Category Archives: Risk

On risk

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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An alert and call for action – a new Standard threat to play provision | Bernard Spiegal

Traix 2015 playground surface test kitA swift reblog to add my voice to this call for action from my longtime collaborator, Bernard Spiegal. The immediate issue is a highly problematic proposal on surfacing from some of those involved in setting European standards for play equipment.

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This is an alert. An alert to all those – across Europe and wider – where European play equipment and surfacing standards are held, or will be held, to apply.   A new Standard is being …

Source: An alert and call for action – a new Standard threat to play provision | Bernard Spiegal

The R word: risk, uncertainty and the possibility of adverse outcomes in play

Let’s say that, like me, you are signed up to the idea that we’ve become too overprotective and anxious about children in their play. What language should we use to make the case for a better approach? In particular, does the word ‘risk’ – for instance, in the term ‘risky play’ – help or not?

Lunchtime at Beacon Rise Primary School

UK play advocate Adrian Voce – my successor at what became Play England – has questioned the use of the term ‘risk’. While recognising the progress that has been made on the place of risk in play, he says:

Although ‘risky’ and ‘adventurous’ are, in a sense, synonymous, the latter word has an unarguably more positive meaning. It also captures much better the essence of children at play – wanting to push the boundaries, test their limits and, sure, take some risks – but in the pursuit of fun and excitement, not the reckless endangerment that the term ‘risky play’ can evoke… ‘Risky’ cannot be the most appropriate word to describe the opportunities and environments we want to provide for them, or the practice we adopt in doing so.

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Show or tell: How should educators and playworkers back up their real-time decisions about risk?

This post explores how the real-time decisions of educators, playworkers and other staff who oversee children fit into the overall risk management process, and how they are held to account for those decisions. I have written it at the suggestion of the UK Play Safety Forum. The PSF would welcome comments on the position set out here – as would I.

Bayonne Nursery School Forest School session

Bayonne Nursery Forest School session

I will start with describing a real-life scenario from a Forest School session run by Bayonne Nursery a few years ago. (Those who have heard me talk on risk will recognise it from a video clip that I often show.) A group of four-year-old children are exploring an area of woodland. After clearing away fallen branches from around a large tree trunk that crosses over a dry ditch, three girls start to shimmy across. Two succeed, while the third becomes alarmed and gives up. Forest school-trained educators, present throughout, do not intervene at any point – not even to give encouragement or warnings. This is despite the fact that at points, things look like they might be getting challenging, uncomfortable or even slightly dangerous.

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