Category Archives: Risk

Leading NGO calls for new thinking on play safety around the world

Playgrounds have for decades been shaped by a zero risk mindset, with, any injury seen as a sign of failure. But things are changing, in what the New York Times recently called a “movement for freer, riskier play.”

Playing it Safe? report coverI am proud to be a part of this movement. And this article introduces a new report [pdf link] on play and risk that I have written for the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the influential early childhood NGO, as part of its agenda-setting Urban95 initiative.

Entitled Playing it Safe? A global white paper on risk, liability and children’s play in public space, the report makes the case for a new approach, and calls for action by the key agencies involved in creating and maintaining play spaces, including city governments, NGOs, research institutions and safety and public health agencies.

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What is more dangerous, an adventure playground or a conventional playground?

In the cultural conversation about play and risk, adventure playgrounds – proper ones I mean, with timber structures, tools, junk materials and skilled workers – are very much on the radical side of the argument. But how dangerous are they, really?

One American school has conducted a natural experiment that helps to answer this question. And the results – set out in a report from the leading playwork group Pop-Up Adventure Play – cast doubt on standard approaches and thinking.

Parish school in Houston, Texas is a private school for children with a range of disabilities and conditions. It is highly unusual in that it has, on one site, two very different types of play space.

Parish School adventure playground. Photo: Alex Cote

Parish School adventure playground. Photo: Alex Cote

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Last kindergarten in the woods?

[Note: I have added updates at the end of this post] Last month, as part of my Churchill Fellowship travels, I met Viola Zürcher, the leader of a German forest kindergarten (strictly speaking a waldkindergrippe or forest crèche, which takes children aged under three). Her setting runs five days a week in a wooded area on the edge of the city of Freiburg. Like other similar settings, it has a small, temporary hut building as an indoor base.

The visit was meant to be a brief social call, arranged by Freiburg residents and play advocates Peter Höfflin and Ellen Weaver (my tour-guides-cum-translators for the day). But the conversation took an unexpected turn.

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A rare glimpse into a messy oasis of adventure play

Adventure play is enjoying a moment. And at the centre of this is The Land, an adventure playground in Wrexham, North Wales. So it is great to see a 14-minute documentary feature on The Land – from US filmmaker Erin Davis – being made freely available online. Click on the image below to watch it.

The Land video screengrab

It was Hanna Rosin’s 2014 Atlantic magazine cover story ‘The Overprotected Kid’ that thrust The Land into the public eye. It also features prominently in the new book Messy by Tim Harford, writer and self-styled ‘undercover economist’ (and front man for one of my favourite BBC Radio 4 shows, More or Less). Harford’s take is revealing: Continue reading

BBC news story flagrantly manipulates statistics on school accident claims

[Update 16 May 2017: the BBC has rejected a complaint I submitted about the story. Its response includes a blatant untruth. The piece is still online and, so far as I can see, unchanged. So I have submitted a further complaint. More details at the end of this post.]

A major news story on the BBC website this morning uses false comparisons and basic errors to create a highly misleading picture about the sums paid out for accident claims in schools. Far from revealing a ‘claims culture’, the figures actually show that payouts make up a tiny proportion of education budgets, and are not on the rise.

Screengrab BBC News home page 7 April 2017 with school payout story circled

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Playground surfacing (again), cycle helmets and public risk: there are no simple answers

It is with an inward sigh that I share the news that once again, the US Standards body ASTM is considering a proposal to adopt stricter requirements for playground surfacing.

As regular readers will know, I have spoken out against this proposal several times. I was relieved to see its rejection last year, and can see no good reason for it to return. I urge anyone with influence within ASTM to take appropriate action (ballot no. F08 (16-06) for ASTM subcommittee F08.63 and main committee F08).

My long-time collaborator Bernard Spiegal posted a succinct piece last week on the topic. The Guardian editorial on cycle helmets he quotes makes a crucial point: there are rarely simple answers to questions about public risk. We have to talk about values, and we have to accept that humans are complex, contradictory creatures.

As Spiegal points out, risk benefit assessment is a tool that, while simple in form, recognises the complexity of judgements about risk. It is explicit about the need for clarity and consensus about values.

Embed from Getty Images

By the way, if you are interested in cycle helmets – and cycling – you may like to download a report on cycling and children and young people I wrote for the National Children’s Bureau in 2005. It includes a discussion of cycle helmet safety in which I tried to do justice to the complexity of this emotive issue.

A small but potentially significant win for risk benefit assessment

How often do you hear that the ‘health and safety culture’ cannot be resisted? That fear of litigation makes people unwilling to accept the slightest possibility of accidents or injuries? The implication is that risk benefit assessment (RBA) – the balanced approach to risk management that I and others have developed – is a waste of time.

My response – that RBA is making a difference, and that the legal benchmark is to be reasonable, not to eliminate all risk – is sometimes met with scepticism or cynicism. “That may be true in theory,” the argument goes. “But in practice, as soon as a child is hurt and a claim comes in, the lawyers and the insurers just pay out, no matter what the merits of the case.”

This is why I am pleased to share the news that the charity Hackney Play Association has successfully fought off a claim after a playground accident, and that RBA was crucial to the outcome. The details were released yesterday on the Play Safety Forum (PSF) website – see below.

An adventure playground in Hackney

An adventure playground in Hackney

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