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Challenge for Fences for Pools, Playgrounds and Vulnerable Venues

By Arthur Mittelstaedt Jr., Ed.D, executive director, Recreation Safety Institute and Jon Masone Sr., deputy commissioner Town of Hempstead, Long Island, N.Y.






Per the International Residential Code (AG105.2) for an outdoor swimming pool, hot tub or spa, the maximum mesh size for chain link fences (IRC Code 3109.4.1.5) shall be a 1.25-inch (32 mm) square unless the fence is provided with slats fastened at the top or the bottom that reduce the openings to not more than 1.75 inches (44 mm). The 1.25-in. maximum horizontal opening in the chain link mesh is based on the foot width for young children and is intended to reduce the potential for gaining a foothold. Most common mesh sizes are 2 or 2.25 inches. Smaller meshes (3/8, 5/8, 1, 1.25, 1.5 and 1.75 inches) are available for higher degrees of security.


When LASN published "Rationale for Fences for Nonresidential Outdoor Swimming Pools, Hot Tubs and Spas" by Arthur Mittelstaedt Jr., Ed.D in the January 2006 issue, the International Code Council, Inc. (ICC) was drafting their joint International Residential Code, which would supersede all SBCC, UBC and related codes. Mittelstaedt Jr., Robert Shipley of DAC Industries, a proponent of fences for safety, and Maureen Williams of D&D Technologies, representing the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, had proposed changes to the ICC. In the Jan. 2006 "Rationale for Fences," Mittelstaedt set forth the importance of changing the chain link mesh size (the distance between the parallel wires of the mesh) from two inches to one inch, i.e., not allowing a foot hold for children to climb them. This proposed change also had the support of John Gamble of Houston Fence Company, representing the American Fence Association, and Bill Ulrich of Link Consulting, representing ASTM F14.10 and a recent recipient of the Jerry Gambrell award.

At least two organizations, NSPI and SBCCI, have written standards calling for a maximum of two inches measured between the parallel sides of the mesh, which is the generally accepted standard for residential chain link fence. At least two other organizations, CPSC and BOCA consider one inch the maximum horizontal opening the only acceptable standard. The ICC, however, saw no technical justification for the change and agreed with the IBC General Code Development Committee reasoning: Justification was not provided to make the climbing issue a real issue. ICC made a horrific decision.

News articles abound and NEISS statistics increase with reports of children being hit by autos, balls, bikes and other youth as they play on and about play equipment or enter and leave the playground environs that could harm children. The F-14 Committee on Fences of the ASTM has been working on standards for playground fences for residential pools, for tennis courts and barriers to reduce the possibility of conflict with adjacent people and vehicles. It is now working on the final draft of the fence standards for nonresidential pools and for other venues is almost final.

The effort to clarify the use of a playground fence standard to address problems such as gaps in fencing that a child could squeeze through, or fencing that is climbable and similar activities that could cause injuries is critical to incident prevention. The old BOCA National Building Code did not specifically address such public areas as playgrounds and other recreation venue fencing. The present opening limitations of two percent are related to buildings and public garages and open parking garages that require open guards shall have balusters or other construction barriers such that a sphere with a diameter of four inches cannot pass through any openings.






In a recent court case the plaintiff was injured after scaling a six-foot fence to retrieve a neighbor's child who had slipped between pickets and entered a parking lot. The IRC code's four-inch (102 mm) space requirement is intended to preclude a child's head from passing through a fence.


In a recent court case, plaintiff Leonard Griffin was injured when he scaled a six-foot fence to retrieve a neighbor's child who had slipped between pickets spaced five percent plus inches, entering a parking lot and driveway. The jury found the plaintiff proved by a preponderance of evidence that the corporation was negligent, even though it found the plaintiff was apportioned 40 percent of the negligence. What was significant was an attached statement to the verdict by the jury:

"Due to the fact that this case was based primarily on safety issues regarding all play areas, we the jury strongly recommend the corporation and/or owner/operators modify all playground fencing to include narrowing the fence spacing to four inches or less, or other adequate modifications that utilize current technologies. We believe that these modifications should be completed as soon as humanly possible, or within two years. We also recommend that signage be placed on all fencing (not conforming to the above recommendations) that there is a danger of children of all ages passing through the fencing. We also recommend the corporation and all owner/operators utilize their community service program to make citizens aware of those dangers involved in play land/play place fencing and educate parents and children on playground safety. These recommendations have been made in lieu of larger monetary awards so that those monies may be used toward modifications of fencing."

Plaintiff Griffin expressed enthusiasm that a simple hazard that can cause injuries and fatalities must be corrected at this property and all other corporate properties, as well as other fast food company properties and other public used properties. Playgrounds and other such public grounds must comply with the various codes and standards, such as the four-inch spacing between pickets to eliminate dangers to children and other users. He indicated that the order obligated such corporations to expend the necessary funds to make public use areas safer for children of all ages.

A fence should not have footholds and handholds, and spaces should be limited in size and location to preclude a child from climbing over or passing through the fence. Latches on gates should be shielded or out of reach. The minimum 48 in. fence height above grade for residential pools and playgrounds is based on appropriate anthropometric and developmental characteristics. This requirement is intended to reduce the potential for a child in gaining a foothold. If horizontal members are less than 45 in. apart, a child may gain both a handhold and a foothold. The 1.25 in. (44 mm) maximum horizontal opening in the chain link mesh is based on the foot width for young children and is intended to reduce the potential for gaining a foothold. During the research leading to the selections in these ASTM and standard guides are based upon comparative mesh size climbability studies. The four-inch (102 mm) space requirement is intended to preclude a child's head from passing through the fence. The 45 in. (102 mm) horizontal member spacing is intended to prevent young children from using the horizontal members as a ladder.

A pedestrian access gate should open outward because, in the event the latch fails to operate, a child who pushes the gate will not gain immediate access to the play environment and may even engage the latch. Nonpedestrian access gates are not required to have a self-closing device since such devices are generally expensive and often are not available for large gates. Any such gates should be securely locked with a suitable padlock or other device. The 54 in. (1372 mm) height of the release mechanism is intended to keep children under five years old from reaching it. For release mechanisms on the out side of the gate, the three-inch (76 mm) minimum requirement is intended to prevent a child from reaching over to unlatch the gate. The half-inch (13 mm) maximum requirement is intended to prevent reaching the latch release through the gate or fence.

Per the International Residential Code (AG105.2) an outdoor swimming pool, including an in-ground, above ground or on-ground pool, hot tub or spa shall provide a barrier that complies with the following:

Maximum mesh size (per 3109.4.1.5) for chain link fences shall be a 1.25-inch (32 mm) square unless the fence is provided with slats fastened at the top or the bottom which reduce the openings to not more than 1.75 inches (44 mm).







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December 8, 2019, 7:53 am PDT

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