A Very Slippery Slope: We Don't Know How Safe Kids' Playgrounds Are

An expert has flagged concern over the safety of some Australian playgrounds, particularly new equipment which often fall outside of current safety guideline measures.

The closure of a giant 30-metre tube slide in north-western Sydney playground earlier this year -- that caused a spate of injuries including fractures, lacerations and burns -- raised questions about Australia's playgrounds safety standards.

Injury specialist Dr Lisa Sharwood has flagged  more concerns in the Medical Journal of Australia this week.

“There are elements of some playgrounds that do pass the current Australian standards but there are elements of those playgrounds that are simply really outside the capacity of the standards to assess the risks,” she told 10 daily.

With injuries described as “horrific”, many are now asking “how the 30m long, 14m tall slide passed safety rules.

The University of Sydney academic says new and quirky-looking play equipment are of particular concern.

Schofields says injuries on the now-removed Sydney slide were preventable, had the current scope of the standards set by Standards Australia covered newly-designed play equipment.

Under the current playground safety guidelines, certain play equipment-- particularly newer and more innovative equipment are difficult, if not impossible to assess.

Injuries are the number one cause of death in children under 17, found a national study of nearly 700,000 hospitalisations over a decade.

In other research, between 2002 and 2012 more than 57 000 children were injured after playing on a playground.

“It’s really quite difficult to keep ahead of safety because what innovation does,” she said.

Sharwood advises parents to be cautious of equipment that looks new or unusual – because the safety of this equipment can’t be guaranteed under the current guidelines.

“Just because someone thought of it designed it and put it in a space doesn’t mean all of the right questions have been asked,” she said.

Indoor play centre. IMAGE: supplied

“Certainly playgrounds that look like they’ve never seen before or have new equipment or are particularly high for example. Or don’t have enough visualisation of the children.

"It might look cool, or if you say “oh wow I’ve never seen one of those before” perhaps the next question should be “is this safe?”

Sharwood did, however, note that while most public playgrounds would "likely" meet the relevant safety standards -- the same can’t be guaranteed for private playground spaces, like those at McDonalds or at a club.

Current certifiers of play equipment should be considering whether certain play equipment falls outside the ambit of the current guidelines, Sharwood says.

Calls For Compulsory Injury Reporting

Compulsory injury reporting like that in Victoria, should be rolled out nationwide, Dr Ruth Barker, director of the Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit said.

“Mandating injury reporting standards nationally with a rigorous process to independently review their application would enhance accountability under the current system.”

This reporting would enable more targeted programs to mitigate any risks within play equipment.

READ MORE: Safety Warning After Girl 6, Died Playing With Skipping Ropes 

According to Dr Sharwood, there should be mandatory supervision for more adventurous playgrounds.

“Such as giant slides to have supervision during open hours (similar to water park waterslides), with controlled dispatch of patrons to prevent risks related to multiple use, inappropriate attire or age-inappropriate use.”

Aussie children are more sedentary than generations before them, and Sharwood says these concerns aren't mean to discourage playing at parks.

“My question to people fearful of the safety message is when you put your child in a car, do you put a seat belt on? The answer is almost always yes.  So if you have access to a measure of safety why not use it?,” Sharwood said.

Featured Image: supplied