Last year, both commercial and public playgrounds were mainly closed during the long months as local lockdowns were implemented. It was not until late in 2020 that playgrounds were allowed to reopen albeit with restrictions that focuses on the courtesy of social distancing and personal hygiene checks.
If you are a playground operator or a community playground manager, you can reopen playgrounds if the local government allows it. Here are the Playground Rules and Regulations that were recommended by the United Kingdom government.
Key principles for the safe usage of playgrounds and outdoor gyms during COVID-19
Preparing a playground or outdoor gym for re-opening
Owners and operators of playgrounds or outdoor gyms are reminded that in addition to preparations to ensure they are COVID-19 Secure, there will be general maintenance requirements. Owners/operators must ensure playground and/or exercise equipment is safe to use and that risks from damaged or defective equipment are addressed before opening.
Social distancing aims to reduce social interaction between people to minimise the opportunity for transmission of COVID-19.
All owners or operators should consider how to put in place measures to support social distancing such as signs to remind users of the need for and adherence to social distancing in accordance with existing government guidance. In implementing measures, owners and operators should acknowledge that adults and children with certain conditions will find social distancing difficult.
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.
Social distancing guidelines should be followed wherever possible. This means a distance of 2 metres between people from different households, or 1 metre with risk mitigations (where 2 metres is not viable) is acceptable. Owners/operators should consider and set out the mitigations they will introduce in their risk assessment, for example increasing frequency of surface cleaning and placing equipment back to back or side to side where possible.
Potential measures to facilitate social distancing include:
- if an enclosed area, owners and operators should identify an advisory limit on the maximum number of users able to use a playground or outdoor gym area at any one time and use signs to communicate this
- where practicable, owners/operators could implement a booking system so that users can book a slot to use the equipment
- limiting the number of users able to use a particular piece of equipment to minimise the transmission risk of COVID-19. Potential measures include:
- signs to communicate maximum number of users at one time
- request those using the play area to only have 1 family member accompanying a child
- limiting the available number of seats on equipment or numbers of swings available to promote social distancing, including for parents, carers or guardians who might push children on swings for example
- setting a time limit and using signs to communicate this to users, parents, guardians or carers
- using adjacent space for queues or waiting areas for users, parents, guardians and carers using barriers, markings or signs where it is safe to do so. When implementing a queue or waiting area, consideration must be taken of its impact on the surrounding space and ensure it does not impede other users or pedestrians, particularly considering those with visual or hearing impairments, mobility problems and invisible disabilities
- For outdoor gyms the introduction of a clearly marked one-way system around the fixtures/ machines, to help prevent users from coming into close contact with each other
- For outdoor gyms, where machines and equipment are less than 2 metres apart, pieces of equipment should be moved to allow social distancing measures to be adhered to wherever possible. If not possible, 1 metre distance with risk mitigation is acceptable. The mitigations should be set out in the risk assessment, for example increasing frequency of surface cleaning, avoiding face-to-face contact and placing equipment back to back or side to side where possible.
Cleaning and hygiene
Scientific advice suggests that the virus can survive for up to several days on some hard surfaces, particularly when indoors. These risks are reduced when outdoors, where surfaces may be subject to UV light and/or rain. This guidance applies to outdoor playgrounds and outdoor gyms but the virus could survive long enough on frequently used/touched outdoor surfaces to facilitate transmission.
Owners and operators are advised to manage any potential risk, cleaning high traffic touch points frequently. This could include cleaning regimes for:
- playground equipment for children, usually up to age 14, 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 machine handles on outdoor gym equipment
- entry and exit points such as gates
- seating areas such as benches and picnic tables
- refuse areas/bins
Owners and operators should encourage effective sanitation by users, parents, guardians and carers. To support effective waste management, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has published guidance on waste disposal in non-healthcare settings.
Consideration should be given to:
- using signs and posters:
- to promote cleaning of equipment by users, parents, guardians and carers, particularly where there are clear touch points such as swing rockers and see saws
- machine handles or exercise bars
- encouraging outdoor gym users to bring their own towel and hygiene products and wipe down equipment after use
- encouraging parents to bring hand sanitiser gel or wipes to clean their children’s hands
- to encourage hand hygiene with including washing/sanitising hands more often than usual, for 20 seconds using soap and water or approved gel and foam sanitiser, particularly at the beginning and end of play
- to advise users (or parents of users) not to touch their faces, and to cough or sneeze into a tissue or arm when a tissue is not available
- to remind adults and children not to put their mouths on equipment or their hands in their mouths
- to promote and remind users, parents, guardians and carers of the need for social distancing
- to remind users to dispose of used face coverings and PPE properly in a ‘black bag’ waste bin or litter bin, and not to put into recycling bins
- when communicating safety messages owners/operators should ensure they are able to reach those with hearing or vision impairments. Consideration should also be given on how to assist those with disabilities with complying with the changes
- providing more waste facilities and more frequent rubbish collection
- where practicable, providing hand sanitiser (automated where possible) or hand washing facilities at the entry and exit points, in addition to public toilets/washrooms
- using disposable paper towels in handwashing facilities where possible
In England, face coverings are currently required by law to be worn in a number of settings the full details of those areas can be found on GOV.UK. Please be mindful that there are valid exemptions for some individuals and groups to not wear a face covering in these settings. Please view the government guidance on Face coverings: when to wear one and how to make your own for further information.
