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Play Equipment: Safety, Standards and Supervision

By: Denise Tyler - Updated: 8 Jun 2020 | comments*Discuss
Play Equipment Play Barns Indoor Play

Playbarns and indoor play areas are commonplace and rainy weekends are countered by visits to these large, purpose-built indoor play centres, such as those at the Wacky Warehouse pubs. While they are great fun, parents need to ensure that their children know the risks involved, and that if they misuse the equipment, then there is very little comeback if they are injured.

The same goes for outdoor play equipment, whether in your own garden or in a local park or playground. Obviously, common sense should prevail whatever your kids are playing on, but here are a few of the industry standards for you to bear in mind.

Safety Standards: Domestic Gardens
Play surfaces for domestic gardens should comply with safety standard EN1177. Basically this means it should be self draining and non-slip in order to do things like safely stop muddy patches under swings. The surfaces are widely available from places like Toys-R-Us in metre square tile form (it costs about £14.99 per tile), which fit together easily. It is very effective and can help Prevent Injuries From Falls up to 2.4m.

When Choosing Play Equipment, such as swings and slides, for use in domestic gardens it has to satisfy the British Toy and Hobby Association to standard EN718. It should also display the CE and Lion mark as an indication that is has passed stringent tests and is safe to use (see below for information on safety marks).

Safety Standards: Public Areas
In public areas, such as parks and playgrounds, surfaces again have to comply with the EN1177 standard (as above), and are generally much more heavy duty and hardwearing. Most new playgrounds now come with heavy rubber tiles or playbark to the necessary depth (according to the equipment used).

Unfortunately, animals often use playbark as a toilet, so make sure you keep an eye open for that! It is possible to fence off a play area so that larger animals can't get in there, but you'll never stop smaller animals such as cats and squirrels from getting in.

It is generally now recognised that gravel is not a suitable surface for a play area. Sand, of the correct type, can be OK under the right conditions and depth. Sand is more likely to cause a hazard by being thrown or eaten by younger children, so supervision by parents in public playgrounds is a must.

Playbarns and Indoor Play Facilities
For big indoor soft play areas, it's important to note that most reputable sites will have been approved at design or installation stage by RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) and that they will have had to satisfy a stringent set of tests to gain approval. You can always ask to see their inspection report if you are unsure.

They should also clearly display any restrictions or guidance for use of the equipment, so take a minute to check this out. If they haven't displayed it, point out that they should.

In most sites, ages should be segregated and this should be enforced both ways to avoid injury through boisterous play to smaller children.

While supervision is normally by the parent, there should be at least one member of staff in the room to act as a supervisor of the play area and they shouldn't be on the phone or having a chat, they should be watching. Most places will ensure that at least one member of staff is near by or in the apparatus with the children.

Disrepair can be a hazard and if the foam pads or padding are ripped, chunks of the foam can be a Choking Hazard. The foam pads also have to meet BS 5852 standards of fire resistance – although fire is a low risk, the high concentration of foam in one area means it would be highly flammable if it did catch fire.

The containment netting often found in the larger play areas can be dangerous as it can trap ankles or wrists and, if it is the wrong size, heads. The BS 4409 rules state that the netting should be easy to cut in case a child needs to be freed, and a standard size of 40-60mm should be used to best avoid this, roughly small enough to stop balls passing through but not so small as to reduce visibility.

Ball pits should be designed for minimum ball spillage, have surrounding netting and an easy open access. Junior ball pools should not be more than 600mm deep and toddler ball pools not more than 450mm deep so that children can remain clearly seen.

Indoor Play: What to Look For
In general, make sure that both the venue and you know that:
  • Users should remove footwear (except socks) and any other hard dangerous objects, such as buckles and badges. Glasses are best removed because of the risk of collision with other children.
  • Children should not eat, drink or chew gum on any indoor or outdoor equipment.
  • The proprietors should have a height/age restriction in place, which parents and children should adhere to. If in a public place, make your own judgement on whether your child is on the appropriate bit of equipment for their age/ability.
  • Don't block entrances and exits or allow children to play in them, as access may need to be gained quickly.
  • Don't allow children to climb on the walls (the netting) of indoor play centres, and encourage good, safe, proper use of the equipment.
  • Make sure staff know where first aid kits are and that someone has been trained to deal with basic injuries.
  • Hygiene levels are adhered to. Believe it or not, urine and faeces are often found in soft play and ball pool areas, so these areas should be cleaned daily and a daily inspection carried out.

    For more information about the kite mark and CE mark see our safety marks article.

