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Safety of playgrounds and play equipment

If you are looking for guidance on designing safe playgrounds or selecting suitable equipment for a children’s play area, read on. While there are a number of essential factors to consider when designing a playground or other play space, safety is number one.

The value of safe, creative play

At Natureworks, we aim to inspire children with a wonder of the natural world by providing products for nature-based play. In doing this, we want kids to have fun! But we also want them to be safe. Anyone who manages a play area in a school, public park, shopping centre, water park, childcare centre or other play space shares this desire. Not to mention the children’s parents and carers, and the children themselves.

In fact, child’s play is a serious business! That’s where Natureworks’ years of practical experience come into play (excuse the pun). We understand the industry and can advise on how to create play experiences that are safe and fit for purpose. As a result, or child’s play range includes many safe, creative pieces with a touch of natural magic…

Standards for playgrounds and safe play equipment

To protect children’s safety, playgrounds and play equipment should comply with current standards for the relevant country. In Australia, Standards Australia publish Australian Standards for Playground Equipment and Surfacing (AS 4685). The standards include a number of parts – general safety, and specific requirements for items such as swings or slides. You can also see related standards for playground surfacing and fitness equipment.

Are playground safety standards compulsory?

The standards apply to any play space, whether large or small, inside or outside, private or public. However, in Australia, the playground standards are voluntary. They are not mandatory. As such, the guidelines are advisory, specifying minimum best practice requirements. Compliance is up to the owner or manager of the playground.

Having said this, state governments generally require compliance by organisations such as schools or childcare centres. Bear in mind also that in the event of legal action against playground owners, compliance against industry standards is a key consideration. A playground owner or equipment manufacturer should exercise a duty of care.

Which aspects of playground design do the standards cover?

The playground standards cover guidance on aspects such as play equipment height, soft-fall surrounds, product design and construction. They also cover playground layout, hazards in the environment, sun protection and maintenance.

Because the standards are quite detailed, it takes time to understand all the requirements. So does keeping up with the most current version of the standards. Natureworks is on top of this – we design and build playground products with safety in mind, and can advise on which products are suitable for play areas.

Formal safety certification of playgrounds and play equipment

While the playground standards exist as a guide to building safer play areas, formal certification is not compulsory in Australia, as mentioned above. But at Natureworks we are often asked to provide certified play equipment.

It’s important to bear in mind that a certified playground inspector must certify playgrounds and playground equipment. While Natureworks has a qualified certifier on the team, we can also engage certifiers to certify our products – or to inspect installations around Australia.

A number of products in the Natureworks range have been formally certified for use in playgrounds (AS4685), and we can arrange certification for others. Doing this involves following a rigorous process to ensure the product is safe and fit for its intended use.

Designing and selecting safe playground equipment

When designing or specifying animal play sculptures or playground equipment, it’s essential to consider how and where the items will be used. That knowledge will affect not just how the products look, but how they are constructed and installed. In turn, this will impact the production cost. So it’s good to be aware of what is (or is not) important for each item, to get value from your budget while ensuring playground safety.

For example, if a sculpture is on the ground and easily accessible for children to climb on, it will probably need reinforcing with a heavy-duty internal steel armature (such as this 2-humped camel). Similarly, a giant crocodile sculpture would need to have a closed mouth if used in a play area, to avoid the potential safety hazard of sharp teeth! Or if play equipment is in a water park, we would design it to reduce the risk of water pooling on potentially slippery surfaces. We would also design joints, handles and other features to ensure small fingers can’t get trapped.

However, it’s not all hard work and no play! Products used as decor items rather than play equipment do not require heavy-duty construction, and won’t need certification. A good example of this is Natureworks’ sculptures of birds on posts, such as the pelican on a post. Because the sculptures are up high, they are out of reach of children (and most vandals). And at the marine-themed mini-golf course we created in Redcliffe, a number of marine mammals and props are hanging from the ceiling, well away from little hands.

Take-home points about playground product safety

In summary, if you are specifying products for play areas, think about where you will install the items, who will use them, and how. Consider how to make the best use of your overall budget, and whether you need formal certification or heavy-duty construction for individual items. Finally, be aware of safety requirements, and consult an expert for advice.

The Natureworks team are only too happy to advise on which products might be suitable for your playground or play space. We can help with the design if you like, and throw in a few ideas to promote safe, imaginative play. Playground safety is not something we take lightly.

Please get in touch if you’d like to add a sprinkle of (safely-designed) natural magic to your project!

See also

References and further information

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