A recent prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive ("HSE") demonstrates the importance of organisations regularly inspecting, maintaining, and if necessary, repairing or replacing any street furniture and playground equipment under their control.

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 its operations. This includes those who use any street furniture or playground equipment that the organisation owns or has an obligation to maintain.

The case
On 17 July 2015, a five-year-old child was using the playground equipment at Mile End Park. She was playing on a rope swing which was attached to a post when the post snapped at its base causing the equipment to collapse onto her. Tragically, she sustained fatal head injuries.

London Borough of Tower Hamlets Council had previously implemented a safety inspection regime for the playground equipment, but it was discovered through the HSE’s investigation that the equipment in question had not been inspected since 2013. The investigation also identified the wooden post was unsuitable and was in a poor, decayed condition.

The HSE considered that if an inspection had of taken place, the condition of the swing would have been noticed and the associated risks identified, allowing the council to take action to replace the equipment and ensure it was sufficient for use.

London Borough of Tower Hamlets Council pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It was fined £330,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,204.

Practical action
Organisations must assess the risks associated with any playground equipment or street furniture under its control and put in place suitable and sufficient measures to mitigate any such risks.

The risk assessment and any subsequent control measures implemented must take account of the equipment’s location and the nature and frequency of its usage. An organisation should also take account of the equipment’s manufacturer’s recommendations and advice regarding its use, inspection and repair.

One common risk is that the condition of the equipment may deteriorate or degrade over time. A common control measure to mitigate this risk is to implement a comprehensive and rigorous inspection regime, which ensures any remedial actions identified during inspections are actioned as appropriate.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (“ROSPA”) recommends that organisations implement a three-tiered approach to inspections of playground equipment.

  1. Routine inspections of the equipment’s basic condition carried out by the organisation’s staff. The frequency of the inspections should be dictated by the risk assessment, but ROSPA recommends they should be conducted weekly as a minimum.
  2. Operational inspections of the equipment that are more detailed than routine inspections and carried out by the organisation’s staff.
  3. Annual inspections carried out by an independent third party who is suitably competent and experienced to carry out such an inspection. ROSPA suggests that this inspection should consider/investigate “vandalism, minor and major wear, long-term structural problems, changes in standard compliance and design practice, risk assessment etc”.

It is important that organisations provide staff members conducting inspections and maintenance with clear and appropriate guidance and training for their roles. Organisations should also ensure that any inspections and work undertaken on equipment are sufficiently documented and retained. 

For further details in relation to ROSPA’s recommendations for playground equipment, see here.

The HSE has also compiled a list of useful links that can be found here.

For more information

For further information in relation to any of the above, please contact your relevant ACS contact or Lorna Kenyon.