Tree Swing Inspection
by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kate Tarasenko
A tree swing (or a rope swing or tire swing) is composed of a single rope or chain attached to a high tree branch, along with a seat, which is typically a wooden plank or tire. For many homeowners, tree swings represent fond childhood memories, but this type of DIY play equipment is too often poorly constructed by non-professional builders for their children, who can be unaware of the potential dangers. InterNACHI inspectors who encounter these at property exteriors may wish to alert their clients of some of the hazards they pose.
Consider some recent tragedies. In 2010, a British girl enjoying her tree swing was killed when she was pinned to the ground by the falling silver birch, which is a tree species considered unsuitable for tree swings. That same year, an unsupervised boy accidentally hanged himself when he became tangled in the tree swing’s rope. Children are also killed or injured when ropes snap or hanger brackets dislodge. An article in the journal Pediatrics stated that “Recreational, single-rope tree swing injuries among children resulted in significant morbidity, regardless of the height of the fall. This activity carries a substantial risk for serious injury.”
To prevent accidents, inspectors and their clients can learn about what goes into a properly installed tree swing, and how to inspect them for potential hazards.
A sturdy tree is a must for a safe tree swing, but this consideration may be overlooked on properties that lack a variety of healthy trees from which to choose. Also, inspectors should remember that while trees appear stationary, they are actually alive and constantly, albeit slowly, growing and changing shape. As such, branches will “absorb” hanger brackets, and overhead branches will become brittle, gradually transforming what was once a properly installed tree swing into one that is no longer safe to use.
Check for the following indications that the tree will pose dangers to the user:
Whether on purpose or by accident, sooner or later, children will fall from playground equipment, including rope swings, and the extent of their injuries will be determined, in part, by the condition of the ground beneath the swing.
Inspect for the following hazards that may make injuries more likely:
Tree swings are sometimes installed adjacent to ponds or rivers so the user has the option of a water landing. As exciting as this prospect may be, water presents its own set of dangers. A flotation device may be kept next to the tree so that it can be thrown into the water in case of an emergency.
Also, check for the following:
A tree swing is only as strong as its rope or chain, so care should be taken to choose adequate material.
Check for the following rope defects:
The seat should be high enough so that the user’s legs do not scrape the ground but not so high that the swing isn’t easily accessible or requires unsafe effort for the user to dismount. Remember that tree limbs can sway under the user’s weight, and weaker limbs might permit the seat to get too close to the ground. Sufficient clearance is roughly 10 inches between the ground and the user, which may translate into 16 inches for an unoccupied swing. A seat may be made from a wooden plank, which can be inspected for splinters, or a tire, which is usually suspended in a horizontal orientation using three suspension chains or cables connected to a single swivel mechanism that permits both rotation and a swinging motion in any axis.
The tire may be a discarded vehicle tire or a plastic imitation, but it can present its own set of defects, including:
Hanger clamps provide a fixed point for the rope and the tree branch to intersect while keeping them properly separated, reducing friction on the rope than can cause it to gradually wear away. The likelihood of failure at this point is increased due to the additional stress of rotational movement and multiple users.
Check for the following defects:
In summary, tree swings can be great fun if they’re used with safety in mind first and foremost. Use this guide to inspect for their proper installation and maintenance to prevent avoidable and potentially tragic accidents.