Play facilities must be safe as well as fun

Posted: 13th June 2018

Laser tagThe law does not require children to be wrapped in cotton wool and recognises that play facilities must be thrilling as well as healthy. However, as a High Court decision showed, that does not mean that it is acceptable to expose youngsters to reasonably foreseeable risks without adequate warning.

The case concerned an inflatable structure that was divided into nine pods and used by children equipped with laser guns to fire at each other. To make the activity fun, it had to be carried out in relative darkness. There were changes in level between the pods giving rise to an acknowledged tripping hazard.

A 10-year-old boy had been inside the facility for only about 30 seconds, and his eyes had not fully acclimatised to the gloom, when he fell over one of the tripping points. The gun he was holding smashed against his front teeth, causing serious injury. In those circumstances, lawyers launched proceedings on his behalf against the local authority that owned the facility.

In upholding the boy’s claim, a judge noted that a risk assessment performed prior to the accident had identified the tripping hazard. Although staff members read a script to children before they entered the facility which, for example, warned them not to run, it contained no information about the danger of tripping. There had been a number of previous similar incidents in which children had been injured.

In dismissing the council’s appeal against that ruling, the Court found that the failure to warn the boy of the tripping hazard was clearly causative of the accident. Although he may have been dimly aware of differences in level between the pods, that was very different from actual knowledge, strengthened by a warning. The amount of the boy’s compensation remained to be assessed.