People are also strongly encouraged to wear face coverings in any other enclosed public space where there are people they do not normally meet. Face coverings should also be worn when attending a hospital as a visitor or outpatient.
Current government guidance states that face coverings should not be used by children under the age of 3 or those who may find it difficult to manage them correctly. Parents 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 a face covering.
It is important to use face coverings properly and that signs promote their use appropriately and make it clear users should wash their hands before putting them on and taking them off.
Additional measures and communicating with parents
Additional measures that can minimise the risk COVID-19 transmission in playgrounds and outdoor gyms focus on promoting responsible behaviour by children, parents, carers and guardians.
For example, owners and operators should consider putting up signs to make clear to users, parents, guardians and carers that:
- consumption of food or drink on play equipment or in the playground area is banned
- parents, guardians or carers should dispose of all litter including any used protective wear such as face coverings or gloves properly in litter bins, taking it home where a bin is not provided. People should dispose of face coverings and PPE in a ‘black bag’ waste bin or litter bin. Face coverings or PPE should not be put in a recycling bin.
Owners and operators should provide clear information to parents to set clear expectations about how children should behave when using playgrounds during COVID-19. This may be through one or more of: signs adjacent to the playground, online (e.g. operator websites or community message boards), or through leafletting.
Owners and operators may wish to consider reminding parents of the owner/operator’s legal obligations towards the playground users such as signs stating that allowing children to use playground equipment is done at their own risk where appropriate.
Considering children with additional needs
Owners/operators must take into account the requirements of children with additional needs.
Issues that are likely to be specific to this group include:
- an understanding that many need frequent reminders about rules of behaviour in playground settings
- 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 find it difficult to adjust to particular clothing requirements, and therefore may be less willing to use face coverings or similar if requested
- some additional needs are not evident, such as hearing loss, and may therefore account for non-responsiveness to verbal instruction
- queuing for apparatus or toilets can be a source of frustration, and the cause of agitation
- at higher risk of being involved in bullying incidents
5. Keeping staff safe
On conducting the risk assessment owners/operators must consider their staff and the risks they may be exposed to and how these can be mitigated. In the context of managing outdoor playgrounds during the COVID-19 pandemic, staff roles may include:
- cleaning equipment/surrounding areas
- managing queues of those waiting to use equipment
- stewarding equipment to ensure users comply with rules made by the owner/operator
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has produced guidance on working safely and should be consulted alongside this document.
Protective equipment for staff
When managing the risk of COVID-19, additional PPE beyond what is usually worn is not beneficial.
Unless staff are in a situation where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is very high, risk assessments should reflect the fact that the role of PPE in providing additional protection is extremely limited. However, if the risk assessment does show that PPE is required, the owners/operators should provide this PPE free of charge to workers who need it. Any PPE provided must fit properly.
Owners/operators should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against COVID-19 except in clinical or care settings (including first aid rooms) or when responding to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.
Where protective equipment is already used at facilities to protect against non-COVID-19 risks, this should continue.
Face coverings for staff
There is no universal face coverings guidance for workplaces because of the variety of work environments in different industries, however employers and employees should be aware of the latest legal requirement to wear a face covering as set out in Face coverings: when to wear one and how to make your own. Employers should read the relevant guidance for different workplace settings produced by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
If employees are required to or choose to wear a face covering, it is important they use face coverings properly and wash their hands before putting them on and before and after taking them off.
Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one. This means telling workers:
- wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on, and before and after removing it
- when wearing a face covering, avoid touching your face or face covering, as you could contaminate them with germs from your hands
- change your face covering if it becomes damp or if you’ve touched it
- continue to wash your hands regularly
- change and wash your face covering daily
- if the material is washable, wash in line with manufacturer’s instructions. If it’s not washable, dispose of it carefully in your residual ‘black bag’ waste. Do not put it in the recycling bin
- practice social distancing wherever possible
Playground managers and operators alike can read these guidance and derive your protocols and policies in maintaining a clean, welcoming and safe playground.
iREC is a world-class commercial playground and fitness manufacturer. We help develop and supply communities, commercial playgrounds and entertainment facilities with quality playground equipment that can be custom made to fit your project requirements when it comes to playground projects. Contact us today: Call us at +63 047 250 2779 / +63 047 251 3139 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch with our sales team.