Playgrounds - risks, benefits and choices

Ball, David J. (2002)
HSE Books
This report describes the first detailed strategic risk assessment of outdoor playgrounds in the UK for\ud over a decade. It also reviews international research on risk factors. In summary, the risk of injury on\ud UK playgrounds is found to be modest compared with the risks of many other activities in which\ud children are encouraged, for accepted reasons, to participate. The main risk factors on playgrounds are\ud found to be behaviour, equipment height, and body orientation in falls to the ground (not necessarily in\ud that order). Scientific evidence of the effectiveness of compliant undersurfacing as a risk mitigation\ud measure is mixed. While some research points to a positive benefit the associated risk factor is\ud relatively small and the question remains of how the measure affects child safety in the round. From a\ud legal perspective, the question also arises as to whether the projected benefit, if accepted, is sufficient\ud to meet the British safety criterion of reasonable practicability. It is noted that over the past decade,\ud during which there have been many playground safety interventions, coupled perhaps with less usage\ud of playgrounds, there is as yet no sign of a downward trendin overall numbers of injury cases.\ud Importantly, there is a view that play provision may have reduced in quantity and possibly also in\ud quality. This, it is thought, has been brought about by concern over accidents, litigation, cost of safety\ud measures et cetera. A problem for play providers is that these concerns are very tangible, whereas the\ud benefits of play, social, physical and psychological are far less easily quantified. The appropriate\ud balance between play benefits, one of which is considered by leading play agencies to be the\ud opportunity to experience real risk, and safety on playgrounds, is a social and not a scientific matter,\ud and may warrant careful reconsideration. Some risk management measures are suggested which\ud might be helpful. It is also recommended that, in the interests of child safety, risk assessment should\ud be applied to the activities of children both on and off playgrounds to safeguard against plausible\ud risktransfer mechanisms and to optimise child safety overall.\ud This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive. Its contents,\ud including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the authors and do not necessarily\ud reflect HSE policy.

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