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Health & Safety Certificate - Health & Safety Course for Childcare Level 2


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Play & Play Equipment Hazards - learn

‘This chapter deals with common accidents involving play activities and play equipment in a professional childcare environment, both in door and out of doors, and considers how through good procedures and training the risk to child safety can be minimised and controlled’.

EYFS outcomes covered in this chapter:

  • 3.20-3.26 - Staff qualifications, training, support and skills
  • 3.50 – 3.51 – Accidents & Injuries
  • 3.54 – 3.55 - Safety and suitability of premises, environment and equipment
  • 3.57 – 3.63 - Premises
  • 3.64 - Risk assessment


Play is important to child development. Research shows that play has many benefits for children, families and the wider community, as well as improving health and quality of life.

Benefits of play:

  1. Increased self-awareness and self-esteem
  2. Improved physical and mental health
  3. Provides an opportunity to (learn to) mix with other children
  4. Promotes imagination, independence and creativity
  5. Builds resilience through risk taking, problem solving, and dealing with new situations

Health and safety should not be used as a reason or excuse to discourage play. The goal should not be to entirely eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits, then strike a balance between protecting children from the most serious risks, and allowing them to experience the benefits of play and prepare for the future.

Play and the Law

You have a duty of care and legal obligation to ensure that play activities are safe and fit-for-purpose. In theory, every play activity taking place should have been through a risk-assessment. If you get a new item of equipment, e.g install a new play house, this should have happened before the first child gets to play with it.

Play Equipment Accidents

Reasons for play equipment accidents:

  1. Poor equipment design or layout
  2. Unsuitable equipment for the intended age group
  3. Incorrect assembly or installation of equipment
  4. Poor play equipment maintenance
  5. Failure to inspect equipment (or act on a known problem)
  6. Lack of appropriate supervision
  7. Use of equipment in unsuitable clothes or weather conditions

External Play Surfaces

Falls are the main danger in outside play. It’s vital to site any equipment identified as a potential fall hazard on an appropriate surface.

Grass – Grass is a natural material and good developmentally. RoSPA’s view is that grass is a suitable material for use under and around equipment from which falls of less than 1.5m are possible.

Bark, sand, wood chips – Natural and low-cost Impact Absorbing Surfaces. All require maintenance and periodic replacement, and all work better when regularly raked and loosened.

Rubber compound flooring – Recommended around play equipment and fall areas/higher risk areas. Proven to reduce the severity of slips, trips and fall accidents, particularly head injuries.

Tarmac & Concrete – Offers no impact protection whatsoever and is not recommended for outside play spaces.

Play Equipment Quality Standards

None of the the following quality standard marks above mean that the actual toy or equipment is completely safe. They simply mean the design has been inspected and considered safe within reasonable use.

Remember you still have to install, use and supervise the play within the scope of ‘reasonable use’. If you don’t fit a car seat properly or strap the child in correctly, you cannot blame the manufacturer when the baby flies out of the window whilst driving round a corner.

The following describes how quality standards/marks work in the UK and what to watch out for when making toy and play equipment purchases.

BS/EU Standards – A partnership between manufacturers, safety experts, government & leglislators to establish minimum quality standards, backed by UK and EU law. By law, goods should pass the safety sections of these standards. They are often marked on the packaging of the product, and in some cases are on the product itself.

UK/EU safety standards for toys and equipment:

  • Safety Seats: Standard ECE R44.03
  • Toys: Standard EN71
  • Cots: Standard EN716
  • Highchairs: Standard BS 14988-1
  • Pushchairs and Prams: Standard BS 7409
  • Safety Gates: Standard EN1930

The Kitemark - This means that the BSI British Standards Institution has independently tested the item, confirms that the product design conforms to the relevant British Standard, and has issued a BSI license to the company to use the Kitemark. Manufacturers pay for this service, it’s a voluntary scheme but considered trustworthy and rigorous.

The Lion Mark - The Lion Mark was launched approx. 20 years ago by the BTHA (British Toy and Hobby Association) to act as a recognisable consumer symbol indicating safety and quality to UK toy buying consumers.  BTHA members supply around 95% of all toys sold in the UK.

The CE Mark - This symbol plus the name and address of the manufacturer/original first supplier is required by law to appear on all toys in the EU since 1990 and shows it all European standards.  This is NOT a safety symbol. The CE mark simply indicates that the toy or equipment is for sale in the EU and meets the (quite basic) safety requirements of ETSD (European Toy Safety Directive).

Second-Hand Goods

While all new products should meet minimum safety standards, second-hand goods may have been built to an old standard, or there may not have been a standard at all when they were made. In addition, wear and tear may have made them unsafe. If in any doubt about the safety of items designed for young children, especially second-hand ones, don't use them.

