It’s no secret that at InspiredPlay, we love playgrounds! We believe outdoor play spaces are a valuable community asset, providing children with stimulating, sensory experiences that allow them both to exercise and learn through play. Making playgrounds available provides important physical, social, emotional and cognitive development opportunities for children.
Following recent world events, those responsible for the management of playgrounds have an added responsibility to keep their communities safe. In this guide, we will be sharing with you some practical advice around how playgrounds can be reopened and managed effectively to bring their benefits back to the community while minimizing the transmission risk of COVID-19.
Whether your playground is under the management of a local authority, housing association, private landowners, local business, school or trust, it’s important to take the proper safety precautions when reopening the facility you are responsible for – depending on the circumstances, layout and design. This includes factors such as size, equipment, and how it is organized, operated, and managed. You will need to consider implementing processes to protect the users of the equipment and the staff responsible for its maintenance and cleaning.
To help you decide what actions to take and to ensure the equipment in your playground is safe, we would always recommend you carry out an appropriate COVID-19 risk assessment, just as you would for any other health and safety related hazard. This should be relevant to the users of the equipment, such as children, parents, guardians and carers, as well as any staff hired or tasked with the maintenance or cleaning of equipment. The aim of this assessment is not only to consider the risks faced but also to do everything reasonably practicable to minimize them, recognizing of course that it is not possible to completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19.
Playgrounds come in a wide variety of formats; some are small and may be a single piece of equipment such as a slide, some are large and incorporate a number of structures and different materials. Some outdoor playgrounds are in enclosed areas while others are not. Therefore providers need to consider the unique make up of their playground when putting measures in place to enable the effective management of the playground to minimize COVID-19 transmission risk.
Key principles for safely operating playgrounds
Preparing the playground for re-opening
In addition to preparations to ensure you are COVID-19 Secure, you must also ensure playground equipment is safe to use and that any risks from damaged or defective equipment are addressed before opening.
Social distancing aims to reduce social interaction between people to minimize the opportunity for transmission of COVID-19.
Consider how to put measures in place to support social distancing such as signs to remind users of the need for it, acknowledging that both adults and children with certain conditions will find social distancing difficult.
Of course, adherence to social distancing between excited children can be difficult in a playground setting. As an alternative, you may want to consider other ways of minimising transmission risk that you can then communicate to parents, guardians and carers, who should remain aware of the risk.
- If your playground is in an enclosed area, set a limit on the maximum number of people able to use the space at any one time and use signs to communicate this
- Where applicable, you could implement a booking system so that users can book a slot to use the equipment
- Limit the number of children able to use a particular piece of equipment to minimize transmission risk
- Put up signs to communicate maximum number of users at one time
- Request those using the play area only have one adult per child
- Limit the available number of seats on equipment or number of swings available
- Set time limits and use signs to communicate this
- Use adjacent space for lines or waiting areas using barriers, markings or signs where it is safe to do so
Cleaning and hygiene
Scientific studies suggest that the virus can survive for up to several days on some hard surfaces. These risks are reduced when outdoors, where surfaces may be subject to UV light and/or rain, but the virus could still survive long enough on frequently used outdoor surfaces to facilitate transmission.
Manage any potential risk by cleaning high traffic touch points frequently. This could include cleaning regimes for:
- playground equipment such as slides, monkey bars and climbing frames
- semi enclosed playhouses or huts for small children
- enclosed crawl through tunnels or tube slides
- exercise bars and handles
- entry and exit points such as gates
- seating areas such as benches and picnic tables
- refuse areas/garbage cans
Encourage effective sanitation by:
- using signs and posters:
- to promote cleaning of equipment
- to encourage parents to bring hand sanitizer gel or wipes to clean children’s hands
- to encourage hand hygiene, washing and sanitising hands more often than usual, for 20 seconds using soap and water or sanitiser, particularly at the beginning and end of play
- to advise users not to touch their faces, and to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their arm when a tissue is not available
- to remind children not to put their mouths on equipment or their hands in their mouths
- to promote and remind everyone of the need for social distancing
- when communicating safety messages, ensuring they are able to reach those with hearing or vision difficulties; consider how to assist those with disabilities comply with the changes
- providing more waste facilities and more frequent trash collection
- where applicable, provide hand sanitizer (automated where possible) or hand washing facilities at the entry and exit points, in addition to public bathrooms
- using disposable paper towels in handwashing facilities where possible
Face coverings should not be used by children under the age of 3 or those who may find it difficult to manage them correctly, meaning parents and providers should be aware that wearing a face covering in a playground setting could pose an additional safety risk and should use their judgement on whether their children wear one.
Additional measures and communicating with parents
Additional measures that can minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission in playgrounds focus on promoting responsible behavior by children, parents, carers and guardians.
For example, you should consider putting up signs to make clear to the community that:
- consumption of food or drink on play equipment or in the playground area is banned
- adults should dispose of trash properly in garbage cans, taking it home where a can is not provided.
Provide clear information to parents to set clear expectations about how children should behave when using playgrounds during COVID-19. You could use signs, share information online through community websites or message boards, or even through flyers.
You may also want to consider reminding parents that allowing children to use playground equipment is done at their own risk where appropriate.
Considering children with additional needs
Taking into account the requirements of children with additional needs, you may also want to consider:
- more frequent reminders about rules of behavior on the playground
- changes to familiar environments are likely to require longer periods of adjustment
- children with physical and sensory disabilities may need assistance with moving from one place to the next
- some children with additional needs such as autism may find it difficult to adjust to particular clothing requirements, and be less willing to use face coverings or similar if requested
- some additional needs are not visible, i.e. hearing loss, and may account for non-responsiveness to verbal instructions
- lining up for equipment or the bathroom can be a source of frustration, and the cause of agitation
- children with additional needs are at higher risk of being involved in bullying incidents
Keeping workers safe
All playground providers must consider workers, the risks they may be exposed to and how these can be reduced. In the context of managing outdoor playgrounds during the COVID-19 pandemic, staff roles may include:
- cleaning playground equipment/surrounding areas
- managing lines of people waiting to use equipment
- supervising equipment to ensure everyone complies with the new rules
When managing the risk of COVID-19, additional personal protective equipment (PPE) beyond what is usually worn is not known to be beneficial. You should note that unless staff are in a situation where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is very high, the role of PPE in providing additional protection is limited.
If any of your employees choose to wear a face covering, it is important they use them properly and wash their hands before putting them on and before and after taking them off.
You should support your workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one. This means telling them:
- to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer before putting a face covering on, and before and after removing it
- when wearing a face covering, avoid touching their face or face covering, as they could contaminate with germs from their hands
- to change their face covering if it becomes damp or if they have touched it
- to continue to wash their hands regularly
- to change and wash their face covering daily
- if the material is washable, wash in line with the manufacturer’s instructions – if it’s not washable, dispose of it carefully
- to practice social distancing wherever possible
While we are all excited and delighted to have our playgrounds opened back up to the public, it’s so important to remember that every one of us, from parents to playground providers, need to stay considerate and mindful to keep our keiki safe. Happy playing!