make the messages shorter, but I have not altered any content:


Sure, please feel free to forward this message to anyone who might be interested.

I am really glad that you posted the message, because many parents blindly put their trust into others. Like your story said, it didn?t take much effort to find all of the nasty things in the bottom of the ball crawl pit. If parents know what to look for and they use a little good judgment, the child should be able to play safely. Not every playground is going to be safe, but when one is properly maintained, it should be a safe place for kids to play together.

I guess what I was trying to say is that Yes, there is a risk on many playgrounds - but not to live in constant fear as to not allow your kids to have a normal childhood....


Subject: If You Have Children, Neices, Nephews - READ & REPOST!!

Body: McDonalds, Chuck E Cheese, Discovery Zone... All places with ball pits in the children?s play area.

One of my sons lost his watch, and was very upset. We dug and dug in those balls, trying to find his watch. Instead, we found vomit, food, feces, and other stuff I do not want to discuss. I went to the manager and raised hell. Come to find out, the ball pit is only cleaned out once a month. I have doubts that it is even done that often. My kids will never play in another ball pit.

Some of you might not be parents, but you may have nieces, nephews, grandchildren, or friends with children. This will pertain to you too. As I read the following, my heart sank. I urge each and every one of you to pass this on to as many people as you can. I cannot stress how important this is!

Hi. My name is Lauren Archer, my son Kevin and I lived in Midland, TN. On October 2nd, 1999 I took my only son to McDonald?s for his 3rd birthday. After he finished lunch, I allowed him to play in the ball pit.

When he started whining later on, I asked him what was wrong, he pointed to the back of his pull-up and simply said ?Mommy, it hurts. I couldn?t find anything wrong with him at that time. I bathed him when we got home, and it was at that point when I found a welt on his left buttock.

Upon investigating, it seemed as if there was something like a splinter

I made an appointment to see the doctor the next day, but soon he started vomiting and shaking, then his eyes rolled back into his head.

From there, we went to the emergency room. He died later that night. It turned out that the welt on his buttock was the tip of a hypodermic needle that had broken off inside. The autopsy revealed that Kevin had died from a heroine overdose.

The next week, the police removed the balls from the ball pit. There was rotten food, several hypodermic needles: some full, some used; knives, half-eaten candy, diapers, feces, and and the stench of urine.

(You can find the article on Kevin Archer in the October 10, 1999 issue of the Midland Chronicle. Don?t think it?s just McDonald?s either. A little boy had been playing in a ball pit @ a Burger King & started complaining of his legs hurting. He later died too He was found to have snake bites all over his legs & buttocks. When they cleaned the ball pit they found that there was a copperhead?s nest in the ball pit. He had suffered numerous bites from a very poisonous snake.

Repost this if it scares the crap out of you!! Repost this if you care about kids!! Please forward this to all loving mothers, fathers and anyone who loves and cares for children!! What has this world come to?? If a child is not safe in a child?s play area then where??

AND FYI: In Florida and other places on the East Coast a group of people are putting HIV/AIDS infected and filled needles underneath gas pump handles, so when someone reaches to pick it up and put gas in their car, they get stabbed with it. 16 people have been a victim of this crime so far and 10 tested HIV positive.

Instead of forwarding stupid e-mails about how your love life will suck for years to come if you don?t forward it to 10 people forward this. It?s important to inform people.


Your message tonight about ball pits really touched a nerve (in a good way). I wanted to respond to your message to give you the view from the business point of view. You bring up a very good point about an issue that is so often overlooked.

At different times during the late 80?s to mid 90?s, I was the technical manager for five Showbiz Pizzas (which later all converted to Chuck E Cheese): Huntsville AL, Norcross GA, Marietta GA, Columbus GA, and Sheffield AL. The technical manager is responsible for the condition of everything in the restaurant except the food. Robotics, video games, rides, and anything in the building from the pizza oven to the air conditioning.

