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 our children without limiting their play potential.
The current accident rate in British playgrounds
It is hard to judge the overall safety levels in British playgrounds 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.
When you are reading about playground safety, you might automatically think of your local playground — one that has been created by the council and tested profusely. However, 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.
Reducing accidents and safety hazards
There are some actions that can be taken by parents and councils to reduce harmful incidents.
The council and/or local businesses
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. 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 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 seats around the play areas so that parents can supervise the children.
Parents and guardians
The key thing that parents can do is keep a watchful eye over what is happening in the playground.
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 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.
Often parks are situated near roads and you should remind your children of safety rules near the road whenever you can. 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.
Be hands on and proactive to avoid future hazards! Instead of simply removing your child from the situation make sure that you report the problem 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.