Issues and Potential Solutions: Enhancing Safety for Supervised Early Childhood Services.
Play structures play a crucial role in the physical and cognitive development of young children. For Early Childhood Education (ECE) settings, the design and safety considerations of dynamic play equipment, such as Flexible Bridges, are of paramount importance. This document outlines the typical issues associated with Flexible type Bridges in relation to ECE, providing safety considerations to NZS5828 and proposes potential solutions to ensure a safe and enriching play environment for young children.
Flexible Bridge – can be various versions of Clatter Bridges, Swing bridges, wobbly bridges, suspended logs etc.
Flexible Bridges within ECE play areas present specific safety concerns due to the vulnerability of children in the target age group (usually under 36 months) and subsequently issues when assessed to NZS5828:2015 and Appendix A Supervised Early Childhood Services. The following issues should be addressed if possible:
In accordance with the NZS5828 standard, when installing a Flexible Bridge in proximity to the ground, the recommended minimum ground clearance is >400mm. However, we acknowledge that achieving this clearance can be challenging, especially considering the typical height of bridges designed for the intended age group.
As an acceptable alternative mitigation approach, Playsafe suggests ensuring a minimum of >230mm head ground clearance under all bridges, measured at their extreme positions. This alternative is favored when the >400mm ground clearance requirement cannot be met. The rationale behind this approach is to prioritize protection against head and skull injuries, thereby maintaining safety standards even when >400mm ground clearance is not feasible.
Enhancing Fall Protection:
In the design of Early Childhood Education (ECE) play equipment intended for easy access by children under 36 months, it is imperative to prioritize fall protection in accordance with the NZS5828 standard. For this specific age group, the use of barriers is mandated, and guardrails are often insufficient to meet the safety requirements. Hence, fully enclosed barriers are necessary to effectively prevent access by children of all ages.
In instances where a full barrier is employed, it is crucial to ensure that the top of the barrier is positioned at a minimum height of >700mm from the standing surface. Additionally, the barrier must be free from any potential entrapment hazards.
Preventing Climbing Encouragement on Rails/Barriers:
To deter children from attempting to climb, it is essential that any horizontal or near-horizontal rails or bars are absent from the play structure. These elements should not be available as potential aids for climbing. Moreover, any near-horizontal support elements should be positioned at a minimum height greater than >400mm above the standing surfaces to ensure that they are not considered climbable.
When designing barriers or balustrades, it's imperative to discourage children from sitting or standing on top of them. Infilling materials should be oriented vertically to discourage climbing while maintaining child safety. Additionally, it's advisable to ensure that the width of handrail elements does not exceed 70mm, as wider elements may inadvertently encourage behavior's like sitting or using them for body support.
Mitigating Entrapment Risks:
To minimize the risk of head pinch/crushing entrapment hazards, it's essential to carefully design openings between flexible and rigid parts. For instance, gaps between flexible elements and rigid rails should be meticulously considered. In alignment with NZS5828 recommendations, it's advisable to ensure a minimum gap diameter greater than >230mm throughout the range of movement.
Another aspect to consider is the potential for finger pinching between moving boards. To mitigate this risk, it's important to design in a way that either opposes an 8mm finger probe or allows full clearance for the >12mm moving parts probe to move freely without causing pinching throughout the entire range of motion.
Potential Solutions and Improvements:
To effectively address the safety concerns associated with Flexible Bridges, particularly Clatter Bridges, the following solutions are recommended:
Modify Clatter Bridge Design: Transforming swing bridges into static bridge designs and enclosing the sides with full barriers (at least 700mm high) can effectively eliminate potential hazards related to movement. This modification usually removes the requirements for openings between flexible and rigid parts.
Flexible Mesh Netting Enclosure: Another viable solution is to enclose the sides of the Bridge with flexible mesh netting, providing a secure barrier that is at least 700mm high. The netting design should discourage climbing and prevent finger/head entrapment or pinch points. This approach maintains movement and visibility while ensuring child safety.
Addressing the safety concerns associated with Flexible Bridges necessitates careful consideration of fall protection, accessibility, handrails, climbability, and entrapment hazards. Implementing solutions such as modifying swing bridge designs and utilizing flexible mesh netting enclosures can significantly enhance safety without compromising the overall play experience.
By prioritising these safety measures, Early Childhood Education professionals and designers can create a positive and secure play environment for the children under their care.