What does a balanced approach look like?
A balanced approach to managing risk in play involves bringing together in a single process thinking about both risks and benefits. Recent years have seen the development of risk- benefit assessment as the best way to support such a process. Risk-benefit assessment in play was first set out in the 2008 Play England publication Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation Guide. This defines risk- benefit assessment as an approach that ‘sets out in a single statement the considerations of risk and benefit that have contributed to the decision to provide, modify or remove some facility or feature.’ This guidance document is supported by the HSE, which describes it as a ‘sensible approach to risk management.’
What marks out risk-benefit assessment from conventional risk assessment is that it includes careful consideration of the benefits of an activity, facility, structure or experience. Because this takes place alongside a consideration of the risks, it allows for the inherent benefits of some risks to be properly taken into account. It also makes clear that good risk management does not always imply that risks should be reduced or controlled.
Alongside explicit thinking about benefits, the approach set out in Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation Guide includes other key features:
- It advises that procedures should be grounded in clear values and understandings about children and their play, and recommends that providers agree and adopt a play policy to state these. The Welsh Government Play Policy is an example of this.
- It makes clear the fact that ultimately, judgements about the balance between risks and benefits are for the provider to make, not for technical experts, external inspectors, legal advisors or insurers (although their views may be relevant).
- It puts forward a descriptive approach, rather than any form of numerical scoring, on the basis that such scoring processes are often difficult to use consistently, and can over- complicate the task.
- It explains how guidance and standards (including European standards for play equipment) fit into the overall risk management task, making the point that compliance with standards is not a legal requirement (though they are taken into account in legal cases).