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In September 2000, 4-year-old Or Avraham died when her head was caught between rungs of a ladder in a playground in her home community, Omer. Two years later, in November 2002, Nofar Haneib, a 5-year-old girl from Be'er Sheva, died after she fell off a slide, from a height of a meter and a half in a playground.

While these incidents had unusually tragic results, they point to a widespread problem: Most playground facilities in Israel are unsafe.

Shuki Kaplan, who heads the Standards Institute's mechanics laboratory, says that a study conducted by the institute in 2002 established that 91 percent of playground facilities in use for more than a year had safety flaws. The defects were caused by faulty maintenance, inadequate assembly of the facilities, natural wear and tear, and other factors.

Roughly half of these faulty facilities pose genuine safety dangers to children, the study showed. Kaplan says the main problems are in the areas that surround the play equipment - electric lines that are too low, inadequate fencing at the playground, insufficient amounts of sand beneath the play equipment, and so on.

Responsibility for ensuring playground safety, Kaplan explains, rests with the local council. Periodically, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, via the Standards Institute, conducts inspections of playground safety levels; in cases of defects, the ministry submits complains to the local councils where the faulty playgrounds are found.

The ministry is currently instituting a change to require local councils to bear increased responsibility for playground safety.

Up to now, manufacturers of playground equipment have been held responsible not only for defects in the items they produce, but also for the playground areas that surround the equipment.

Under the new system, manufacturers will be responsible solely for repairing defects in their own products; responsibility for safety upkeep in areas around the play equipment will rest with the councils.

As things have stood, a manufacturer who seeks a permit for its products pays the Standards Institute to undertake tests of sample items, both at the factory and in playgrounds. Once a product passes these inspections, the manufacturer receives a general permit for the line of playground equipment items it produces.

In February 2002, the Standards Institute's permits committee decided to change the procedure, and eliminate the conferral of general permits for all items in a manufacturer's production line. Under the revised system, each piece of equipment produced by the manufacturer will be tested where it is installed.