Play it safe in the backyard

Last updated 09:05 29/11/2012
cubby house
CUBBY HOUSE: Check to see if you need council permission before putting up new structures.
cubby house
REGULAR MAINTENANCE: UV rays can damage and split plastic play equipment so keep an eye on them.
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If you are considering building a cubby for the kids over Christmas, or rigging up some backyard play equipment, there are some basic rules to follow to make sure it is safe.

Kay Lockhart, project officer with the Kidsafe NSW Playground Advisory Unit, says the majority of injuries in backyards are from falls from playground equipment and fences.

If children are lucky, they escape with a few sprains, bruises and grazes, but injuries can be much more serious.

"In younger children we see head injuries, in older children ... we see more of the upper limb fractures because they've learned to put their arm out," says Lockhart.

Things to consider:

1. Fall zone

For equipment more than 500 mm from the ground, Kidsafe recommends a clear fall zone of at least 1900mm for 0-6 year old children and 2500mm for older children.

The area around cubbies, open-sided raised decks and trampolines should be free of hard objects including toys, bicycles and pot plants.

Cubby houses should also not be too close to other equipment such as clotheslines, and if they are nearby, a balustrading of 900 mm should be erected to stop a child from falling onto them or overreaching.

For higher cubbies, it is also prudent to consider adding a balustrade around most of the structure, except for the entry and exit points, to reduce the risk of accidental falls.

2. Limit heights

The recommended maximum fall height for any play equipment is:

1000mm for children 0-3 years of age

1500mm for children 3-5 years of age

2500mm for children 5 years and over. (However, keep in mind, in some councils this is also the maximum total height of cubby houses without development consent. Therefore, a lower floor height would be required to allow for railings and potentially a roof).

3. Tramp safety

Although netted trampolines have helped reduce injuries, attention to safety is still needed.

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Around all trampolines, including netted versions, there should be a 1500 mm clear fall space - especially as children often like to climb around the outside of the netting when mum or dad are not looking.

"It's really important to keep the trampolines away from hard surfaces such as walls and fences and trees," says Lockhart.

"If you picture one of those netted trampolines, users do bounce off the walls so they're designed to have a little bit of give, and push the user back into the trampoline. But we do see incidences occur where those nets give way."

Nets are improving with the addition of UV stabilisers, however, should always be checked regularly for signs of wear and tear.

4. Soft surface

Play equipment that is more than 500mm from the ground needs to be surrounded by a soft surface to reduce the impact of a child's fall.

For lower heights, well-maintained grass can work well and for raised equipment, Kidsafe recommends mulch laid 250mm thick.

Lockhart suggests seeking out eucalyptus or cyprus mulches as other types sometimes contain shredded oleander or grevillia, which may cause skin irritations.

"You can get them as a certified product, but you can buy it, so it's a bit cheaper, as a non-certified product," says Lockhart.

4. Swing free

Swings should have a clear space in front and behind to protect children if they are suddenly flung off the swing, and the fall zone should have a soft surface such as child-friendly mulch.

5. Maintenance

Many injuries occur from either misusing or poorly maintaining play equipment, says Lockhardt.

"A lot of the times, plastic items, when they're left outside for extended periods, the UV just damages it, makes it quite brittle and fragile. It may not be obvious to the child that they are damaged.

6. Keep it legal

Every summer stories emerge of home owners ordered to take down their backyard cubbies by their local council because they do not meet the regulations, including being too high, too big, or out the front of a property.

Before construction, check your local council guidelines as to what is required of a cubby in the backyard as each council's rules vary.

Most councils have their guidelines online.

For more information on safe play equipment, see here.

Do you have a fantastic play space in the garden for your children? Or are you planning one?

- Sydney Morning Herald

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