Tag Archives: Standards

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

There is a link, I promise: Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and play

I accept that at first blush it might seem odd to link words such as play, children, teenagers, risk-taking to the international trade talks currently being conducted between the European Union and the United States of America.  But there is a link, and it is potentially a threatening one. The talks, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), has as its general aim the lowering of what are described as ‘barriers’ to trade between, in this case, the EU and the USA.

One aspect of the so-named ‘barriers’ are Standards.  Standards in respect of, among others things: environmental protection; specification of electrical goods; of additives to food; in respect of cosmetics and testing; and standards in respect of, well, play equipment and playground surfacing.

The TTIP negotiations are conducted in virtual secrecy – itself a major source of concern – but Greenpeace has managed to acquire confidential papers that reveal, in part at least, the state of play between the parties.  The now released confidential papers are, says Greenpeace, at some variance from the EU’s publicly expressed opinion. Part of what is revealed is the US demand that the EU be put under an obligation to inform the US, in advance, of any planned regulations and to allow them the same ‘input into EU regulatory processes as European firms’ (Source: Guardian. 2 May). Continue reading

ASTM and Surfacing Standards – back again, so organise

As you will see from Tim Gill’s blog – Playground Safety: Troubling New Move From ASTM – and the quote below, there appears to be a renewed attempt to amend ASTM surfacing standards, albeit in what looks like a surreptitious way.

‘Overall, the proposal appears to focus on how surfacing is safety-tested once it has been installed (so-called ‘field testing’). Members of the relevant ASTM committee tell me that a change to the head injury criterion or HIC (the key feature in the ASTM proposal rejected earlier this year) is discussed in the proposal. Even though I gather a HIC change is not a substantive feature, the proposal appears to be the latest in a series of efforts to advance this controversial position.’

The arguments against a change to HIC values have been well made and need not be repeated here.

Connect, communicate, organise

There is international, widespread, authoritative opposition to changing the HIC criteria in the absence of close, public, transparent scrutiny of the evidence claimed in support of such a proposal. Thus far, there has been no attempt to respond positively to these demands.

A key problem – and major weakness – for those opposing ASTM proposals is that our opposition is fragmented, comprising of individuals and organisations that have yet to harness the potential of a combined, more systematic approach.

This is in stark contrast to ASTM. It has the organisation and financial ability to advance its interests.

Tim is right to say that he, I and others have urged the need for a wider debate.

But it is not only a question of debate.

Irrespective of the likelihood that the current proposal will actually be passed, there is a need to create some form of formal or quasi-formal grouping, particularly perhaps at this time in the USA from where the current HIC proposals emanate, to address over the long term questions about Standards and Standard making.

At present, discussions about play equipment and surfacing Standards are conducted on the terms set by Standard-making bodies, in this particular case, the ASTM. One can’t help but believe that this court is rigged in favour of sustaining its assumed exclusive right to generate stipulations that too often weigh heavily on play provision, with questionable benefit. This is not to say that Standards have no role to play – they do. But current structures and processes for formulating them are fundamentally flawed.

Given that so many jurisdictions make Standards mandatory, and others treat them as though they were, we are in fact dealing with a publicly unaccountable body that affects public policy – and public expenditure – in a profound and disturbing way. It is not a minor matter. Still less merely a technical one.

It seems to me that those of us arguing for a different approach to Standards and Standard making must, as a matter of some urgency, move from the current position of erupting into bursts of objection to this or that proposal, to creating some form of inter-connected, authoritative entity that can stimulate and sustain debate about Standards and Standard making over the long term – getting to the heart of the matter, one might say. This is particularly pertinent at this time for the USA.

It is the case that Standards are an international matter, have impact accross jurisdictions.  But there is no escaping the fact that individual jurisdictions need to organise for themselves as the first, necessary step towards creating a cross-jurisdiction network capable of making the case for a more reasoned and reasonable approach to play equipment and surfacing Standards and Standard making.

 

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

Standards: Time for reform?

It’s often hard to predict what will generate an active interest in an issue.  The issue may have been around for a good deal of time, indeed may have been a source of worry or irritation but, somehow, the matter appears impenetrable, difficult to grasp.

Such, arguably,  is how many play provision providers have felt and still feel about playground equipment and surfacing standards.   Decisions are promulgated, they seem to bear a stamp of authority, yet there is a persistent sense of disconnect between decision-makers, and those affected by their pronouncements.  The relevance of standards[1] is asserted by the bodies that generate them, but in many of the settings affected by them, there is doubt.  Such doubts hitherto have been muted, not channelled or organised, or, indeed, been the subject of much debate.

We may, however, be witnessing a change.  We may be experiencing by those affected by standards a nascent sense of empowerment.  The sense that if current arrangements for generating standards are perpetuated,  then bad decisions will continue to made.  That what is required, is a fundamental rethink about standards, the values that inform them, the structures and the processes that generate them.  It is, as I say, a nascent sense of empowerment, not by any means fully formed.  Continue reading

ASTM surfacing proposal – opposition mounting

In this brief post I can do no better than direct your attention to the joint open letter to the ASTM committee by the Chair of the UK Play Safety Forum, Robin Sutcliffe and Tim Gill.  It makes cogent and informed points that underscore the reasonableness of those urging ASTM to defer passing its current proposals in respect of  playground surfacing.

In a similar vein, I urge you to read – if you have not already done so – Jay Beckwith’s blog on the same subject.

I add two points of my own:

1.    It is important to value, to hold fast to, our common sense, observation and experienced-based knowledge about children, their competency, behaviour, and risk assessing capabilities.  ‘Objective’ statistical data represents but one form of evidence.  It says nothing in particular in the absence of a value-based framework within which ‘facts’ can be weighted and assessed.

2.  It is clear that opposition is growing to the ASTM proposals.  Voices are being raised, arguments made, blogs being written.  It strikes me – as it has done for some time – that there is also a need to organise, to generate an institutional form that can build on current concerns, and which can channel, inform and maintain a much needed, wide ranging discussion about play equipment and surfacing standards.  I hope my American friends will not accuse me of trespass if I suggest that this move is most immediately pressing in the USA.

I intend to return in more detail to the issues raised here and in the blogs referenced above in March once back from India where – on a recalcitrant guest house keyboard – this note has been written.

A final observational note: if you want proof of the competency of children, and their capacity to care for one another, visit this amazing country where such evidence is daily before one’s eyes.