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Disability Equality Specialist Support Agency

Safety and Risk

“All children both need and want to take risks in order to explore limits, venture into new experiences and develop their capacities, from a very young age and from their earliest play experiences. Children would never learn to walk, climb stairs or ride a bicycle unless they were strongly motivated to respond to challenges involving a risk of injury. Disabled children have an equal if not greater need for opportunities to take risks, since they may be denied the freedom of choice enjoyed by their non-disabled peers.”

(Managing Risk in Play Provision, Children’s Play Council, 2000.) To get a copy log onto


It is neither possible nor desirable to have “risk-free” playgrounds, because taking risks is an integral part of play. No child, including a disabled child, can be wrapped up in cotton wool and kept safe from all risk. The fear of being sued is part of today’s climate, so everyone who runs a playground has to strike a balance between that and accepting that there is a degree of risk in all play. Some people who run playgrounds fear that the costs of managing risk for disabled children would be too high and the chances of being sued would be too great. Yet campaign groups stress that many parents would rather have their children encounter risk than put up with exclusion.


The challenge for people who run playgrounds is to manage the level of risk so that children are given the chance to test and develop their abilities without being exposed to unacceptable risk. To do that you need to think about your play policy and include procedures and good practice guidelines which help to manage risk in the play area.


Among other things you need to consider:

  • appropriate levels of supervision
  • the provision of appropriate equipment
  • structural aspects of the play area
  • on-going maintenance of equipment.


A balance needs to be struck between providing children with exciting and stimulating play spaces and giving consideration to safety issues. A playground that is too dull or boring won’t be used or, more worryingly, may be trashed or used inappropriately. The balance of safety and risk is an area in which common sense must prevail – it’s not an exact science.


“Safety in play provision is not absolute and cannot be addressed in isolation. Play provision is first and foremost for children, and if it is not exciting and attractive to them, then it will fail, no matter how ‘safe’ it is. Designers, managers and providers will need to reach compromises in meeting these sometimes conflicting goals. These compromises are a matter of judgement, not of mechanistic assessment.”
(Managing Risk in Play Provision, Children’s Play Council, 2000.)


All outdoor playground equipment produced in Europe and used in Ireland should conform to European and Irish standards. Ask your suppliers to provide certificated confirmation for your chosen playground surfacing and each play item. Remember, though, that by their nature standards are based on averages, so they should not be the only criteria you use when planning play spaces or choosing equipment.