Playgrounds play a great part in the development of a child, the memories in a play park are often ones that are remembered. They’re the place where we play and explore risk, socialise with others and create memories that we will treasure long into adult life — but what happens when the risk becomes all too much? Retailers of lawn top dressing and play bark, Compost Direct have provided us with some research on playground safety and some suggestions on how to improve the levels of safety in a play area. We look specifically at the accident rates before offering tips to prevent injury and safeguard children without limiting their play potential.
The current accident rate in British playgrounds
It is hard to judge the overall playground safety levels in Britain as there is little research surrounding this. However, some studies have taken place that do shine some light on the safety of our playgrounds.
One notable study is that done by Play England. They suggest that when you compare the risks involved of playing in a playground to partaking in a sport, the sport poses more harm to a child. 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.
The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Health and Safety Advisory Group suggest that many playground accidents are due to incorrect design and layout, poor inspection and maintenance, unsuitable clothing and lack of adult supervision – amongst other reasons.
Playground safety hazards
There are some actions that can be taken by schools to reduce harmful incidents. Of course, children love exploring and being mischievous and often accidents are inevitable. 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 considering the layout of a park, a key thing should be that it is easily accessible by those who need it. Large groups must be able to navigate around the park, disabled children need access and emergency services must be able to reach the play zone in the case of an accident.
The materials that are used to create surfaces in the park should have been carefully evaluated and tested for safety hazards. 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. In a park, there should be plenty of seats around the play areas so that children can socialise.
What can teachers do?
The key thing that staff can do is keep a watchful eye over what is happening in the playground to ensure effective safeguarding.
Keep an eye out for older and younger children playing together. Although we don’t like to think so, this can lead to bullying or your child feeling uncomfortable when they are playing. In this situation, encourage children to play on another piece of equipment. Age-segregated areas can be beneficial for this reason – as well as accessibility reasons. Keep an eye out for any litter too which may be harmful.
Take on board suggestions for improvement around playground safety too – ask your pupils about their experiences; they might have come across something that you did not notice.