Experts affiliated with the British Columbia Injury Research and Prevention Unit (BCIRPU) are calling upon ASTM, the international standards-setting body, to hold off on implementing new, “more absorbent” playground surfacing standards. In a recent article titled “Can we go too far when it comes to children’s injury prevention?,” the BCIRPU authors explain that the new standards—designed to reduce head injuries—will do more harm than good:
At first blush, this may seem like a great idea. Who wouldn’t want their child to avoid head injuries??! Not as evident are the ramifications, both immediate and long term, of a decision like this. While playground safety standards are not policies and are developed by a voluntary organization, they are typically applied as policy. This is because of liability concerns. If anything goes wrong, the playground provider wants to be able to support the fact that their playground met the safety standards as a measure of due diligence.
So what this means is that every time there is a playground standard change, schools, daycare centres, recreation facilities and so on across the country have to rip out equipment, surfacing, etc., to comply with new standards.
They go on to delineate five particular issues with implementing stricter surfacing standards, which UK childhood expert Tim Gill succinctly recaps on his blog Rethinking Childhood:
1. Head injuries on the playground are extremely rare and there is no evidence that they are increasing on playgrounds.
2. The head injury criterion (HIC) is measured by dropping a head form straight down, but children do not fall that way.
3. Ripping out and replacing surfacing is a very expensive proposition.
4. Kids want and need to take risks and experience uncertainty. So reducing risks has major ramifications.
5. We are doing a miserable job of providing stimulating play opportunities for children.
Playgrounds with no risk, the BCIRPU authors explain—and Philip Howard and Common Good have often argued—have less value in teaching children about themselves and the world around them, and they can actually become more dangerous as children “climb higher and fall harder” in order to make them more interesting.
Read the full BCIRPU article here, and Tim Gill’s commentary here. ASTM will begin voting on the new standards in the coming days—Common Good joins BCIRPU, Gill, and the host of others calling on them to reconsider implementing the proposal before them.