However, the freedom of being exposed to the great outdoors comes with many risks and hazards that have to be carefully monitored to create a safe playing environment. Safety within schools is a hot topic and although not all accidents can be prevented, steps can be taken to eliminate the chances. We’ve put together a handy checklist to make sure your school playground is promoting safe play, without having to wrap them up in bubble wrap.
Play Area Design
Creating an engaging space for young minds isn’t as simple as a swing and a slide, the more complex the environment, the greater quality of learning. Careful thought and planning needs to go into the placement and design, choice of equipment and surfacing. All of this should stem from an initial consultation which should include the school children and parents as well as other key decision makers.
Deciding on the space is the first thing that should be taken in account when designing a school playground. Play England have developed an assessment tool, with 10 principles for parks within the community, which schools can use to ensure they’re making the most of their space. These include making sure that they are well located, away from any environmental hazards and in sight of adults at all times.
Every adult’s stomach drops when time they see a child trip or fall, but in schools and playgrounds it’s one of the most common causes of accidents. According to The Royal Society for The Prevention of Accidents
(RoSPA), 50% of injuries from trips or falls result in a hospital visit. However, the severity of these falls can be reduced with an installation of a protective surfacing.
If you’re installing an entirely new play space then comprehensive planning needs to go into the surfacing. Depending on the height of fall depends on the type of material needed to surface the area. If the height of fall is 600mm or less, then no tested is surface is required, however anything over this will require some kind of protective overlaying.
When choosing a supplier you need to ensure that they supply installation and maintenance instructions and inspection procedures. The RoSPA also recommend that they have evidence that their products have been tested in accordance with Europeans Standards BS7188 and EN1177, and it should be installed to the areas given in EN1176.
Figures from the RoSPA show that 40% of accidents are related to play equipment, with 80% of these resulting in a fall to surface. Not only does this mean it’s important to have the right surrounding surface but the right play equipment. It should not only be age appropriate to match developmental needs, but areas should be set out to provide different spaces, with one of Play England’s 10 principles stating that, there should be a wide range of play experiences provided. We’ve split these into four key areas:
- Active: Climbing Frames, Adventure Trails, Roundabouts, Springers, Climbing Walls, Towers, Swings & Zip Wires
- Imaginative: Storytelling, Play Boat/Car/Train, Amphitheatre, Wooden Shop/Garage, Tunnel, Bridge, Wooden Play Hut
- Discovery: Sensory Spaces, Water & Sand Play, Music Areas, Activity Panels, Games, Game Top Tables, Nature Areas,
- Landscape: Outdoor Furniture, Fencing, Storage, Litter Bins, Planters, Shade Shelters
The materials and finishes should also be taken into account when designing your playground. If you’re planning to use Timber, it should be resistant to ground decay, and any natural cracking shouldn’t exceed 10mm wide due to being defined as a finger trap by the EN 1176.
As collisions are the second most common type of accident in the playground, you also need to ensure that any open constructions such as a shade shelter have appropriate padding around them. Safety Pads can provide you with a wraparound protective layer to cushion any impact pupils have with freestanding poles.
Inspection & Maintenance
Continued management is as equally important as thoughtful planning when it comes to school safety. A principal inspection should be carried out post-installation, which should be conducted by an independent organisation such as the RoSPA or the Play Inspection Company.
Routine and Operational Inspections
- These should be carried out by the playground manager or a member of staff and recorded in a book or log to ensure the day-to-day use of the equipment is safe. This is to check for hazards not only on the equipment but the whole playground such as pathways, fences and seats.
- Similarly to the post-installation inspection, an independent body should carry out the yearly check. This covers everything from long-term structural issues to changes in the Standard compliance, alerting you to any maintenance that may be required.
- Your playground equipment manufacture should supply you with details for basic routine maintenance and include security of fixings, surfacing maintenance etc. Like with the inspections, there should also be an existing system for recording and checking on any repairs.
Although not every accident can be prevented, most can with the right adult supervision. Having members of staff on the look-out at play times makes all the difference, especially if they know what they’re looking out for. Staff should be trained to identify and eliminate any risks such as ensuring pupils are wearing the correct footwear, or putting in place control measures such a rota basis for the play equipment.
To find out more about how we can help schools, nurseries and playgroups become safer environments, visit our schools page.