Case Study: children need risky play, but adult supervision required

Risk Matters - Spring 2022

Playgrounds can be high risk zones for incidents but LGIS members can mitigate the liability risks by appropriate risk assessments, design and implementing controls. By their very nature playgrounds have an element of risk, designed to challenge children and deliver development opportunities.

The incident

The claimant (child) was travelling across a bridge in the playground and fell through a confined space causing a broken femur, cuts and bruises. The claimant alleged that the playground was unsafe and had design flaws that didn’t prevent children from injuring themselves.


The City had contracted out the design and construction of the playground, which is common for local governments to do.
At the time of construction, the playground was assessed to have met the required standards and guidelines being:

  • AS 4685-2014 (Parts 1-6 & 11): Playground equipment and surfacing – safety requirements and test methods.
  • AS/NZS 4422:1996: Playground surfacing – specifications, requirements and test method.
  • AS/NZS 4486:1997: Playgrounds and playground equipment – development, installation, inspection, maintenance and operation.

Every month the City comprehensively inspects the playground to identify any issues.

The City also installed signage to warn members of the public of the general risks of the playground and related activities (i.e. a general warning to parents) in this specific situation the signage provided the following:

  • an overview, including a map, of the park’s different play areas;
  • information about the equipment located within each of the play areas; 
  • a reminder of prohibited activities; 
  • the need to supervise children and CCTV use at the location;
  • details regarding suitability of access;
  • amenities provided;
  • and City and emergency contact details.

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Where we’ve been

Over 120 people attended the CEO Breakfast or Local Government Risk Forum on Tuesday 6 September 2022, at Crown Perth.
Representatives from across the state — from Port Hedland to Esperance and everywhere in between joined together to network and explore current risk issues for the sector.

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The claim

LGIS considered a range of factors – in particular that playgrounds in general have a risk versus reward environment which essentially means, a playground aims to manage a balance between the need to offer risk and the need to keep children safe from serious harm.

Not all play involves risk taking, but there are positive benefits of risky play. Paradoxically, there is a possibility that children exposed to too little challenge may take inappropriate risks, where the chance of injury is high, because they lack the ability to judge risk levels and lack skills to tackle it.

A pivotal aspect of balancing this need to provide children with new experiences and risk and the need to keep children safe, is the reliance upon adult supervision to enhance a safer environment, to ensure an optimal learning experience. The playground in question had signage advising that parent supervision was required.

Signage at the entrance to the playground clearly describes what activities and equipment are placed in each area, allowing adults to choose the area that best reflects their child’s abilities. 

The outcome

Considering all of the above LGIS found that:

  • A competent and relevant expert in construction and certification of playgrounds, designed and constructed the playground and its related assets.
  • A reasonable inspection regime of the playground was in place to establish hazards and unacceptable risks to the community (the most recent inspection before the incident did not identify any issues).
  • No action the member took was in our view negligent and due to the above processes and controls we were able to successfully defend the matter and deny liability on behalf of the member.

Ultimately the City was not liable and the claim was successfully denied on behalf of the member.

Lessons from this case

The defence in this case was strong because:

  • The playground had been contracted to subject matter experts and was installed to meet applicable Australian standards.
  • There was adequate and appropriate signage providing guidance on the facilities use and individuals responsibility.
  • The City had a reasonable and appropriate maintenance program in place and made sure that every inspection was documented,with records kept.

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