Is it too much to ask that our children play in a safe environment, on materials that won’t burn them?

I can’t believe it has happened again. I only know about it because a fellow mum in an online mum’s forum I am in, posted about it anonymously today. I do not know her name, but I feel for her, and for her child. How many other children is this happening to that we are not being made aware of? What are we as parents, as social citizens, and as a country doing about it?

In the last 14 months, there have been two incidents where parents have gone to the media about their child being severely burnt on a piece of playground equipment. In December 2014, a young toddler was allegedly severely burnt on a slide in Wauchope, NSW. This incident occurred less than 2 weeks after a one-year-old allegedly got severely burnt on a merry go round at a children’s playground in Adelaide, SA. In both cases, the children required hospitalisation and extensive medical treatment. Today, a mum posted anonymously in an online forum that her five-year-old daughter had been severely burnt yesterday on a metal slide in a Sydney playground. Within seconds the child had burns on her feet from running down the slide, because it was too hot for her to sit on. She was taken in an ambulance to hospital. Yes, yesterday was hot, but this happened at 9:30 in the morning.

In all three cases, the parents have been ostracised when coming forward. They have had nasty and unsubstantiated comments thrown at them from other mothers and members of society. They should have been watching their child. They should have checked if the playground equipment was hot. The injury is their fault. I have one thing to say to these people. Shame on you. Yes, we have a responsibility to watch our children and ensure they are safe, but how many parents can tell me their child has never hurt themselves when they turned their back on their child for a split second? Which child are you supposed to prioritise watching over if you have three other children with you to watch, as this mother did? The mother who posted anonymously today was simply putting her story forward to warn other parents of the dangers. She did not deserve the cowardly responses from strangers she did not know, sitting behind their computers.

The point is, if these things can happen at a children’s playground, how can we eliminate the risk?

In the case of the one-year-old who got burnt on the merry go round, the council told her the equipment was compliant with Australian Standards. The Australian Standard for Playground Equipment and Surfacing (AS4685.1;2014) actually states that the choice of materials should be appropriate where extreme climatic or atmospheric conditions are to be expected. In my opinion, Australia does get extremely high temperatures, and surfaces on playground equipment should accommodate that, and be indeed appropriate to such temperatures. Metal is not appropriate. In addition, the Standard states that where very low or very high temperatures can be anticipated, care should be taken on material selection to avoid possible hazards through direct skin contact. It also goes on to say metal parts should be protected against atmospheric conditions. This is up for interpretation, but I should think some sun shelter covering the equipment that is at risk of getting hot, for example, would be sufficient. Regardless, as one of the other clauses states, materials are not appropriate if they are at risk of getting extremely hot. It seems that none of these three playgrounds have been compliant with the Standard. So why are there playgrounds like this all over the country? Playgrounds that are unsafe for our children. Furthermore, according to AS4685.1;2014, various inspections must be carried out throughout the year. One of these is termed the Annual Main Inspection. This inspection is intended to establish the overall level of safety of equipment, foundations and playing surfaces. Typical checks include the effects of weather. I am at a loss to understand why we appear to have so many non-compliant playgrounds around the country. What is more important than ensuring the safety of our children?

Some mothers commented today that she should keep quiet because if she makes a fuss, they’ll remove all the playgrounds. Playgrounds form an essential part of everyone’s childhood, and we need them. Money is tight for councils, but is it too much to ask that our children play in a safe environment, on materials that won’t burn them?

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