For many families across the country, playgrounds can be at the heart of their community, giving children opportunities to play and socialise. But are these playgrounds always safe?

The recent prosecution following the death of five-year-old, Alexia Walenkaki, highlighted the importance of organisations regularly inspecting and maintaining, repairing or replacing any playground equipment under their control. Tragedy struck in 2015 when a tree trunk holding a rope swing collapsed and fell on top of Alexia whilst she was playing.

In January 2021, Tower Hamlets Council was fined £330,000 in a prosecution which established it had failed to carry out an annual safety check since 2013, which would have revealed the extent of rot in the tree trunk and the need to replace the decaying play equipment.

Organisations have a duty under section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of those affected by their operations. This includes regularly inspecting any playground equipment, taking relevant action to ensure the safety of users, and sufficiently documenting all inspections. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents recommends a combination of weekly inspections by organisations and annual inspections by an independent third party.

While the playground, in this case, was managed by a local authority, the principles outlined apply to all those with control of playgrounds and items of street furniture, including housing providers. 

My colleague Lorna Kenyon’s article sets out further details of the case and gives practical guidance for organisations to ensure their playground equipment is safe for all who use it.