For most children, the idea that school playground equipment involves some form of ‘risk’ is far from their minds.
Yet talk to those involved in designing such facilities and they’ll attest to the virtues of ‘good risk’, and the challenges of managing it in a way that’s constructive for a child’s development.
A well-designed playground offers an exciting and challenging environment in which children can develop their abilities.
Navigating swings, slides, roundabouts, climbing frames and other school playground equipment can teach important problem-solving skills. It can also help to develop physical strength, coordination and balance.
Naturally, all that involves some degree of risk-taking. We should perhaps expect a few bumps and bruises during adventurous play. However, it’s down to playground equipment manufacturers and managers of public play areas to work together on preventing serious accidents and reducing the risk of permanent injury by following good practice.
One suite of standards designed to assist with this is BS EN 1176 Playground equipment and surfacing. This spells out good practice when it comes to designing, manufacturing, installing and maintaining school playground equipment in public spaces. It also provides guidance on the following crucial areas:
School playground equipment should be strong and stable enough to support children of different ages and abilities. It should also be able to cope with large groups of children using an item simultaneously. Adults should also be able to access the equipment in order to help a child.
School playground equipment shouldn’t have hard or sharp edges, or any rough surfaces that are likely to corrode or splinter.
There shouldn’t be any openings, moving parts or protrusions that could potentially trap hair, clothing or body parts.
You should minimise opportunities for very young or less able children to access equipment with steep or sudden differences in height. Provide handrails, guardrails, barriers or narrow openings at higher levels. Include impact absorbing surfaces beneath high or moving equipment.
BS EN 1176 also acts as a checklist to ensure that organisations don’t forget any key safety points, and can be used in a court of law to provide a benchmark of best practice. If an accident happens involving equipment that’s labelled as meeting the standard, insurers and courts should be satisfied that appropriate measures have been taken to set risks at an appropriate level for protecting users.
Christopher Brown is a programme manager at the British Standards Institute.