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Are Melksham’s play areas safe?

THE safety of parks owned by Wiltshire Council in Melksham has come into question after it was disclosed that the parks have not been independently inspected for ‘several years’.

The parks in question are currently part of a deal between Wiltshire Council and Melksham Town Council that will see the town council take on a seven-year licence to manage them.

However the town council’s clerk, Linda Roberts, has expressed her concern that whilst checks may have been carried out by Wiltshire Council staff, annual checks by an independent organisation have not been carried out. 

At the town council’s asset management committee meeting, Linda said, “We’ve established that the play areas Wiltshire Council own have not been RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) inspected for several years, which concerns me as I thought it was an insurance requirement that an external organisation does a full report on safety, and the maintenance of the play equipment.

“We will continue to have Melksham’s inspected by RoSPA, but I think it would be prudent for the town council to get those that we are going to take from Wiltshire Council, RoSPA inspected.”

A member of staff at Melksham Town Council told Melksham News that the town council is arranging for all the play areas in question to be independently checked by RoSPA as soon as possible. 

The news affects the parks in Awdry Avenue, Dorset Crescent, Dunch Lane, Hazelwood Road (the play area and the multi-use games area), Primrose Drive, Riverside Drive, Speedwell Close (Campion Drive), Spring Meadow, Woody Park (Queensway). The town council also say that it is possible that the play area in King George V playing field (excluding the equipment installed by the town council in 2017 to replace the paddling pool) has also not been independently inspected.

A spokesperson from RoSPA who would normally carry out the safety inspections, told Melksham News, that whilst there are no specific Acts of Parliament that cover play areas, Wiltshire Council has a ‘duty of care’ to ensure that their play areas are safe – breaches of this ‘duty of care’ could be a criminal offence.

They said, “In legal terms, play provision is governed by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (in Northern Ireland the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978) and the Occupiers’ Liability Acts 1957 and 1984 (in Scotland the Occupiers’ Liability Act (Scotland) 1960; in Northern Ireland the Occupiers’ Liability Act (Northern Ireland) 1957 and Occupiers’ Liability (Northern Ireland) Order 1987). 

“These Acts impose a duty of care on providers and occupiers. In the case of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, breaches of this duty of care are a criminal offence. By contrast, the Occupiers’ Liability Acts provide the legal basis for civil claims but not criminal convictions. In practice, both these pieces of legislation imply a similar level of care for providers, captured in the notion of ‘reasonableness’.

“Whilst there are no specific Acts of Parliament that cover play areas, both The Occupiers Liability Act (Revised 1984) and The Health and Safety at Work act (1974) impose a proactive “duty of care” where children are involved. In practice this means that you have to take special care where children are concerned, and this includes anticipating “reasonable misuse”. 

“In addition, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations mean that you have a legal responsibility to have risk assessed the site and surroundings for risks to users. Large local authorities will usually have a sports and leisure department that will implement a play policy, this will include provision, installation, training, operation, inspection and maintenance of their play facilities. Inspection and maintenance may be in-house or contracted out. 

“Smaller authorities and local councils generally use an independent inspection service such as RoSPA Playsafety to undertake their inspections, training and risk assessments.”

Wiltshire Council was approached for comment, but had not responded by the time Melksham News went to print.

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