The one thing in the building that got my most attention is the ball crawl. At all times I always had an eye on it because of the danger of children from playing rough with each other and also from a sanitation perspective. When the store was busy (which is most of the time) I always stationed an employee directly in the ball crawl to play with the children and to protect them from any danger. I personally have spent a lot of time in the balls. I can?t count the hours I have spent picking up all of the balls off of the floor....

On a daily basis, we would remove crushed or broken balls and replace them with brand new balls to keep the pit full. As the balls were stirred up through play, we would remove any that were dirty - usually chewing gum. A lot of items get lost in the balls, so I trained people to gently scan the padded bottom with their hands and remove anything that wasn?t a ball.

Each night at closing, I would have the balls sprayed down with Lysol and everything in the play area was wiped down clean. We also had the game room attendants constantly cleaning the games and sweeping the carpet.

I have never seen a restaurant clean them monthly. Each quarter, we would remove all of the balls from the pit and put them into large net bags. We loaded them all up in a truck and took them to a local car wash to wash and rinse them with the high pressure hose. We let them dry in the sun and then returned them to the ball crawl pit.

As you can imagine, this is a very labor-intensive effort which costs a lot of money and required closing of the ball crawl during this process. The cost prevented me from scheduling the cleaning more often than quarterly, but anytime we discovered an "accident" we would close the play area and immediately clean it up.

You would not believe the angry responses from the parents I would get whenever the ball crawl was closed. Instead of spending any money on food or games, they would come in and dump the kids in the ball crawl for hours at a time. It was a cheap way to get a "babysitter" and this happened on a daily basis. They would cuss me and be irate whenever I closed the ball pit - which I never understood... We were trying hard to make it safe for everyone. I would never put your kid in a ball pit that I wouldn?t play in myself.

To the parents: you need to watch your children! You need to use good judgment when selecting play areas and be RESPONSIBLE for your kids! It?s where a kid can be a kid but not where a kid can run buck wild. Don?t ever complain when a ball pit is closed - it is usually closed for cleaning or another good reason. If the pit and play area is not kept meticulously clean, don?t put your kids in it and take time to tell the managers.

Here is how to tell if they are doing their job:

There should never be layers of dust on the rides or on the tops of the video games. There shouldn?t be greasy finger prints on anything, especially the kid rides. There should be no light bulbs out in the ceiling or on any of the games or attractions. There shouldn?t be numerous games taped up and out of order. The carpet should be clean under and around the ball pits. Sometimes the kids will put tickets in the slot where the tokens go, but as a general rule you should never "lose" a token.

All of these things are signs that they are not cleaning and maintaining things like they should. Keep in mind that the labor is usually high school kids and the management is not very well paid. They are very cost-conscious because the general manager gets a bonus if they don?t spend money. It takes a strong management team to ensure that everything is done properly.

When I was employed there, I blew my budget every quarter, but everything was clean and was always working. The GM would get frustrated because I was blowing his "bonus money" but every game worked properly, every motion in every robot worked, and it was rare to ever "lose a token" because I continuously tested everything. In the short term the business will lose money, but long-term the sales grow because parents notice when things are being done right.

With the right support, I was able to turn around a failing restaurant within 90 days and that?s why I was sent to five of them. Being a technical manager was the best job I ever had, but it was for very low pay and I couldn?t live off of the low salary. It is usually a good starting point and a great job for young people. I would encourage any young person to work there for good job experience.

It also works very well for birth control. Whenever I think I want to have a kid, I just spend an hour at Chuck E Cheese...

Please continue to circulate your message to raise awareness of the safety issues with ball pits. Injuries are actually very rare, but one incident is one too many. I just wanted to give you a true account of what typically happens. I don?t believe that anyone actually cleans them on a monthly basis. To keep the balls sanitary you must clean them continuously, but it is such a logistical nightmare to do a complete removal and cleaning on a monthly basis. Quarterly is being diligent, and I bet many don?t even do it that often.

The store management should already be aware of the condition of their store, so don?t hesitate to report problems to their corporate office! They all have district and regional managers who should also be staying on top of these issues.

Parents: please use good judgment and don?t let your kids play anywhere that is dirty or dangerous.

Best regards,

-- Gary Wright II

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