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Does the issue of playground safety need to be addressed in the UK?

Playgrounds are supposed to be exciting areas for children. They provide opportunity for them to play, explore risk, socialise with others and create memories that are treasured long into adult life — but what happens when the risk becomes all too much?

We take a look at the current safety situation in playgrounds around the UK and what can be done to address any safety concerns without limiting play potential.

How safe are UK playgrounds now?

There has not been an abundance of research surrounding safety in the playground. However, some studies have taken place that do shine some light on the safety of our playgrounds.

One study, which was carried out by Play England, found that playing sport can be more harmful to a child than spending time in the play park. For example, rugby has the highest non-fatal accident rate per 100,000 hours of exposure, with roughly 280 incidents. Football and hockey are the next most dangerous, with approximately 130 and 90 incidents respectively. In comparison, public playgrounds have one of the lowest non-fatal accident rates at around 5 incidents per 100,000 hours of exposure.

Unfortunately, it’s not always safe to assume that playgrounds are 100% safe. Hotels, restaurants and public houses are creating playgrounds as part of their businesses too, and this is where many accidents are reported. The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Health and Safety Advisory Group suggested that these accidents were due to incorrect design and layout, poor inspection and maintenance, unsuitable clothing and lack of adult supervision amongst others.

Keeping our children safe

There are some things that authorities and parents can do to improve safety levels of playgrounds.

Actions carried out by councils and businesses

Of course, as parents understand, not all accidents are avoidable — sometimes children get a little too adventurous! Playground designers cannot be overly safety conscious when deciding how a playground should look or else the adventures and challenges that children enjoy in a play area will be eliminated. However, a well-designed playground will not raise any additional hazards for children and will encourage safe play.

When designing a playground, one important factor is the accessibility of the area to others. Parents with pushchairs must be able to navigate around the park to watch their children, disabled people and children must be able to enjoy the area and emergency services must be able to reach the play zone in the case of an accident.

The decision on what materials to use for apparatus and surfaces should not be taken lightly either. Hard surfaces should be non-slip, especially in rain and adverse weather conditions as this is a common cause of accidents. Impact absorbing surfacing should be fitted around all apparatus to reduce injury level in the case of a fall. This could be in the form of play bark (bark chippings) or sand. Surfaces should be level too, with adequate opportunity for drainage to reduce risk of corrosion on any of the equipment.

Actions carried out by parents and guardians

The main thing that parents and guardians can do is to keep a watchful eye over their little ones. In particular, keep an eye out for older and younger children playing together. This can lead to bullying or your child feeling uncomfortable when they are playing. In this situation, encourage your child to play on another piece of equipment and suggest to the appropriate authority that segregated areas could be beneficial. Keep an eye out for any litter too which may be harmful. For example, cigarette dumps, alcohol bottles or broken glass.

Always remind your children of how they should safely act around a roadside. Although playgrounds should not be placed next to a road, often children can wander off and put themselves in a dangerous situation. It’s understandable that parents cannot watch their children at all times and it is settling to know that your children are aware of the Green Cross Code if they come to a roadside.

Help prevent accidents by being proactive. Make sure that you report any problem in the playground to the appropriate authorities to avoid any accidents for other children. Ask your children about their experiences too after they have been playing; they might have come across something that you did not notice.

The research and advice for this article was provided by Compost Direct, retailers of lawn dressing and play bark.