It’s universally agreed that playgrounds help children to develop strength, coordination, social interaction and more. So, playground safety is always top of the list. Sadly, from time to time youngsters will get the odd bump or bruise as they try something new.

Finding how far you can push the boundaries is an essential life skill. As well as this, it’s highly beneficial when learned in a safe environment, such as a well-designed playground facility. But unfortunately it has not always been like that.

Keeping children at play – legal

Pushing boundaries is an essential life skill and highly beneficial when learned in a safe environment. But it hasn’t always been like that. As a result, there is a whole host of new legislation designed to protect children at play.

Old fashioned playgrounds with medieval equivalents of battering rams or “cheese cutters” threatening life and limb are a thing of the past. Thanks to new legislation introduced in 1978, the Department of the Environment notified District Councils and major local authorities the need to improve playground safety.

Things changed further in 1992 with new advice published by the Department of Education and Science updating Playground Safety Guidelines. Another update came again in 1998 and 10 years later when Play England published the Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation Guide which gave recommendations on risk-benefit assessment.

As a result, there are now many more laws than there used to be 30 years ago and, according to Playcubed, one of the country’s fastest growing designers and installers of modern playground equipment, it is more essential than ever that schools and others users of play equipment are aware of their responsibilities.

Two types of law cover playgrounds in England and Wales. There are slight differences in Scotland and Northern Ireland. European requirements are not taken into consideration but there may be some future impact on children’s playgrounds through the publication of the European Standard (EN 1176) on children’s playground equipment.

Common Law covers playgrounds as well

This is, essentially, law made by a judge sitting anywhere in the country and relates to claims alleging negligence. The significance of individual judgements will vary depending on where they make them.

More important is the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (1974) which is the major legislation covering playgrounds. There is a duty under Sections 3 and 4 of the Act to ensure the health and safety of users, so far as is reasonably practicable. Playground operatives should contact their local Health and Safety Executive for advice.

Under an addition to the Act, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) requires a risk assessment of facilities, a safety policy for meeting the risks and appropriate training.

There are other types of legislation to consider. Such as the Occupier’s Liability Act (1957, Revised 1984) which requires that people can expect to be reasonably safe when using the playground; the Consumer Protection Act (1987) which makes commercial manufacturers liable for injuries as a result of defective products. Also, there is the Children Act (1989). Playgrounds with facilities registered under the Act’s requirements need to be safe and suitable for their purpose, meeting relevant standards.

Keeping children safe while at play is no longer kids’ stuff. But, if you are aware of the rules then there’s no reason to worry.

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