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Sunday, 12 May, 2002, 01:10 GMT 02:10 UK
Playgrounds 'need grading like ski runs'
climbing frame
Playgrounds are risky and should be labelled says Professor Ball
A safety expert is calling for playgrounds to be colour-coded like ski-runs to prevent them from being made so tame they are no fun for children.

Professor David Ball of Middlesex University says fear of legal claims over injury is forcing local authorities to make playgrounds less adventurous - or close them altogether.

He says grading playgrounds or equipment would give children and parents a guideline about how suitable they were for children of various ages and would allow councils to put in more exciting equipment.

So a black trail would be said to be suitable only for older children, while blue ones would be deemed safe for younger ones.

girls jumping
Professor Ball, who researches playground safety for the Health and Safety Executive, says playgrounds are and should be risky.

"Unfortunately playgrounds are being dumbed down, largely out of fear of litigation but we need to keep an eye on what playgrounds are all about.

"Some researchers would have all playground equipment below 1.5m but this conflicts with the notion of play value - of giving children excitement, enjoyment and a risk which they can learn to deal with," he said.

The idea of colour-coding playgrounds does not win the approval of the parents' organisation the National Confederation of PTAs.

The organisation's Margaret Morrisey says school playgrounds are already subject to close inspection and there are enough regulations.

"In general, playgrounds are very safe. If you went down this road, the costs would be prohibitive and perhaps schools would say they couldn't cope and then we would not have playgrounds.

"The most important thing is the safety of children, but we need children to have a challenging environment, although not a dangerous one, in order to learn."

Parental judgement

For playground safety expert Peter Heseltine at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, grading of playgrounds would be a notice too far.

"There are already enough notices in playgrounds, " he said.

"And the problem with this is it takes the responsibility away from parents, who are perfectly able to make judgements in respect of their own child.

"Some children are more confident and better coordinated than others."

Mr Heseltine said another problem was that such zoning would give a false high expectation of safety and could lead to more legal claims.

Professor Ball said the idea of taking away parental responsibility was "nonsense".

He said playgrounds were risky places and that parents should not think they were places they could just deposit their children and pay no attention to them.

See also:

08 Dec 00 | Education
Conkers hit by legal fears
22 May 99 | UK
The games children play
04 Aug 99 | Education
All work and no play...
12 Jun 00 | Education
School grounds relieve pupil stress
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