Risk assessment

The Association of Play Industries (API) is urging schools to recognize the many positive benefits of challenging play

Children crave exciting, fun play environments. Evidence shows that challenging play benefits children of all ages – after all, it’s not climbing up the tree that teaches lessons in life, it’s coming down that counts. With a few scrapes along the way, it’s the journey that is significant and we are wiser for it.

The Association of Play Industries represents manufacturers, installers, designers and distributors of play equipment and safety surfacing. It campaigns at the highest levels for policy recognition for play. Member companies know risk assessments needn’t restrict enjoyment or fun because children benefit from a degree of risk when playing.

Chairman Michael Hoenigmann says: “Far from wrapping children in cotton wool, we provide high-quality play equipment with plenty of challenge. The benefits are indisputable.”

API members believe in the benefits of managed risk, ensuring that every play design includes challenge. If approached with common sense, challenging play takes children outside their comfort zone, teaching valuable lessons about their capabilities and skills. They grow confidence, resilience and self-awareness in the process, ready for life’s inevitable challenges.

Challenge in play comes in many forms, from using equipment that pushes physical limitations for the intended age group to learning new skills or doing something a new way. Either way, recognizing the difference between challenge and hazard is important.

Applying common sense is essential. Schools have a duty of care to demonstrate diligence and to remove unforeseeable hazards that may cause injury. The Register of Play Inspectors International say challenge is a desirable attribute encouraging children to explore their limitations and develop new skills. A hazardis a negative influence associated with something being wrong with the equipment, surfacing or surrounding environment which could harm a child.

The Children’s Play Safety Forum’sManaging Risk in Play Provision’ is an invaluable guide for schools. It is endorsed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), API and others.

Before opening a new play area, a post-installation inspection should take place, undertaken by a registered, certificated Register of Play Inspectors International (RPII) inspector. This can be commissioned by the school or play company. Regular repair and maintenance is also vital to eliminate hazards, and servicing and replacement of worn-out parts keeps play equipment safe and compliant. API members provide nationwide maintenance and repair services.

Health and safety concerns sometimes impede positive thinking about the benefits of managed risk in playgrounds. Commonly held myths include: 

  • Playground equipment is less exciting nowadays. API members offer a vast array of challenging play equipment for schools, much of it curriculum-linked and designed to deliver learning, developmental and physical literacy outcomes. 
  • Safety surfacing makes playgrounds less exciting. Impact-absorbing surfacing is designed to protect children against critical head injury. Far from limiting challenge, surfacing can be used as a standalone resource to demarcate distinct play zones. Many schools use interesting surfacing to increase physical activity levels. Additional play and learning value can be incorporated with trails, paths and hopscotch or numbers, letters, words and shapes to support literacy and numeracy. 
  • European legislation has banned exciting playground equipment. The purpose of European and British safety standards is to prevent serious injuries, not to limit challenge. All API members conform to relevant standards. While not mandatory, they are viewed as best practice by the API, play industry and judicial systems. 

While no one wants children injured, they inevitably face the occasional bump, fall or collision when playing. The API is urging schools to take a balanced approach to risk and choose a reputable play company that provides expert advice.


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