Playground safety in the UK & how to improve it

Playgrounds are a key part of any childhood. 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?

Together with Compost Direct, retailers of lawn top dressing, we examine the current safety of playgrounds in the UK – looking specifically at the accident rates before offering tips to prevent injury and safeguard our children without limiting their play potential.

How dangerous are British playgrounds?

Asking the question about the dangers of British playgrounds is a tricky one to answer, as there is no single authoritative report into accidents that occur in the playground. However, some studies have taken place that do shine some light on the safety of our playgrounds.

According to Play England, public playgrounds pose little harm to our children compared to other sports children may play. 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 we say playground, we tend to think of playgrounds that have been created by the council and vigorously tested to be accident proof. 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.

Protecting our children in the playground

What councils/businesses can do

Of course, some accidents are unavoidable and 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.

First of all, it is important that a playground is accessible to all. 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.

Materials used for surfaces in a playground should be carefully considered. 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.

There should also be seats and sitting areas around the equipment and park in order for parents and guardians to be able to monitor their children at all times.

What parents can do

The main thing that parents can do to protect their children in the playground is supervise and notice any potential safety hazards.

One thing that parents should look out for is older children and younger children playing in the same area. 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.  

Try and teach your children of road safety at every opportunity. 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.

As soon as you spot any hazardous equipment or potential safety hazards, don’t simply remove your child from the playground. 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.

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