Opening and Managing School Playgrounds and Coronavirus
(updated 28/08/2020 with new guidance and sign post for further information on face coverings).
Please note the advice below applies to school playgrounds from 4th July. As far as we can understand the DfE school reopening guidance issued on 02/07/2020 for September 2020, means that many of the social distancing elements of the guidance below maybe relaxed to allow all children to return to school.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a very difficult time for many people around the world. However, we are really happy that from the 4th of July schools in England will at last be able to reopen their playgrounds and outdoor gyms.
Looking at closed playgrounds over the last 3 months has been really hard for us, as our business is the design, manufacturing and installation of playground equipment and/or outdoor gyms for public and commercial use.
The following guidance is based on the official COVID-19: Guidance for managing playgrounds and outdoor gyms issued by Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government on 26th June. If this advice changes we will endeavour to keep this page upto date, however you should note that:
- The government guidance is of a general nature and should be treated as a guide. In the event of any conflict between any applicable legislation (including the health and safety legislation) and this guidance, the applicable legislation shall prevail.
- Playground layout and design is varied and there maybe other factors that are site specific that you need to bear in mind
- Covid-19 is not the only risk in a playground or outdoor gym. The guidance below concerns the additional assessments you need to make due to Covid-19
- Finally, we are playground and outdoor gym experts, not Covid-19 experts, so our advice below should be used in conjunction with the official guidance and the relevant legislation. In all cases the official guidance and legislation should be followed
We are always happy to give advice and assistance on playground and outdoor gym design
Playground Reopening Summary
- Risk Assessment: Covid-19 adds some new risks to how you operate your playground. Covid-19 risk assessment must be carried out
- Its a good idea for schools to either add a Covid-19 section to their existing playground safety risk assessment or create a standalone Covid-19 risk assessment
- Safety Principles
- Existing safety considerations need to be addressed (e.g. scheduled safety inspections, checking for damaged equipment, supervision etc)
- Cleanliness. Prior to reopening is a good time to give your equipment a good clean. We recommend a mild detergent or weak milton solution
- Provision for equipment users to clean their hands before and after use (our Freestanding Hand Sanitiser or a plumbed in sink)
- Social Distancing, signage and avoiding pinch points
- Consideration for children with special needs
- Balanced approach to safety
- The government guidance makes a specific reference to the Health and Safety Executive on promoting a balanced approach to children’s play and leisure
- Utilising the school’s approach of “social bubbles” and Covid-19 risk mitigation
Promoting Play with Social Distancing
I am sure that every school in England is aware of the new social distancing guidelines of 2m or 1m with risk mitigations where 2m is not viable.
However it is worth noting that the official guidance states: “It is recognised that adherence to social distancing between individuals and households can be particularly difficult in a playground setting. This will mean that other ways of minimising transmission risk should also be considered and communicated to the parents, guardians and carers, who should remain aware of the residual risk.”
This effectively means that schools need to apply the same social distancing principles in the playground as in their school policy for children outside. Clear signs and thought about how potential pinch points can be avoided are the main issues. Things like “one way systems” and different entrances and exits will help mitigate these problems.
Freestanding Hand Sanitiser - can be bolted in place or moved into desired position.
Playground Reopening – Things to consider
There are 2 main areas where Covid-19 poses additional challenges to playground safety: firstly, social distancing and secondly items of equipment that will be touched and contaminated.
- INSPECT YOUR PLAYGROUND:
- make sure your playground is safe before reopening. Include things like trip hazards around and within the play area and new signage in your inspection
- RISK ASSESSMENT:
- make sure you add Covid-19 risks to your existing risk assessment – or write a standalone version. (A standalone version maybe sensible given all the changes you have seen in guidance documents from DfE in the last 8 weeks, there is a strong likelihood that the “Use of playgrounds” guidance will change over the coming days, weeks and months).
