The sight of children playing outside in the fresh air, having fun in a public playground, is refreshing in the digital age where so many children spend hours in front of screens. And the attraction of playgrounds is enjoying somewhat of a resurgence, with local authorities and other organisations investing in a diverse range of equipment in their play areas.
Your local public playground may now have static outdoor gym equipment, modern types of swings, climbing equipment, a sunken trampoline – and even a table tennis table. Multi-sports equipment and multi-use games areas in council parks are also increasingly widespread. But whilst council investment in playgrounds is great news for children – and adults wanting to keep fit for free – local authorities have to work hard to comply with legislation to ensure the equipment and wider play areas are safe to use.
Unfortunately, children are naturally accident-prone so it’s no surprise that many children are hurt in public playgrounds for a variety of reasons, including from rough playing with friends, clumsiness, and even normal child play.
Typical causes of the more serious public playground injuries include broken, faulty or unsuitable equipment, falls from slides, slipping on wet surfaces, going down a slide on someone’s lap, exposed nails and sharp edges, and so on.
Where an external cause for hospital admission was recorded in 2018/2019, 8,410 hospital admissions followed falls from playground equipment, of which 7,456 were emergencies. When looking at age groups, the most accident-prone were children aged 5-9 (4,370 were admitted), while 1,860 children aged between 1 and 4 were admitted following playground falls.
Every local authority responsible for public playgrounds have a legal responsibility to manage the risks associated with the play equipment, as well as the wider area including fencing and surfaces. Local authorities have a duty to ensure children and others using public playgrounds are not exposed to an unacceptable risk of harm.
Whilst they cannot be expected to prevent every possible accident and injury to a child playing in a public playground (this would be an impossibility), they have a legal duty comply with the law, and related safety standards, that exist to minimise the risk to playground users. Even in the planning stage of a public playground area, the local authority has a duty to ensure the final design and layout will be translated into a safe playground.
Your local authority has a statutory duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to ensure the health and safety of public playground users so far as is reasonably practicable. Under the Occupiers Liability Act, they must also ensure that playground areas have the correct and appropriate signs up, including contact details of who to report accidents to.
Local authorities must also comply with stringent health and safety standards relating to free access multi-sports equipment, which includes safety and test methods. They must also comply with safety standards relating to publicly accessible outdoor exercise equipment which outline the safety requirements for the permanent installation of outdoor fitness and exercise equipment. They must, for instance, be of good quality, and the equipment must be installed according to strict safety requirements to make it safe, including using suitable impact-absorbing surfacing.
The local authority must inspect the playground annually, and undertake risk assessments. If the local authority is notified of a problem with, for instance, a piece of playground equipment – they must carry out the necessary repair work within a reasonable time period (taking appropriate measures to prevent anyone accessing that equipment in the meantime). If they don’t, and someone is injured while using it, the local authority will probably be found liable for those injuries.
Most playground injuries are minor, but if you or your child has suffered a non-minor injury in a public playground, you may be able to make a claim for personal injury compensation. However, you can only make a claim if the accident was caused by the local authority’s negligence or breach of duty of care.
It is important to have medical attention from a doctor as soon as possible after the injury, to help your child get over their injuries and so that there are medical notes on file. This will be vital for your claim. Take specialist legal advice early on, while the circumstances of the accident are fresh in your mind – photographs and sketches of the accident will be important pieces of evidence, and the sooner these are done the better.
If you are the parent and you were injured, you must start your claim within three years of the accident; however, you can claim on behalf of a child who has been injured until they are 18, at which point they have three years to bring a claim themselves. In practice, however, it is best to get the ball rolling quickly because memories fade, witnesses may not be easily located with the passage of time, and expert medical evidence will most likely be needed.
If you or someone close to you has been injured in a public playground, speak to a personal injury lawyer about pursuing compensation as early as possible. Most will work on a no win no fee basis, which means there is little risk financially to starting a claim.
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