Sentient are experts in helping those who provide adventure play areas develop robust health and safety risk assessments. Providers of play areas are legally obliged to complete a “suitable and sufficient” risk assessment of their facilities and to act on what they find. These may be slightly different from health and safety risk assessments in industry, since it has been recognised that some risk is actually beneficial to a child’s learning and development.
In the past risk assessment for play areas has leaned towards prevention of injury. More recently it has been realised that it is also important to assess the benefits in terms of enjoyment, health and wellbeing, and to manage the risks, rather than excluding them completely.
“Children need and want to take risks when they play. Play provision aims to respond to these needs and wishes by offering children stimulating, challenging environments for exploring and developing their abilities. In doing this, play provision aims to manage the level or risk so that children are not exposed to unacceptable risks of death or serious injury”. (Managing risk in play provision – Play England)
As such any risk assessment for play areas should take into account the benefits and risks associated with any activity, with attention to any hazards that could cause serious harm. It is not designed to remove all risks from children’s play but is intended to ensure that injuries are avoided by taking reasonable precautions.
Sentient work with play area providers in a number of ways to complete risk assessments. For some clients we have developed the complete Health and Safety risk assessment for adventure play areas from scratch, while for others we complete audits and provide guidance about existing risk assessment documents. Our structured approach provides a comprehensive risk assessment, designed to satisfy requirements of health and safety executive inspectors.
Any adventure playground risk assessment should include a comprehensive review of hazards or hazardous activity and identify the control measures that should be in place to mitigate any risks. For each control measure a person responsible for implementation should be identified. In addition our adventure playground health and safety consultants would look at the following areas.
Identification of the benefits of the play facility. This may include things like; giving the children opportunity have fun, test their balance or coordination, or develop interactive skills with other children.
Identify hazards associated with the play area. This may recognise such things as suspended ropes or beams, splinters in wooden equipment, or surfaces that may become slippery when wet.
Identify the risks associated with the above hazards; which would consider the possibility of bruising, strains or fractures from slips trips or falls, friction burns to hands, minor cuts or wood fragments in the skin.
Determine what expert views can be found on the nature of the risk and how authoritative are those views. These may consider views from relevant authorities such as Play England, RoSPA, or HSE as well as views from the provider resulting from observation of children at play.
Identification of relevant local factors; may include considerations such as the lack of alternative adventure play facilities in the locality. This potentially may have the effect of children seeking exciting activity in uncontrolled and potentially more hazardous places.
The options for managing the risks and the pros and cons of each. This section would consider implementing risk mitigation controls, for example segregating children into different play areas based on age/height, installing impact absorbtion surfaces, or employing extra staff for closer supervision.
Precedents and comparisons with how other organisations may have implemented may assist decision making. This section would take into account for example that there might be a local forestry commission site that allows tree climbing and den making or that a council has installed a climbing facility at a local park with similar precautions against injury.
The risk benefit judgement section analyses whether the benefits of children experiencing challenging, uncertain and rewarding environments outweigh the risks they may be exposed to. It makes a considered opinion based on all the preceding factors whether the risks can be justified.
The next section determines how the management of any risks is implemented for that adventure play area. It would determine for example how often pieces of play equipment would be inspected, how numbers of children would be controlled, which areas parents could play with their children or where they should be excluded. It would also determine the appropriate standards that would need to be complied with such as BS EN1176 for Children’s Playground Equipment and Surfacing or BS EN 1263-1:2014, safety requirements for netting.