Managing Risk in Play Provision

“One thing kids never lack is imagination to invent their own games with the simplest of props. Obviously if a child is playing with a jagged edge on a tin container there is a risk of injury, but we would hope parents manage that risk. HSE has always encouraged children to learn through play, whether climbing trees, painting with their hands or throwing stones into a lake, we want children to enjoy life and all the experiences it brings.”
Health & Safety Executive

Positive approach to risk in play 
Position Statement from Care Inspectorate

The Care Inspectorate is showing its support for nurseries, childminders and other early years care services that take a positive approach to risk, by setting out its position on regulating for risk in play. We launched our  position statement with the support of Play Scotland at their event Playing with risk: embracing the benefits with positive regulation, held in January 2016.

The Care Inspectorate’s position statement
“The Care Inspectorate supports care service providers taking a positive approach to risk in order to achieve the best outcomes for children. This means moving away from a traditional deficit model that takes a risk-averse approach, which can unnecessarily restrict children’s experiences attending registered services, to a more holistic risk-benefit model. For example, we encourage services to use risk assessment to support children to enjoy potentially hazardous activities such as woodwork using real tools, exploring nature and playing in the mud and rain. We do not expect written risk assessments to be carried out for daily play activities.”

Embracing a risk-benefit approach is part of changing our regulatory culture. For example, when we inspect we now assess the experience of the children attending and try to help services to improve. Traditionally the regulator would have just measured inputs and ensured that all services complied with the expected standards.

A positive approach to risk in play is being taken by specialist outdoor-based services for children. Since the UK’s first full-time forest nursery was registered in Fife in 2008, outdoor-based services have flourished in Scotland. At this event, the Care Inspectorate celebrated the growth of these services and their contribution to developing a proportionate approach to risk. 

Play Scotland support
Cherie Morgan, Play Development Officer, Play Scotland says: “We want to see a common sense approach to risk in play, where practitioners weigh up the benefits, as well as the risks involved with activities. The opportunity to face challenges in a supportive environment helps children and young people learn to assess and manage risk for themselves, and this is vitally important for their development. We’re delighted to work with the Care Inspectorate to highlight this message to those who are responsible for the day to day care of children.”

Ministerial support
Aileen Campbell MSP and Minister for Children and Young People supports this new approach with the following statement.

“In June 2013 the Scottish Government published the Play Strategy for Scotland, which seeks to improve the play experiences of all children and young people, including those with disabilities or from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Strategy aims to ensure all children and young people can access play opportunities in a range of settings which offer variety, adventure and challenge. They must be able to play freely and safely while learning to manage risks and make choices about where, how and when they play according to their age, stage, ability and preference. 

“A huge part of this is giving regulated services the confidence to provide good quality, challenging play opportunities for children in their care. Real life experiences for children cannot be free of risk; from the very beginning children learn from trial and error, falling and getting up, testing their own boundaries and this enables them to develop their own coping strategies and resilience.

“It is important too that children with additional support needs also have the chance to experience challenging play – and that quality play opportunities are offered to all children, according to their needs and preferences.

“Myth busting in terms of what ‘safe care’ is for our children is also important. Scotland’s children deserve to be cared for in a loving, nurturing environment that includes hugs and the comfort of touch, which is even more important now that children are in care environments from a younger age and for longer periods of time.

“I am delighted that the Care Inspectorate is supporting care service providers to adopt a more holistic risk-benefit model to help them achieve the best outcomes for children. This positive approach to risk emphasises confidence in providers using their professional judgement to support, nurture and challenge the children and young people in their care.”


Children’s play and leisure: promoting a balanced approach.  HSe

Health and safety laws and regulations are sometimes presented as a reason why certain play and leisure activities undertaken by children and young people should be discouraged. Such decisions are often based on misunderstandings about what the law requires. The HSE has worked with the Play Safety Forum to produce a joint high-level statement that gives clear messages tackling these misunderstandings. HSE fully endorses the principles in this Statement.

