The idea that playgrounds involve some form of ‘risk’ was, and largely still is, far removed from the minds of most children. 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 equipment can teach important problem-solving skills and help to develop physical strength, coordination and balance.
Naturally, all that involves some degree of risk-taking – a few bumps and bruises are perhaps to be expected 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, which spells out good practice when it comes to designing, manufacturing, installing and maintaining playground equipment in public spaces, while providing guidance on the following crucial areas:
Structural strength: Equipment should be strong and stable enough to support not only children of different ages and abilities, but also large groups of children using an item simultaneously and adults who might require access in order to help a child.
Laceration: Equipment shouldn’t have hard or sharp edges, or any rough surfaces that are likely to corrode or splinter.
Entrapment: There shouldn’t be any openings, moving parts or protrusions that could potentially trap hair, clothing or body parts.
Falls: Opportunities for very young or less able children to access equipment with steep or sudden differences in height should be minimised. Handrails, guardrails, barriers or narrow openings should be provided at higher levels, and impact absorbing surfaces should be included 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