Public play areas and play equipment naturally present an element of risk, and local authorities have a responsibility to help keep users safe, while protecting the council in the event of liability claims.

Author: Andy Cotter


Parks and play areas are integral to the cultural life of a borough, giving children somewhere to play and interact, and communities a space to enjoy valuable time outdoors. Playgrounds, especially, provide children with stimulating and challenging environments for exploring and developing their abilities, including the need to understand and embrace the element of risk. This means that for councils and community organisations, there must be a balance between providing quality spaces for children to play, and managing the equipment and infrastructure to reduce the possibility of accidents and injuries.

Common causes of playground injuries

Each year, there are approximately 40,000 injuries to children on playgrounds which require a hospital visit.1 Not all of these relate to play equipment, but of those that do, around 80% result in a fall to the ground or surface. Of these fall injuries, the most common involve swings (40%), climbing equipment (23%) and slides (21%)1, with one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment being overhead bars which rotate.

While some accidents may be down to user error (such as lack of supervision, misuse of equipment, or unsuitable clothing), others are due to unsatisfactory management of the equipment, and this is where there is scope for liability claims.

Causes of playground accidents involving mismanagement can include:

  • Faulty or damaged equipment
  • Incorrect installation
  • Poor design and layout
  • Poor inspection and maintenance of equipment
  • Recommended precautionary measures not visible/displayed
  • Grounds and supporting infrastructure (fences, gates, surfacing, etc.) not regularly inspected for safety issues
  • Aged or poorly maintained equipment
  • Equipment unsuitable for the intended age group
  • Missing or inadequate safety signage

Given that a large proportion of accidents result in children falling from equipment, often from a height, the playground surface is equally important to maintain, whether this is rubber flooring, wood chips or bark, artificial turf or another approved surface.

Safety standards for playgrounds

The most important factor when a claim is made is determining who is to blame, therefore local authorities and organisations should seek to protect themselves as much as possible by adhering to the recommended standards.

Both the play equipment and the surface, should comply with the British and European Standard for playground equipment and surfacing, BS EN 1176. While these standards are not retrospective or, currently, a legal requirement, they represent good practice in the event of an accident claim.

To help ensure the safety of users, and minimise risk of claims, appropriate guidance should be followed, from the design stages to ongoing maintenance:

  • Ensure professional advice is given on appropriate design and layout, with a focus on the intended age group.
  • The playground must be installed by a competent person in accordance with standard BS EN 1176, and a post-installation inspection carried out by an independent body.
  • If equipment pre-dates BS EN 1176, it is likely to have met the previous standards, but should be inspected by an expert (such as RoSPA) to check whether it is safe or may require remedial work.
  • Inspections should be carried out weekly, monthly, and annually—with the annual inspections carried out by an independent specialist.
  • All inspections should be recorded in writing as part of the council’s or organisation’s records, including the weekly visual checks.
  • Faults should be repaired quickly, and any unsafe equipment should be section off and clearly marked as out of use until it can be fully repaired.

Insurance and risk management working together

The insurance policy Gallagher offers requires reasonable steps to be taken to prevent or protect against injury, illness, loss or damage arising from the use of a playground or play equipment. Provided such steps are in place, and subject to all other policy terms and conditions being met, the policy will respond should a claim arise and the council or organisation is found legally liable.

The ability to demonstrate a responsible and proactive approach to risk management can also have a positive impact on your insurance premiums. Demonstrating that you have adequate controls and processes in place to reduce risk could ultimately lead to fewer losses and claims. Not only can this help to create a safer environment for the public and your employees, but it could also lead to lower premium increases at renewal.

Our Public Sector page explains in more detail how we help local authorities and their communities with their insurance and risk management needs.

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