This statement makes clear that:

  • Play is important for children’s well-being and development
  • When planning and providing play opportunities, the goal is not to eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits
  • Those providing play opportunities should focus on controlling the real risks, while securing or increasing the benefits – not on the paperwork
  • Accidents and mistakes happen during play – but fear of litigation and prosecution has been blown out of proportion

Children’s Play and Leisure: promoting a balanced approach PDF


Risk Benefit Assessment Form

The Risk-Benefit Assessment Form is an easy-to-use tool to support play providers to balance the benefits of an activity with any inherent risk, taking into account the risks while recognising the benefits to children and young people of challenging play experiences.

It will be invaluable for all those who manage spaces and settings in which children play, and for those involved in designing and maintaining them. The initiative is supported by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the UK Government.

The Risk-Benefit Assessment (RBA) Form is available in two formats: as a blank form, and as a hypothetical worked example based on a tree swing.

It was commissioned and developed by the Play Safety Forum, and is co-authored by Professor David Ball, Tim Gill and Bernard Spiegal. It is based on Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation guide.

Click here to download a worked example of a Risk Benefit Assessment Form

Click here to download a blank RBA


Children’s Play Safety Forum – Statement
Lead in paint on children’s playgrounds

The Play Safety Forum supports that providers and maintainers of Children’s Playground facilities always work to the latest published guidance for the lead content of the surface coatings, which currently only allows lead as a trace element of paint. This guidance has been updated periodically over the last 30 years and also rightly focuses on articles that children can place into their mouths, as being the highest risk.

We are however concerned at this latest media coverage, as it appears to be focusing solely on a scare agenda, rather than presenting specific facts that are put in full context with different expert opinion.

What is more, from the summary of this research, it appears that the researchers are following a purely ‘hazard-based approach.’ That is, they have identified a hazard. But they have not even attempted to assess the risk which inter alia would require an estimation of how much of this hazardous material gets into children’s bodies by ingestion, dermal contact or inhalation. Our society is a ‘risk-based’ society. It’s the only realistic option in a rational world which, amongst other things, cares about children.

In our experience ‘scare stories’ generally lead to reactions that are disproportionate to the risk on which they are based and are usually regretted in the fullness of time. We have previously battled against ‘urban myths’ that once established can be very difficult to re-adjust. The Play Safety Forum is constantly looking at the balance between risks and benefits in Children’s Play. It would be a great pity if the effects of this scare story was to unnecessarily deflect attention from the many other challenges we are currently facing.

We were pleased to note some common sense advice published on the NHS Choices web site. ‘The best way to prevent your child being exposed to lead is to encourage them to always wash their hands after outside play and before eating. Regularly washing any of their toys or equipment they play with outside should also help.’

September 2016

Dynamic Risk Benefit Assessment: Play Safety Forum position statement

October 2016

Preface from Robin Sutcliffe, Play Safety Forum Chair:
Risk-Benefit Assessment (RBA) in situations where staff are supervising or playing with children in real time was not covered in detail in Managing Risk in Play Provision – Implementation guide. The PSF has been discussing this over the past two years, during which we considered several policies that were already in existence, however we felt that these were too specific to their own practitioners. Consequently we would now like to offer the following text to cover this omission, which should be read in conjunction with the guide.

This statement sets out the position of the Play Safety Forum on how dynamic risk-benefit assessment (RBA) fits into the management of risk in play and related settings. It also states the PSF’s view on how managers, regulators and others should decide on the quality and soundness of dynamic RBA, and hence how staff are held to account for their judgements.

RBA, as set out in Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation guide, brings together considerations about risks and benefits in a single judgement, which is then documented as appropriate. In this form, it is suited for those situations where there is the time and opportunity for thoughtful, considered decision-making. However in staffed settings, staff may need to make decisions in circumstances where a conventional RBA process is not feasible.

What is dynamic risk benefit assessment?
Dynamic risk-benefit assessment is a key part of risk management in staffed play, childcare and learning situations such as schools, early years settings, out of school/free time facilities, outdoor learning programmes and playwork settings. It refers to the real-time judgements of front-line staff (paid and voluntary) about whether, when and how to intervene in relation to children’s safety. These judgements, interventions and decisions are informed by staff’s values and understandings about the goals and objectives of their setting and practice: and crucially by their thinking about risk.

Dynamic RBA is highly sensitive to circumstances, and may happen in a matter of seconds. It is complex, fluid, largely intuitive, and difficult to document. As Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation guide notes, dynamic RBA presents challenges for risk management approaches that focus on the need for documentation.

