Current legal requirements

The whole of the protection currently afforded to playground users in relation to civil and criminal law derives from that same legislation and relevant case law which protects us in every other aspect of our working, leisure and community lives. There is no specific ‘Playground Safety Act’ and this is interesting because, in contrast to the play and recreation lobby, there is no evidence of employers or the trades unions urging the benefits to be derived from knowingly entering or utilizing premises or apparatus with recognizable risk potential.

Following a landmark legal judgment, all British Standards now include a statement to the effect that compliance with a British Standard does not of itself confer immunity from legal obligations. In other words, providers of playgrounds and equipment are required to take every possible step to ensure safety; mere compliance with the relevant standard is not enough.18 Case law has further established that providers are expected to be aware that children do not always use equipment in the anticipated way. In particular, the duty of councils to undertake or to commission regular inspections of play space and equipment is clearly embodied in legislation and established as good practice.

Councils, like other providers, are required to ensure that visitors to their premises are safe. This duty of care applies to all, including unauthorized visitors, and warning notices offer little protection against actions for negligence. Children cannot be expected either to read or to respond to notices, and are known to be less careful than adults and so require special consideration and protection. In short, playground designers and providers are expected to be aware of and address foreseeable causes of injury to any site user. Similarly, the requirement to carry out a risk assessment at specific intervals or in response to changes cannot be ignored. Various legislation concerning health and safety requires providers to ensure that people are not exposed to risks and must make a ‘suitable and sufficient’ assessment of risk.19