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    Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
    Hello I am required to complete a risk assessment on a children’s soft play centrefor a safety exam and wondered if you could give me any suggestions on the primary hazards etc. Any help you can offer at all would be really appreciated thank you.
    Funkybuddha - 8-Jun-20 @ 5:18 PM
    Hi, I visited a soft play area and the front entrance was made of wood. The inside of the entrance was padded but no pads on top of the wood! Should there be?
    A.d123 - 18-Jan-19 @ 8:56 AM
    Hi, how far should you be away from a way down when inside the play frame in case of a fire?If you are 3 floors up in the soft play and want to get out quickly I’m guessing the slides would be best but could you please tell me how far the maximum distance between these should be? Thank you
    Sam - 2-Dec-18 @ 8:46 AM
    @Bec - I suppose there has to be a cut off point somewhere, but sad he had to miss out. My girl is the opposite as she is tiny, so often has to miss out for the opposite reason!
    Ju - 15-May-18 @ 9:25 AM
    Hi there. I'm currently sat in a soft play centre and it is absolutely freezing,I can actually see my own breath. They have no heating on at all and I am just wondering if this is legal please as all the parents/carers are sat freezing.
    Michelle - 6-Apr-18 @ 1:41 PM
    Hi, I visited a soft play area where they have a laser quest on the first floor. My son was able to open a door from the laser quest (meant for a fire escape) that had no bar or handle, simply pushed open. From this he accessed a pitch black metal stairwell which led downstairs to a bolted fire escape and another door leading into the play area. He has knocked on the door and somebody has let him in. Meanwhile we were all searching for him upstairs with no clue this was possible! Surely a fire door should have a bar or something in it and more importantly the stairwell should be lit up to prevent accidents?
    Bal c - 2-Apr-18 @ 6:04 PM
    Hi, Would just like to know if the cleaningcheck/regime sheet should be displayed in a play barn, reason I'm asking is that on the past 3 occasions I've taken my LO to a soft play centre, the following day he has become ill either with a cold or sickness bug. I'm not sure if it's a coincidence or not.
    Zozo - 31-Mar-16 @ 8:16 PM
    Hi, I recently visited a soft play and my son was able to escape from the soft play/cafe area into the reception area (beside the main door which he is able to open) I was just wondering, should soft play areas have child safety locks or high handles on their doors? Is this mandatory or a choice?
    Anon - 24-Nov-15 @ 9:17 PM
    clare - Your Question:
    Hi, I visited a soft play area with my son for a birthday party. He was playing on the slide and he got landed on my a 11/12 year old of big build. I was just wondering if they should be a height/weight restriction that soft paly areas have to go by? also should they be a member of staff surprising at all in the building. Thank you

    Our Response:
    You should check this out with the establishment directly, it should have its safetly policies listed. As specified most places will ensure that at least one member of staff is nearby or in the apparatus with the children and height and age restrictions should usually be in force for the safety of all children.
    SafeKids - 22-Sep-15 @ 2:08 PM
    Hi, I visited a soft play area with my son for a birthday party. He was playing on the slide and he got landed on my a 11/12 year old of big build. I was just wondering if they should be a height/weight restriction that soft paly areas have to go by? also should they be a member of staff surprising at all in the building. Thank you
    clare - 21-Sep-15 @ 6:59 PM
    I am building a a play area and need some information please. Need to know know about how high can a cave be for totters 3 to 5 year
    Tiaan - 28-Jul-15 @ 11:41 AM
    Hi hope you can help we recently took our children to a indoor soft play area when they told the children to get off the slide for 10minutes they polished it with Mr Sheen, the children were then allowed back on it was that slippy my 3 year old came down and landed on her head at a angle and my 5yr old got burnt on the back ours were not the only children injured. Could you please tell me if polishing it with Mr Sheen is normal??
    np - 22-Jun-15 @ 7:29 PM
    @Md - if you are looking to file a children's compensation claim, you would have to speak to a professional legal adviser to check whether you had a case.
    SafeKids - 8-Jun-15 @ 10:57 AM
    Hi,not sure if this was the right place to ask - my family & I were at a local pub which had an outdoor play area,my 4 yr old daughter was playing supervised with her sister and cousins, she climbed over a section of wooden wall (on the playframe)and caught the front of her leg on a sawn of screw, she is now left with a 2inch scar down the front of her leg. I reported it and the screw was immediately removed, is there anything I can do as I feel very sad this has happened to her and she is scarred ?
    Md - 5-Jun-15 @ 2:56 PM
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