What does the law require?
In the UK, the key relevant legislation relates to health and safety at work and occupiers liability. In broad terms, the law requires those responsible to take reasonable steps to keep people (including children) safe. There is no detailed legislation about how to carry out dynamic RBA (although there may be regulations about staff ratios in some settings and situations).

How should staff and organisations show they are being reasonable?
The key to dynamic RBA is professional competence, as shown through relevant experience, skills, qualifications, supervision procedures, professional development and evidence of sound judgements in the past. Good practice in dynamic RBA is also likely to be supported through giving staff opportunities to reflect on their experiences and practice, for instance through ensuring they have space and time to discuss minor adverse experiences and ‘near misses’.

The PSF does not support the use of procedures or analytical tools such as flowcharts and decision trees as evidence or proof of sound decision-making. Such tools may be helpful in opening up professional debate about relevant factors and options in different circumstances, but they are not helpful in capturing or validating decision-making in dynamic RBA situations. These often happen so quickly and have to be dealt with so intuitively that there is no time for reflection, let alone record-keeping. Hence such tools should not be a requirement that staff are expected to follow, and staff should not be expected to prove or provide evidence that they have been followed.

A clear position on dynamic RBA should be accepted by all relevant levels and teams within organisations. This includes senior management and risk/health and safety managers as well as front-line staff.

When it comes to questions about the soundness of dynamic RBA judgements, the right place to focus is the competences of the individual or staff team, rather than compliance with any tool or procedure. The demand for an ‘audit trail’ – or written or other records for dynamic RBA – cannot be met without overburdening staff, and without distorting the very decision-making that such processes are supposed to be supporting.

Play Safety Forum, August 2016


A small but potentially significant win for risk benefit assessment, Blog by Tim Gill

How often do you hear that the ‘health and safety culture’ cannot be resisted? That fear of litigation makes people unwilling to accept the slightest possibility of accidents or injuries? The implication is that risk benefit assessment (RBA) – the balanced approach to risk management that I and others have developed – is a waste of time.  Full article here 


Scotland’s care regulator encourages a positive approach to risk in play

The Care Inspectorate is showing its support for nurseries, childminders and other early years care services that take a positive approach to risk, by setting out its position on regulating for risk in play.  It is launching its new position statement today, with the support of Play Scotland at their event Playing with risk: embracing the benefits with positive regulation.  Full details here




Managing Risk in Play Provision: implementation guide (2nd edition)

“Children need and want to take risks when they play”
MRPP Position Statement


Play Scotland sits on the UK Play Safety Forum (PSF).  The Forum has produced a guide Managing Risk in Play Provision to help strike a balance between the risks and the benefits of offering children challenging play opportunities.

This implementation guide shows how play providers can replace current risk assessment practice with an approach that fully takes into account the benefits to children and young people of challenging play experiences. The document’s overall approach will be useful for those who manage spaces and settings in which children play, and for those involved in designing and maintaining them.

The managing risk in play provision implementation guide builds on the Play Safety Forum’s position statement Managing Risk in Play Provision Position Statement Managing Risk in Play Provision – position statement (Play Safety Forum, 2002). It starts from the principle that ultimate responsibility for making decisions rests with the provider, although outside expertise and advice is always valuable.

This second edition of the guide was written by David Ball, Tim Gill and Bernard Spiegal.

Managing Risk in Play Provision implementation guide 2nd edition


New tools for Risk-Benefit Assessment – November 2014

The new tools are designed to support a balanced approach to risk management using the process of risk-benefit assessment (RBA). It is aimed at those involved in providing play opportunities in a range of contexts, including play areas, public parks, green spaces, out-of-school childcare settings, playwork settings, schools and early years services. It builds on the guidance document Managing Risk in Play Provision implementation guide 2nd edition, published in 2013 by the Play Safety Forum with Play England, Play Wales, Play Scotland and PlayBoard Northern Ireland.

Those using this form should focus on the significant risks that the play provision gives rise to The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines significant risks as those that go beyond everyday life and that “are capable of creating a real risk to health and safety which any reasonable person would appreciate and would take steps to guard against.”

This form is available in two formats: Word 2007 (with a blank form) and pdf (with a worked example)

Risk Benefit Assessment Form (word document)

Risk Benefit Assessment Form Worked Example