- CLEANING & HYGIENE:
- It is worth bearing in mind that covid contamination risk is lower in outdoor areas – particularly where surfaces are exposed to sunlight and/or rain.
- Give your playground equipment a clean prior to reopening. We recommend a mild detergent or weak milton solution. Make sure that the cleaning product you use does not create a slippery surface so that you do not introduce an additional hazard!
- Develop a hygiene routine for children to clean their hands prior to entering the playground (and ideally after use as well). Automated products like our Freestanding Hand Sanitiser or a similar product are ideal.
- Are there areas where regular cleaning of the equipment is difficult or problematic? Consider whether these areas should remain closed (e.g. with hazard tape/signage). Problem area examples include the following areas:
- Tunnels and tube slides
- Enclosed or semi- enclosed spaces for example some play houses
- Areas that are hard for adults to reach safely (e.g. some climbing frames)
- Identify places with regular touch points for a regular cleaning regime. You may want to clean these points between usage by different social bubbles. Example might include:
- seating areas
- handles of outdoor gym equipment
- monkey bars
- entry and exit points (gates / posts)
- slides, fireman’s poles. rockers, see saws etc
- If you are unsure where all these “regular touch points” are, observe children playing and the most common touch points will be easy to identify
- SIGNAGE & ONE-WAY SYSTEMS
- We suspect that the current guidance may change and evolve over time, so think carefully before investing in permanent signage. For example the 2m rule has changed and may well change again
- Clear signs for things like one way systems and places where social distanced queues maybe necessary
- Signs reminding frequent hand washing / not touching faces / keeping distance etc are useful and as much as possible should be inline with existing signage used inside the school building
- Face coverings (updated 26/08/2020)
- Due to the frequent changes in advice on face coverings, PLEASE REFER TO THE LATEST GOVERNMENT GUIDELINES (opens in a new window)
- Current guidelines (26/08/2020) state that face coverings are NOT required for
- children under the age of 11
- for people who cannot put on or remove face coverings due to physical or mental illness, impairment or disability
- there are also scenarios where you are permitted to remove a face covering, for example. if you are undertaking exercise or activity where a face mask would negatively impact your ability to do so
- please refer to the latest government guidelines on face coverings linked above
- Gloves should not be necessary in a playground. We hope that Covid-19 is no longer an issue in the autumn or winter when children are likely to wear gloves.
- Maximum User Numbers & Close Contact Time
- Set maximum numbers of children that can use each play area. This is likely to be a reduced number for most playgrounds.
- Bear in mind likely close contact times as well as whether users are facing each other
Assessing a Trim Trail
Trim trails are very popular in schools – and if their layout is linear or in a wide circle, then social distancing and maximum numbers of children allowed to play at once are relatively easy to work out.
It is also easy to see the places where children touch most frequently so you can identify where you need to clean equipment between different social bubbles.
The animation opposite shows approximate user numbers with 1m and 2m distances. This is the kind of exercise you need to carry out to determine the maximum number of children you can allow within a play area.
Trim Trails are great value and bring lots of "play potential" for relatively low cost. You can focus on balance, strength, fitness, co-operation or a combination
Reopening an Outdoor Gym
Outdoor Gyms are also easy to reopen as the equipment is usually spaced to allow social distancing. However some of our best selling units are for 2 or more children to use together. This is great for co-operation and fitness (and value for money!), but is not so good for social distancing.
Key issues are likely to be:
- Hand washing or sanitiser before and after use
- Maintaining social distancing and pinch points at entry/exit
- Cleaning handles/seats between different social bubbles
Outdoor Gym equipment for children - great choice of European made units featuring high quality components like stainless steel bearings
Example Playground Reopening Risk Assessment (Covid-19)
We have put this risk assessment together as an example. Use of this example risk assessment is at your own risk.
If you use this you will need to make sure that the hazards and control measures are suitable for your playground.
View Example Playground Reopening Risk Assessment (opens in a new window)