Play Equipment General Advice

Trampolines, swings, slides, climbing frames and inflatables are some of the many popular types of play equipment that children love to play with, yet all of them present their own potential risks.

Universal play equipment advice:

  1. Take action to reduce the risks & supervise children while they play
  2. Allow children to play only on equipment suitable to their age and developmental stage.
  3. Check that all play equipment is in good condition working condition
  4. Make sure safety features are bought as well, safety nets, mats helmets as appropriate
  5. Purchase good quality play equipment with appropriate quality marks
  6. Properly assemble, secure and test play equipment - following manufacturer's instructions

Let’s look at some specific play activity and play equipment related hazards and how best to minimise any threats to child safety…

1. Sand Pits

Sand play is one of the most popular and appropriate pieces of equipment which can be provided in play.

Sand play advice:

  • Position the sandpit/sand play area in the shade in summer and in full view of staff
  • Have a cover to prevent animals accessing or using as toilet (cats notorious for this)
  • Visually inspect prior to use, and rake to check for foreign bodies
  • Regularly sieve the sand to remove foreign objects
  • Ideally use white sand and replace when contaminated
  • Supervise children at all times
  • Regularly disinfect with a weak solution of child-safe household disinfectant sprinkled on using a watering can (keep children out of the sand area for a day afterwards).

2. PVC Crash Mats

PVC backed foam cushioned mats, commonly referred to as ‘crash mats’ provide good protection levels particularly when covering hard floors such as concrete or tiled areas.
Crash mat advice:

  • Mats should be used in high risk areas, including around slides and other climbable equipment
  • PVC fabrics and surfaces should be washed down with detergent solution and if necessary a weak disinfectant solution dependent on soiling
  • The depth (thickness) of matting should be proportionate to the risk, a 1 inch mat is not suitable protection for anything other than a very minor fall
  • Be aware that secondary injuries may occur where the child bounces off the mat and onto some other object resulting in a head injury
  • Mat choice should be clearly identified in the documented safe procedures for the play activity in question.

3. Ball Pools

Although clearly safer than water, accidents involving ball pools can and do still happen. Remember to design, risk assess and supervise carefully.

Ball pool advice:

  • Ball pools should have a maximum depth of 0.45m to minimise the danger of accidents from concealment.
  • Ball pools should not be entered directly from a slide.
  • Balls should be a minimum diameter of 70mm to prevent choking, ball pool surfaces should have continuous level bases and slides that are easily cleanable (carpet not recommended).
  • If the ball pool becomes soiled, evacuate and close immediately. Remove all balls into net bags, wash in water containing a detergent solution, immerse in a solution of sanitizer, drain and allow to air dry fully, clean base and sides and dry, inspect before replacing.

4. Water Safety

Water holds a particular fascination for children under the age of five. It’s unlikely that you will have a garden pond at your childcare premises, but any rainwater butts, paddling pools or simply buckets half full of rainwater, a young child will invariably investigate.

Of all the play activities, water requires the closest and more careful supervision. And it doesn’t have to be a formal water feature or play activity to involve tragedy. Water can easily gather in various ways outside to become a potential drowning trap.

UK child drowning deaths:

  • 131 children drowned between 1993 and 2003 in a ‘small body of water’ (pond, paddling pool, water butt, bucket for example).
  • Children aged 1-2 particularly at risk (rapidly increasing mobility, little/no concept of danger)
  • Children 4+ less at risk (begin to understand danger and listen to warnings)
  • Drowning often occurs within a couple of minutes of the supervising adult being distracted
  • 50% of drownings occur when the child escaped supervision after ‘wandering off’

4. Water Safety (cont) - Paddling Pools

HSE statement on paddling pools:

“A paddling pool, even if shallow, involves a low but irremovable risk of drowning (even with supervision) but this is normally tolerable. The likelihood is typically extremely low, the hazard is readily apparent, children benefit through their enjoyment and through the learning experience of water play and finally, further reduction or management of risk is not practicable without taking away the benefits”.

Whether your nursery choses to use a paddling pool (or other water play, many do not) will depend on the management decision and risk assessment.

Paddling pool advice:

  • Paddling pools should always be emptied and turned upside down after use
  • If soiling occurs close, drain and clean the pool with detergent then weak disinfectant
  • Beware the distraction, eg dealing another injury, the phone, or answering the door
  • Supervise, supervise, supervise!

5. Inflatable Play

Kids love inflatables and they can be a great way to experience learn and share. However they are not without their risks.

