The topic of Risk Management comes up a lot when an organization is dealing with existing or new commercial playground equipment. But when applied to the playground equipment itself, this terminology falls short of describing what we as playground designers are trying to achieve. The terms Hazard and Risk are often used interchangeably by many people when talking about playground equipment, but they are subtly different in their meanings. A better approach would be to talk about Safety and Challenge.
Safety, or Hazard, relates to what a playground designer does to ensure that there is nothing on a piece of playground equipment that would be injurious to the user, or anything that a user might not be able to perceive as something they need to pay attention to. There are several playground safety standards that are in place such as ASTM F-1487, CAN/CSA Z614 and EN 1176. The specific standard that applies to a given playground would be dependent on what area of the world it is being installed in, and are typically mandated at the federal level. The purpose behind these various standards is to prevent life-threatening and debilitating injuries on our playgrounds.
Challenge, or Risk, is an element designed into playgrounds to keep them entertaining for increasingly distracted children, and give the users an opportunity to increase in their skills and abilities. A key differentiator between Challenge and Safety is that a Challenge is something that the user can identify as an obstacle to overcome and make a mental decision whether to attempt the challenge or not. Challenge is an essential element that should be made a part of all playgrounds, where the challenge is appropriate for the target age group of the children intended to use the equipment. If sufficient Challenge is not designed into a piece of playground equipment, children will find ways to add Challenge by using the equipment in ways that it was not intended, which could lead to Safety concerns.
At heart, we all desire a little Challenge in our day, though perhaps some more than others. Children are no exception. At Dynamo, we are dedicated to offering children age-appropriate Challenges, while keeping Safety as a top priority.