Tag Archives: risk-benefit assessment

Reforming play equipment and surfacing Standards: a few thoughts

I think it fair to say that within the broad community of play advocates – play designers, landscape architects, play provision providers, pedagogues – play equipment and surfacing Standards have not been a hot topic of debate or contention. For some they were, and continue to be, a form of assurance as to the ‘safety’ of a product; and, in addition, they may even be taken as a proxy indicator of that quasi-mystical quality: play value.

For others, Standards in their current form are a source of bemusement, if not irritation, seen as impeding the possibility of creating rich and varied play environments.

But what this diverse constituency  has in common,  is the shared sense that play equipment and surface Standards descend as from on high, are created via processes and people they know not, but whose pronouncements  have the force and authority of Holy Writ, to be adhered to, but not questioned.

That was then. Now is now.  

‘Now’ is marked by the steady growth, and the coming together, of a diverse  constituency of pedagogues, play advocates, academics, designers, individuals from within Standard-making bodies, all seized of the need to examine Standards, how they are formulated, who formulates them, their scope and their practical consequences ‘on the ground’.   And this constituency is growing. Continue reading

A renewed, misguided ASTM attempt to change surfacing standards, a Guardian editorial and risk-benefit assessment

‘Bicycle helmets save lives’ a Guardian editorial pointed out today (27.09.2016) referrencing recent Australian research.

The editorial then posed the question:  Should wearing cycle helmets be made compulsory?  Now read on for the editorial’s succinct explication of a form of reasoning we have come to know as risk-benefit assessment.

‘From the point of view of accident reduction, the answer is entirely clear. Helmets do prevent some head injuries, and these can be very serious even when they are not immediately fatal. On the other hand, they are extremely rare. You would have to cycle tens of thousands of hours in Australia to get an injury requiring medical treatment. More than 10 times as many Americans were shot dead in 2014 as died cycling and, despite the headlines, most Americans are never going to be shot at in their lifetimes. The benefits of cycling can’t be translated into such striking figures but there’s no doubt that regular exercise prolongs and improves life in every way, and cycling is one of the best ways to make gentle exercise a daily routine….’

‘…Risk reduction cannot be the only grounds on which policy is decided. If that were the case, helmets would be compulsory for pedestrians as well, since it would reduce the seriousness of some injuries, and undoubtedly save lives too. The ultimate aim of public policy must be to enable and encourage human flourishing, and because we are complicated and contradictory creatures, that must involve a degree of self-contradiction and the balancing of some goods against others.  The sense of freedom and spontaneity that cyclists enjoy is not an illusion and has real value.’

It is a salutory paragraph that members of the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) committee on play equipment and surfacing would do well to read. Continue reading

After Standards’ reform: The sunny uplands of possibility?

As a topic of conversation, the role and scope of play equipment and surfacing standards[1] may appear somewhat dry and technical, a bit of a turn-off.  But consider this:

  • The playground equipment and surfacing industry here in the UK has an estimated annual turnover in the order of £170m – £200m, a significant proportion of which is in effect funded by taxpayers and charitable funders.  Question has to be: Does that spend represent value for money, is it doing the best possible work for children’s play opportunities?
  • And a wider question: Are decisions about the detail of play provision spending lodged in the right hands?   Is decision-making about play provision well-balanced, or askew?

Those latter questions should counter the notion that questions about standards are merely dry and technical.  In this article I speculate as to what benefits might flow from a rationalisation of play equipment and surfacing standards. Continue reading

York College Nursery Prosecution – cause for concern?

Preamble, 28 March 2014

This is a corrected version of the article first posted on the 9 February 2014. In that post I erroneously said that the HSE was the prosecuting authority in the York College nursery case. That was wrong, they were not. I apologise for my error, now corrected.  However, the general points raised in the article seem to me to still hold. They therefore remain intact in the piece below.

Since the date of the initial post, there has been an interesting post from Robin Sutcliffe on New Zealand’s approach to compensation and litigation. I urge you to read it. The New Zealand approach is certainly one we should look into to see if it, or some variation of it, might be relevant in the UK. 

The York College case

Some readers will be aware of the York College Nursery case in which, sadly and tragically, a three year old child died as a result of becoming entangled in a rope that was attached to the top of a slide.

Prosecutions were launched: the nursery worker was charged with manslaughter and also, under health and safety legislation, of failing to take ‘reasonable care’.   She was cleared of all charges, which is a relief.

In addition, York College, owners of the nursery, were charged with failing to secure the health and safety of children.  The college was found guilty and will be sentenced on February 2014.  They are liable for unlimited fines. (Update: the fine was £175,000. Judge’s sentencing remarks here.)

I want to tread cautiously in commenting at this stage.   I will not comment at this time  on the findings against  the  college.   Nevertheless some initial thoughts arising from the charge against the nursery worker and another case, can be shared. Continue reading

Play provision inspections: flaws and errors

In this article Bernard Spiegal discusses the role, scope and authority of external play provision inspections.  The article is one of a number of papers, comments, blogs, presentations and articles being generated by members of The York Group. 

The York Group, comprising  Professor David Ball, Tim Gill, Harry Harbottle, Bernard Spiegal, has come together to contribute to thinking about risk and play equipment Standards.   The York Group will also be publishing jointly authored papers. 

Responsibility for the views expressed in this article is the author’s.   The article does, however, introduce some key lines of argument for the group, to be explored further in both its individual and joint papers.

Introduction

In the first article in this series – Play equipment standards: occasions of trespass – I argued that industry play equipment standards have been allowed to expand into territory not properly theirs, with damaging effect.   In making that case, I drew a distinction between what should be two distinct ‘territories’: one concerned with technical information and assessment – the legitimate purview of play equipment Standards; the other, the area where value-saturated judgments should hold sway, judgments to be made locally by the play provision provider.

In that article, I suggested that once the distinction was accepted there is a discussion to be had about where precisely the ‘boundary’ between the two territories should be drawn.  But the very notion of boundary is predicated on acceptance that there is territory available to be demarcated. I suspect there is some way to go before this is widely accepted. Continue reading