Is your playground safe?

14th February 2003 at 00:00
Phil Revell reports on what schools can do to prevent accidents like the tragic death of Rianna Davenport.

The tragic death of eight-year-old Rianna Davenport will have prompted heads all over the country to cast an anxious eye around their school site.

Rianna was killed when a tree fell into the playground of Surrey's West Ashtead county primary school. It was a freak accident, but every major storm results in a few deaths caused by trees. How worried should schools be? "We've planted 5 million trees and have yet to have a single incident like this," said a spokesman for the Woodland Trust. "Most accidents happen when trees fall on to roads."

The trust does, however, recommend some precautions. A look around the school site in mid-summer would identify trees with problems. Mature hardwoods such as the beech and chestnut are the most likely to fall after a storm.

"People should look for deadwood and for branches with poor leaf growth," said Mark Fletcher, the trust's tree safety officer. "On our sites we inspect trees overhanging roads on a yearly basis."

Trees may not be the most urgent danger, however. A more common hazard may be loose roof tiles or a hole in a fence allowing children to run on to a main road.

But just because a theoretical risk exists does not mean that a school has to axe an activity or close off part of the grounds.

Schools may have to balance different risks. One head was concerned about a fire-escape door that slammed violently in strong winds. Local safety officers backed his decision to lock the door on windy days: the slamming door was a bigger threat to children than fire.

If schools think that there is a problem they should get urgent advice - usually from their local authority. Every council has a safety officer and most a tree expert. Surrey education authority has promised tree inspections where schools have concerns.

Foundation and voluntary-aided schools can ask their insurers for help with risk assessment.

And before heads rush out with a chainsaw they should remember many trees are subject to a preservation order, though that would not stop action if there is a real risk.

"Dead, dying or dangerous trees should be dealt with," said Mark Fletcher.

"There's no need to wait for permission if it's dangerous."

Problems may arise if the danger - whether tree, fence, or derelict building - is on someone else's land. Good neighbours will deal with a problem, but legal action may be necessary if owners will not pay.

Meanwhile, the school would isolate that part of the site.

If there is a tragedy the school or council public liability policy should cover any claim. But a tree fall could be seen as an "unforeseeable occurrence", in which case no one would be at fault and no claim would succeed.

phil.revell@ukonline.co.uk

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now