A groundbreaking new global industry benchmark that takes a ‘benefit-risk’ approach to safety was today (5 July 2023) welcomed by the UK Play Safety Forum, a group of leading experts which supported the drafting of the document.

Instead of focusing solely on risk reduction, the benchmark says that councils, businesses, and others should take a balanced approach to safety in playgrounds and other leisure facilities. Crucially, they should consider the benefits of allowing a degree of risk and challenge.

Benefit-risk assessment for sports and recreational facilities, activities and equipment’ – Standard 4980:2023 from the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) – is a globally-recognised standard for anyone that runs leisure and recreation facilities and programmes, including playgrounds.

Tim Gill, Chair of the UK Play Safety Forum, said:

“This new safety standard is a game-changing move for children, who have been losing out for far too long because of misplaced adult fears and anxieties.”

Andy Yates, technical director of Hags UK and chair of both British and European playground safety standards committees, said:

“Children of all ages and abilities actively seek out risky situations in their play. The ISO standard gives guidance about how these risks are judged, hand in hand with the benefits they provide. This should give playground operators further confidence to create the exciting, engaging play spaces that children want, need and deserve.”

Prof David Ball of Middlesex University, one of the experts on the ISO working group, said:

“This ISO standard builds on a decades-long shift towards more balanced, thoughtful risk management. The Play Safety Forum first put forward risk benefit approaches in 2008, and they have been supported by the Health and Safety Executive – the UK’s overarching safety regulator – since 2012. With this new ISO standard, the rest of the world is set to follow suit.”

Alan Herron, CEO of PlayBoard NI, said:

“The opportunity for children to engage in challenging – even risky play – is highly beneficial as it allows them to test the boundaries of their limitations, develop new skills to overcome challenges whilst developing the ability to better recognise and manage risk.

For too long children’s opportunities to engage in challenging play have been restricted through a focus on the level of risk associated with a play space or activity with no recognition of the substantial benefits.  This new ISO standard clearly highlights the need for play providers to acknowledge both risks and benefits, enabling children to access more challenging, beneficial and fun play experiences.”

The UK Play Safety Forum is a membership organisation that aims to ensure a balance between safety, risk and challenge in children’s play and leisure provision. Its members include PlayBoard NI, Play England, Play Scotland and Play Wales. https://playsafetyforum.wordpress.com

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) is an independent non-governmental organisation based in Geneva that develops global standards for markets and industries. Its membership is made up of over 160 national standards bodies such as the British Standards Institution (BSI). ISO Standard 4980:2023 (which covers all sports and recreation facilities including gyms, sports clubs, and leisure centres as well as playgrounds) can be purchased from the ISO website: https://www.iso.org/standard/80573.html

The UK Health and Safety Executive ‘High Level Statement’ on children’s play and leisure – published in 2012 – can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/entertainment/childs-play-statement.htm