Inflatable advice:

  • Site the inflatable on level flat ground free from sharp objects
  • Ensure play is age appropriate, inflatables are generally not suitable for those under 2yrs
  • Do not mix children of different weight or height or age, do not overload
  • Make sure the blower is at least 1.2 metres from the inflatable (reduces likelihood of child falling onto it)
  • Make sure the equipment has the appropriate safety kite marking, ideally a PIPA
  • Use surround mats to reduce the severity of any fall from equipment
  • Do not allow children to climb the side or otherwise use not as intended by manufacturer
  • Deflate the inflatable after use to prevent unsupervised use
  • Risk assess, and train staff
  • Always supervise and do not allow children to use if insufficient additional supervision and support is not available
  • Beware of children crawling around blind side of equipment or attempting to go underneath
  • Electrical fans can be in wet conditions (dew, damp, rain etc) and can offer multiple threats to inquisitive children

6. Climbing Frames

Climbing frames offer children a great active way of learning. Most obvious injuries are falls, however there have also been crush and strangulation deaths associated with climbing frames.

Climbing frame advice:

  • Carefully sited on level ground in direct view of staff
  • Fixed with appropriate foundations and fixings to prevent it toppling over
  • Well designed with suitable safety standard marking (and a factory risk assessment)
  • Appropriate Impact Absorbing Surface used under and around the equipment
  • All ropes fixed top and bottom to reduce likelihood of becoming entangled
  • All ropes should have only modest movement between fixings meaning it cannot be twisted around the neck/body to create a loop
  • Risk assessed once in position with care given to assessing the danger as of any blind spot it may create from staff view
  • Careful supervision is a given hopefully!

7. Seesaws & Swings

The most obvious injury is a fall or injuring another child by swinging into them. The same warnings apply over equipment using ropes described in the previous (climbing frames and ropes) section

Play swing advice:

  • Swing design should be age appropriate and should not be used by children under 2yrs old
  • Young children should only use a swing with full support (ie the ‘sit in’ rather than ‘sit on’ variety)
  • Swings should be sited level ground and surrounded by an impact absorbing surface
  • Swings should be regularly inspected and maintained
  • Supervision is key to prevent injuries (falls, walking in front of a swinging child etc)

8. Slides

Slides are classic play equipment. They are also really easy to fall off, be it climbing up, on top and of the side on the way back down. Then add the possibility of hitting someone or something at the bottom. Great fun though!

Slide advice:

  • Ensure slides have the appropriate quality and safety standards
  • Buy slides that have sides that are at least 64mm high
  • Ensure the slide is firmly fixed and cannot wobble in use
  • Guard sections and hand grips at the top of the slide, as these will help prevent falls.
  • Ensure the slide is correctly assembled, checked and maintained
  • Site the slide on flat ground and protect potential falls areas with cushioned crash matting (ladder area, sides and landing area).

9. Sit-and-ride Toys

Sit-and-ride toys (also called Ride-on-toys) are many peoples favourite memories from being little; nothing beats that feeling of power and freedom from the ‘open road’...

Ride on toy advice:

  • Ensure all toys meet the appropriate quality standards (preferably Kite Mark and Lion Mark)
  • Supervise children, ensure only one child rides at once if its designed for one person
  • Consider helmets, even if not strictly essential, wearing one sets a good example for later years and can be part of the play
  • Regularly inspect for wear, loose parts that could become choking hazards etc
  • Make sure the children follow the rules you set for conduct, the responsibility expected to be able to drive/ride can be a valuable learning opportunity
  • Don’t let any child ride barefoot
  • Make sure all ride on toys are age appropriate, too large or too small for the child are both equally dangerous
  • Don’t let children ride near steps, hills, water, roads (obviously!)

The Great Escape…

Continuing this theme of creativity, children are also adept at combining equipment to create new hazards (or increase risk of existing ones). And in ways that individual risk assessment would not ordinarily identify.  The image of a mini Steve McQueen attempting to jump the childcare centre fence on a sit-and-ride is not so far from the truth!

Examples of (dangerous) creative combined use of equipment:

  • Moving equipment to climb a fence and escape (the great escape)
  • Moving/piling objects to otherwise access an area not previously thought accessible
  • Using equipment to help reach dangerous objects or access areas they want
  • Attempting to ride down a slide on an object (increasing the speed/height/fall risk)
  • Carrying impressive objects up equipment (to throw or fall down on other children)

These are just a few examples. The main point is to consider combinations of equipment and activities in the same environment. (Anyone would have thought they were intelligent creatures!)

Messy play

Messy play is a popular activity used in Nurseries allowing children to use their senses and explore. The messy play is generally placed in a sand/water tray. Ensure the contents do not have ingredients that can cause an allergic reaction to any child present.  Ensure the activity is supervised. A recent reported nursery fatality involved a jelly cube used in messy play on which a child choked to death.

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