Providing safe play space
By Alan Penn MSc
Playing fields are places for both children and adults to sport, run around, and play hide and seek. In winter, there's the shouting of football supporters, and in summer, the crack of willow on leather. For the people who run them, though, there's something else to be considered, behind this relaxed and carefree picture.
Playing fields can also be the scene of hidden horrors, from life-threatening infections and broken bones to court appearances and lengthy legal disputes.
The National Playing fields Association has been running its playing field risk assessment course for ILAM for a number of years. The aim is to set out what legislation applies to playing fields, and show participants what potential problems to look for. The one-day course - which naturally includes a hearty packed lunch - goes right through from the very basics to the question of undertaking an on site risk assessment.
Normally, the day begins with a look at legislation and how the law affects playing field providers. The obvious one is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which affects all employers, but there are others which relate directly to outdoor leisure areas. Covering all the legislation in a day would be impossible - but the course aims to introduce people to a shortlist of some of the most important legislation. This includes:
- Environmental Protection Act 1990
- Dogs (Fouling) Act 1996
- The Litter (Animal Dropping) Order 1991
- Occupiers Liability Act 1957 and 1984
- Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977
- Disability Discrimination Act 1995
- Consumer Protection Act 1987
- Trade Descriptions Act 1968
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
Each one is given a few minutes of detailed study, with recommendations of where more information can be obtained. We also look at particular case studies, just to lighten the mix and keep the brains ticking over.
Then there is insurance, covering both compulsory and non compulsory policies, and discussing issues such as professional indemnity, right through to vehicle insurance. We study some of the main published guidance for both British and European standards dealing with sport and play facilities.
The two areas that people find most informative are what we term the what, and the where. In this session we look at the statistics showing what accidents are happening and where. Nearly half of all accidents - 46% - occur during sporting or play and leisure activities. Of specifically sporting accidents, 75% come during ball sports, either with or without racquet, bat, stick etc. Interestingly the highest accident rate was a playing field surface and the lowest a practice net.
After an introduction on how to carry out a playing field risk assessment, the participants are let loose to undertake an actual on-site assessment. Even in the summer months, this normally involves a brolly and welly boots, but it is always an interesting exercise with a variety of findings, observations and participants discussions during the afternoon.
A number of participants have said how well it works to stay in the classroom for the morning session, before going outside for the afternoon and putting into practice all that has been learnt earlier in the day.
If participants go away with nothing more than the knowledge of how to undertake their own playing field risk assessment on their own sites, then it has been a very successful day. Should they have any problems with their sports areas or playing fields then their risk assessment will go some way to showing that they have taken all due care in assessing their sites and keeping records.
The day finishes with a de-brief on site and a run through some of the NPFA findings, along with a look at our "rogues' gallery" - our photographs of bad practice from around the UK.
There is only one way to find out whether your playing field is safe, or whether it has its own hidden horrors and belongs in the rogues gallery.
Further information about the one-day playing field risk assessment course can be obtained from ILAM. For information about Performance Quality Assessments of sports pitches and playing fields, Risk Assessments, drainage design and specifications, feasibility studies or project management or generally about the NPFA's acre a day project, please visit www.npfa.org
Alan Penn The National Playing fields Associations's Technical Officer, Alan is responsible for giving detailed professional advice on site management and maintenance of the Association's 1,000 sites, covering 8,000 acres, including the prestigious NPFA and King George V Memorial Playing Fields which includes Risk Assessment work for sports surfaces. He also assists with development and research work on sports turf projects for the association and works with other organisations on British and European Standards for sport.
Date of course Tuesday 13 June 2006
Novotel, Coventry ILAM in the Midlands
Duration 9.00am - 4.30pm with lunch and refreshments provided.
Course Cost Members £180.00 + £31.50 VAT Non-members £220.00 + £38.50 VAT
The Events Team,
ILAM Services, ILAM House,
Lower Basildon, Reading, RG8 9NE
Direct tel: 01491 874854
Fax: 01491 874801