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Children Lose In Playground Fight
Detail: Threat of being sued means providers are denying youngsters chance to play risky games. Helen Ward reports

Playgrounds should be rated like ski-runs to protect them from closure, a report from safety experts recommends.

Lawyers seeking compensation for children injured in playgrounds are forcing providers either to shut them or make them tamer, according to Professor David Ball of Middlesex University. Professor Ball, who researches playground safety for the Health and Safety Executive, said children were being driven to search for fun in more dangerous places.

Colour-coding playgrounds like ski-runs would help children, parents, and lawyers, weigh up the risk, he said. "Using a colour-coding or numerical-ranking scheme sends out the message that playgrounds are inherently risky and should be inherently risky because that is where children learn to cope with these physical challenges."

"You could have a sign on entry, like the head of a ski trail which is marked yellow, green or red - you know that if you're a beginner you do not go down the red trail. You need a certain level of ability to cope with different grades.

"Some say that kids are hurting themselves on monkey bars, for example, so people remove them. But these are one of the few challenging things for older kids in playgrounds, so if you take them away there is nothing left for them."

The report said playgrounds present only a modest threat to children. Hospital records from 1998 show 91 per cent of the 41,700 accidents blamed on playground equipment resulted only in cuts, bruises or minor injuries. Around 550 children die in accidents each year but the death rate in playgrounds is one every three or four years.

Tim Gill, director of the Children's Play Council, said: "A lot of providers know they are not really providing exciting and attractive places for children, particularly older children, but are worried about being sued."

Chris Waterman, general secretary of the Society of Education Officers, said: "It is cheaper to close a playground than pay a fine."

The Accident Group is one of the biggest law firms dealing with personal injury claims - it works on a no win, no fee basis. An spokesperson said:

"We strongly believe that if someone has sustained an injury through the negligence of a third party, then that person has a legal right to redress."

Peter Heseltine, playground safety adviser for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, had reservations about Professor Ball's proposal. "It's a nice idea but it won't work in practice. It takes too much responsibility away from parents."

* The Children's Play Council has published a guide this week on how to plan outdoor play areas, including how to involve children and young people in their design. More than Swings and Roundabouts, is priced Pounds 12 for members of the National Children's Bureau and Pounds 15 for non-members. To obtain a copy call 0207 843 6029.
Source: Times Educational Supplement. 'Playgrounds - risks, benefits and choices' report number 426/2002is at www.hse.gov.uk/research/content/crr/index.htm
Date: May 10 2002