Newport City Council has always operated its play settings using a work based risk assessment programme, where hazards are identified and risks eliminated or reduced.
It has been recognised within the council’s Play Development Team (four members of staff) that this method of risk management is not viable within play settings as it does not take in to consideration the need for children’s play to include an element of risk.
Therefore, in 2015 a concerted effort was made to work with relevant departments within the Council to change this system and adopt a risk-benefit assessment (RBA) process, a risk management system that has been adopted by a number of play agencies in Wales.
In the first instance, a conversation was held with the Health and Safety department within the Council, to assess whether we could adopt a RBA process and whether this would contravene any policies and procedures. The outcome of this conversation was positive but it was highlighted that, in order to do so, it was necessary to show valid justification for the amendment to the existing risk management system.
With that in mind we approached Play Wales, given their vast experience in this area, to assist us in presenting a case for change to Council representatives. A seminar was held for Council representatives to attend, which involved a presentation by Tim Gill and Marianne Mannello. The aim of this seminar was to present valid evidence in support of the adoption of RBA system.
Council representatives from various relevant departments including Health and Safety, Law and Standards, Youth Service, Parks and Recreation and Development Services. All attendees were engaged and enjoyed healthy debate regarding the justification for using RBA and the viability of introducing it into the Council’s Play Service. Law and Standards were particularly enthused by the idea of using the system as they felt that it would be a more open system and therefore reduce claims made against the Council.
Following this seminar, further talks have been held with Health and Safety and a new risk management system was piloted with 40 staff across six settings during October 2015 half term playscheme. This involved robust suitability assessments and daily checks on premises and fixed equipment, combined with play specific risk assessments on activities and play.
The outcome of using this system produced a reduction in accident/incident forms and feedback from play staff suggests that, while the initial suitability assessments are more time consuming, the system is more relevant to their settings. It ensures that they focus their attention on real risk not perceived risk, in a practical way while allowing the children the freedom to manage their own risks, according to age and ability. These are things that the staff themselves had not been asked to consider before.
There is still a long way to go, with the need for an updated Play Policy for the Council that reflects the RBA process and information sharing with parents/carers to ensure that they are aware of the benefits this system has for their children’s play. However, the Council has taken a dramatic step towards changing the shape of risk management within play and the Play Development Team will endeavour to extend RBA to all their settings through 2016 and beyond.
In relation to the Play Sufficiency Audit, this process has improved many target areas set.
In Matter D, supervised provision:
- The local authority offers play provision which offers a rich play environment as described in the Statutory Guidance
In Matter F, access to space/provision – information, publicity and events:
- The local authority publicises information which contributes to positive community attitudes to play
In Matter G, securing and developing the play workforce:
- Training awareness sessions are available for professionals and decision makers whose work impacts on children’s opportunities to play
In Matter H, community engagement and participation:
- The local authority promotes community engagement in:
- making space available and suitable for play
- organising play events
- positive attitudes towards children and play
- training on the importance of play.
In Matter I, play within all relevant policy and implementation agendas – health and safety:-
- The health and safety policies explicitly recognise the value of children being able to experience risk and challenge
- The health and safety policies and procedures incorporate the risk-benefit approach to health and safety assessments as recommended by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The cross collaboration with Play Wales and partnership working within the organisation has prioritised the Playwork Principles, ensuring that children have the opportunity to manage their own risks in a stimulating and supportive environment with play staff who understand the importance of a play specific risk management process.