Article written in partnership with Kidsafe NSW, an independent not-for-profit organisation dedicated to promoting children’s safety through education, advocacy and research.
Playspaces exist at the heart of our neighbourhoods and should cater for everyone – young and old, families and carers, and people of all abilities. Playspaces should be welcoming and comfortable, easy to navigate and interesting. They should offer a range of physical challenges, a variety of landscape settings and provide opportunities to connect with others. (From Everyone Can Play, 2019 Department of Planning and Environments).
Local Councils demonstrate exceptional capacity to create amazing playspaces and over a number of years Kidsafe Australia has showcased some of these spectacular sites through their National Playspace Design Awards. In 2020, the awards were presented to Hornsby Shire Council for their Carrs Bush Inclusive Nature Based Playspace and Waitara Park; Livvi’s Place Gunnedah; and Bridge Hill Regional Park. Check out the most recent and past winners for some great ideas here.
Planning a new playground or upgrading an existing playground can be time consuming, labour intensive and challenging however, researching your community’s vision or developing a play strategy will help make informed decisions and result in a safe, inclusive and exciting playspace. The following strategic elements will optimise the play value and community interest – so that everyone can (and will want to) play!
It is important to do research and collect relevant information.
- Visit parks and playgrounds and pay attention to details such as the type of equipment and surfacing and how they have withstood community use.
- Are the playgrounds in fact used and which elements are popular?
- Many councils and architects have a gallery of playgrounds they have designed on their websites, check them out virtually or in person!
- Look out for interesting, non-traditional play items that make the space unique.
Select a site that is within walking distance to the greatest number of families and facilities and consider the following:
- Consultation – include all community stakeholders in the design process with particular attention to the ‘inclusive’ needs of the community which allows everyone of all ages, abilities and developmental stages to enjoy the same space. For more information click here.
- Topography – design creatively, working with changing levels of the landscape.
- Land and soil – type of soil and drainage of the land.
- Planting – adding trees, shrubs, or flowers. For more information visit ‘grow me safely’.
- Climate – assess the surroundings to incorporate the most appropriate shade options both short term and long term, for more information click here.
- Utilities – seating, tables, bins, water fountains, barbeques, toilets etc.
- Liability – all companies engaged in designing or building the playground should provide information about their liability insurance and work health and safety requirements.
- References – if there is something you like ask around and check references and gather feedback.
- Budget – prepare a realistic budget. Schedule and prioritise stages of works in keeping with the budget and size of the project including ongoing maintenance requirements.
Based on your budget, site and community needs, develop a concept plan. Once a concept plan is developed, consider engaging Kidsafe NSW to undertake a Review of Plans to identify any design issues or non-compliances to AS 4685 and AS 4422 relating to playground equipment and surfacing prior to installation.
Comply with Australian Standards
Select playground equipment that complies with:
- Australian Standard AS 4685 Playground equipment and surfacing, and
- AS 4422 Playground surfacing.
It is important to request the manufacturer’s certification of compliance to Australian Standards for each item of equipment and surfacing. For custom or bespoke items, designers should demonstrate compliance to the Australian Standards. A comprehensive post installation inspection can verify compliance.
Complete a Comprehensive Post Installation Inspection
AS 4685 specifies an independent, comprehensive post installation inspection and surfacing impact test before handover and/or opening of the playground. The purpose of the inspection is to verify the playground complies with the Australian Standards. Hazards identified in the inspection report should be discussed with the installer/manufacturer promptly and appropriate repairs or modifications made. Kidsafe NSW provides this service: click here for more information.
Evaluate and Monitor
Once the playground is in use, it is important to evaluate and monitor it regularly to ensure the space is safe, attractive and exciting! If areas are found to be unpopular or not used as anticipated, modifications can be designed and implemented to keep the playspace active and thriving. Similarly, well-loved and highly used activity areas may require additional maintenance to ensure longevity and safety.
The Kidsafe NSW website has a wealth of very useful information, for example:
- Training and professional development services.
- Inspection services, playground surface testing and review of plans.
- Factual, practical information sheets on design, management and surfacing impact areas.
These and much more can be downloaded from the website.
- Best Practice Manual – Playgrounds.
- RRM presentation.
- CIP – Self-assessment Workbook (audit).
- Playground CIP benchmarking data for:
- state; and
- OLG group.
If you would like more information on this topic, feel free to reach out to your Regional Risk Manager. Otherwise the Kidsafe NSW Playground Advisory team welcome your enquiry and can also be contacted on