Call to ditch red tape on playtime safety

1st March 2013 at 00:00
Experts dismiss paperwork designed to protect children at play from injury

Most of the red tape designed to protect children at play can be discarded, according to "seminal" guidelines issued by the Health and Safety Executive.

In a plain-speaking statement, it dismisses the "misguided security blanket" of reams of paperwork that purport to prevent children from harm.

"Sensible adult judgements are all that is generally required to derive the best benefits to children whilst ensuring that they are not exposed to unnecessary risk," it says.

Assessments should focus on "the real risk, not the trivial and fanciful"; complex calculations of risk and benefit obscure that play is, by and large, safe and beneficial.

The prospect of legal action when things go wrong has been "blown out of all proportion", adds Children's play and leisure: promoting a balanced approach.

Delegates at a conference in Edinburgh, organised by Grounds for Learning and Play Scotland, were delighted to hear the HSE promote its statement.

"We're in an era where someone's got to be to blame - in fact, accidents are part of learning and growing," said Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. "We have to allow children to get dirty, take chances and perhaps sustain - hopefully minor - injuries."

Speakers expressed their frustration about sack races being outlawed, and leather footballs being replaced by foam balls.

Play Scotland cites research suggesting that half of children aged 7-12 are not allowed to climb a tree without an adult present, and one in five that age have been stopped from playing conkers because it was thought too dangerous.

"This seminal statement allows for a more adventurous approach to children's play, which in turn should lead to lots more children playing out, having fun and feeling good," said Marguerite Hunter Blair, chief executive of Play Scotland.

Grounds for Learning programme manager Alastair Seaman said: "This statement clears the way for schools, early years settings and local authorities to begin to provide what we know children need."

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk

STRIKING THE RIGHT BALANCE ...

Does mean:

- Weighing up risks and benefits when designing and providing play opportunities and activities;

- Understanding that the purpose of risk control is not the elimination of all risk, and accepting that the possibility of even serious or life-threatening injuries cannot be eliminated.

Does not mean:

- All risks must be eliminated or continually reduced;

- Detailed assessments aimed at high-risk play activities are used for low-risk activities.

From the HSE's Children's Play and Leisure: promoting a balanced approach bit.ly13iaxdc.

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