Author: Andy Cotter
Risk assessment for play areas is not designed to remove all risks from children’s play but is intended to ensure that serious injuries are avoided, by taking reasonable precautions.
Fortunately, the majority of accidents involving children at playgrounds are minor and happen due to normal play activities. However, where more severe injuries occur, it can sometimes be due to the party responsible for the playground having acted negligently, for example, not replacing worn or damaged equipment, or failing to maintain an adequate shock-absorbent surface.
Some hazards will depend on the equipment, such as suspended ropes or beams leading to falls or friction burns, nets that could cause entanglement injuries, wooden equipment which may contain splinters, or surfaces that can become slippery when wet.
Recommended inspection regimes
We strongly recommend carrying out weekly visual checks of play areas and facilities, and these should be recorded in writing. This can prove to be vital in assisting insurers in the event of an injury claim.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), British Standards Institution (BSI), and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), recommend the following inspection regime:
- A daily or weekly visual inspection
- A monthly or quarterly operational inspection
- An annual independent expert inspection for play equipment and surfaces1
Carrying out a playground risk assessment
A playground risk assessment should take into account the specific equipment and its intended users. The following guidance covers key focus points, however, it is not exhaustive.
Playing at a height—playground surfaces: Any play equipment over 0.6 m high should be installed on an impact-absorbent surface. This can include a rubberised or wet pour surface, or the use of loose impact attenuating surfaces (LIAS), to such as play chips or play bark, to be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions—commonly to a depth of 300mm. The chosen surface should extend at least 1.75 m away from the equipment. Weekly raking/levelling of loose-fill material is recommended. If using elastic or supple barks, topping up is best carried out prior to raking, so that the whole surface—old and new—has equal texture and consistency throughout.
Poorly designed or unsuitable equipment: Equipment should be purchased from a reputable suppliers and comply with British safety standards BS EN 1176 for Children’s Playground Equipment and Surfacing, or BS EN 1263-1:2014 safety requirements for netting. A post-installation inspection should be carried out, and the equipment should be appropriate for the age range of children who will use it (for example, if not intended for very young children, the first rung of a ladder should be too high for them to climb onto).
Damaged equipment: Defects must be reported and the equipment taken out of use, with clearly visible cordons and signage. If possible, the defective equipment should be removed completely, including any anchoring equipment, and any holes in the surface made safe. Equipment that has been tampered with or vandalised should be removed if it poses a danger to users.
Litter: The play area should be regularly inspected, and litter picking procedures must be carried out with the use of protective clothing and equipment for the safety of council employees. Particular care should be taken with unidentified cans/canisters, sharp objects, syringes and clinical waste. Litter must be disposed of safely, and if there is concern about hazardous items, the Environment Agency should be contacted.
Debris in or on the ground surface: Impact-absorbent surfaces have the potential to harbour harmful debris, such as glass or animal faeces, which could cause lacerations or infection. The area should be visually inspected and contaminants removed.
Poisonous/thorny plants: The playground and surrounding area should be regularly inspected for unsuitable plants and weeds to reduce the risk of skin irritation or scratches. Grounds maintenance procedures should be carried out, including safe disposal of plants and foliage where necessary. Additionally, the ground surface should be kept free from a build-up of leaves in autumn to help prevent injuries from slipping on wet leaves, or concealing litter or other objects which may cause harm in the event of a fall.
Documenting safety conversations with the RiskTalk app
Gallagher has teamed up with RiskTalk, a digital service that helps all kinds of organisations carry out more efficient risk assessments. RiskTalk is a voice-driven app that enables you to document safety conversations as they happen, helping you achieve more in-depth health and safety reporting and manage your legal health and safety requirements. It captures real-time data on the ground, recording the input of every person present in the safety conversation. You can find out more on our RiskTalk page.
Specialist risk management advice
Our Communities team helps many local authorities and community organisations with their insurance and risk management programmes. If you would like to speak to one of our specialists, please get in touch. Alternatively, visit our Public Sector page to find out more about how we can assist you.