Saturday, 17 September 2011

Tragic Fatal Accident on School Outdoor Play Equipment

This week a boy of five died in a playground accident at a School very close to me

Obviously it too early to know whether Schools can learn anything from this tragic accident.

The incident caused me to look at what advice is out there for the safety of outdoor play equipment.


This guidance sets down the standards for the safety of outdoor play equipment in Schools.

It is intended to assist those persons responsible to meet the requirements of current legislation. It is also intended to ensure that, whenever outdoor play equipment is purchased and operated, the safety of children is managed effectively.

Provision of Equipment

Outdoor play equipment must be designed, constructed, installed and maintained in accordance with European standards BS EN 1176 and BS EN 1177.

These European standards are not retrospective or a legal requirement but represent good practice in the event of an accident claim. Play equipment which was considered safe under earlier standards will still be safe under the new standards. The independent competent person carrying out annual inspection and maintenance will advise whether any alterations need to be made.

The following paragraphs contain a very brief synopsis of these standards, sufficient to inform headteachers and other managers of what is required. Any new equipment installed in Children's Services establishments must meet the following criteria.
  • Scramble and climbing elements must not be any higher than 3.0 metres. For children below the age of five years the height should be restricted to a maximum of 1.6 metres.
  • Uprights must be firmly set into the ground to ensure stability. Any concrete used in footings must be set well below the surrounding surfaces and account must be taken of likely wear and erosion effects which may expose sharp, hard edges.
  • All bolts and fastenings must be inset, plugged and have no sharp edges. There should be no openings likely to trap fingers, limbs and heads.
  • Height should not be the dominant feature on any item of equipment. Interest, challenge and enjoyment can be achieved without the need for height for its own sake.
  • All footings and handling surfaces should offer sufficient grip for feet and hands and resist wear.
  • The diameters of tubes used as handholds must be suitable for the age and physical capabilities of the children who will use the equipment.
  • Surround surfaces should be non-slip, uniformly level and impact absorbing.
  • The extent of surfacing around static equipment is dependent on the fall height of the equipment.
  •  The independent competent person carrying out annual inspection and maintenance will advise on the extent of surfacing required for both static and moving equipment. Structures must be spaced clear of each other to prevent one activity interfering with another. They must also be clear of other obstacles such as walls, fences, etc.
  •  Suppliers of new equipment must supply a range of product information including details of surfacing requirements, intended age range, availability of spare parts, risk assessment of item, full installation instructions, servicing, inspection and maintenance instructions.
Further Information and Advice

As well as BS EN 1176 and BS EN 1177, there are other documents which contain advice on planning and operating outdoor play equipment, some of which are:
  • DfE - "Playground Safety Guidelines"
  • Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management - "Outdoor Play Areas for Children"
  • National Playing Fields Association - "Towards a Safer Adventure Playground".
  • ROSPA – ‘Children’s Playgrounds’
  • ROSPA – ‘A Guide to the New European Playground Equipment and Surfacing Standards’

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