White House Swing Set Draws Attention to Child Safety

The Obamas' latest purchase had been recalled for safety reasons.

March 5, 2009, 11:22 AM

March 5, 2009— -- Vetting a brand new swing set may be just as tricky as vetting potential Cabinet picks.

So the Obamas' new swing set is drawing attention to child safety, as parents nationwide consider purchases for their children. Parts of the Rainbow swing set like the one that President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama added Wednesday to the White House South Lawn had been previously recalled, more than once, for safety reasons.

Malia and Sasha Obama were surprised Wednesday with the wooden set, including three swings, a slide, a green canvas loft, a tire swing and a ship's wheel.

"It's totally 'tricked out' [enhanced]," said Rainbow Play Systems owner Greg Foster, who was at the White House Wednesday to help install the swing set. "We put a double bubble in the penthouse. One bubble faces the Oval Office and one bubble faces the front lawn."

Foster also said that problems with Rainbow's swing seats were fixed long before the Obamas made their purchase. He also said the first family did its homework before buying the swing set.

The White House's chief usher flew out to the Brookings, S.D., swing set factory, per the first lady's instructions, to test out and help design a set for Malia and Sasha, Foster said.

"He [the chief usher] said he did his research first on the Internet and narrowed it down to three or four companies," Foster said.

In 2006, more than 18,000 Rainbow Play Systems swing seats were recalled because the part, made in China, could unexpectedly break in half. Rainbow voluntarily recalled the swing seats after 84 reports of broken seats, including the case a 2-year-old girl who suffered a broken wrist when she fell to the ground. Rainbow also voluntarily recalled 7,000 sets in 2000 after the company received seven reports of the chains holding the seats breaking.

"We sent everyone a new swing made in the U.S.A.," Foster told ABCNews.com today. "We haven't had a problem since the '04-'05 incidents and the swing seats on the Obama set were made in the U.S.A."

Today, the company makes its seats and other major parts in the United States, although it still imports some smaller bolts and hardware from other countries. Foster said company officials regularly inspect foreign facilities they work with and "we recheck everything ourselves in America."

"I would assume that they wouldn't have this particular problem again," Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger, a children's safety advocacy group, said Thursday.

Cowles added that a recall "doesn't necessarily mean that the company is not making a good product.

"Part of the problem is that it's just hard for consumers to know," she said.

Still, Cowles also said the number of children injured in these incidents might be even higher because "most people don't report that unless they feel like it broke right when they put it up or something."

Nearly 50,000 kids each year visit the emergency room after being injured on home playground equipment, according to data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Tips for Parents Making Purchases for Swing Sets

The Obama's latest major purchase -- advertised on eBay for up to $2,850 -- underscores the difficulties parents face in buying products for their children.

But there are also plans in the works to make it easier for parents to do their research.

Included in a measure signed into law in August 2008 is a provision that calls for the creation of a national database where people could report problems with children's products. The law calls for the database to go public within two years of the time the money is doled out for the project. That funding is included in the omnibus bill being considered on Capitol Hill.

Consumer advocates recommended a few tips for parents buying swing sets for their children.

"Obviously, it's a huge purchase for families and it is hard to know what is safe," Cowles said.

That means ensuring there's something soft like sand, shredded rubber tires or mulch -- and enough of it -- under and around the swing set to cushion potential falls.

That's something the Obama family has yet to do. Foster said the family is shopping now for surfacing.

"The helicopter takes off and lands all the time in the front yard," Foster said. "We have to find the right surfacing that won't blow away.

"I know the swing set is designed safe and I'm happy with that, but as far as what they're going to put underneath, they're still looking at choices there," he said.

"I don't think that's going to be a problem at the White House, though," Cowles said.

Read more tips on home playground equipment from the Consumer Federation of America.

Learn more from the Consumer Product Safety Commission's handbook on home playground safety.

Follow ABC News producer Brian Hartman on Twitter.

ABC News' Sunlen Miller and Ann Compton contributed to this story.

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