In Tim Harford's book-length argument that some degree of messiness is, contrary to much modern opinion, a good thing, he makes an argument late in the book that applies to the spaces where children play.

Modern playgrounds have become dominated by careful design of the playthings and the environment (KFC in the jargon, standing for Kit, Fence, Carpet). The floors are often made from soft rubbery material to reduce the impact of falls and the kit is increasingly designed to be very safe. All this is intended to reduce the possibility of injury to children.

Harford argues, however:

Yet it’s unclear that these expensive KFC playgrounds play host to fewer accidents. David Ball, a professor of risk management at Middlesex University, has been unable to find any indication that injury rates are falling in these sanitised playgrounds in either the US or the UK.

and he further argues that "dangerous" areas strewn with junk and potentially risky artefacts turn out not to be unsafe:

The benefits of messy play don’t end there. Grant Schofield, a professor of public health at Auckland University of Technology, has been running a research project in which schools opened up nearby wasteground for primary age children to roam free in during breaks. There were no more serious injuries than when the children played in their conventional playgrounds – indeed, there were fewer.

Is he right: is there no evidence that modern ultra-safe playgrounds actually reduce childhood accidents?

  • 5
    With my skeptics hat on: both of the quotes you've found are about injury rates, not injury risks (where risk is probability times severity). I suspect most injuries may be from one child running into another, which won't be mitigated much by a soft landing, and can be reduced in likelihood by giving the same number of children much more space (i.e. the wasteground). But an event leading to a serious injury could be mitigated to a less serious injury, without affecting probability, by providing a soft landing.
    – AndyT
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 14:06
  • @AndyT "There were no more serious injuries than when the children played in their conventional playgrounds – indeed, there were fewer."
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 18:34
  • 1
    @AndyT A good answer would report both rates and severity. But I don't agree that there is a simple way to combine them into a single score. Nor that the question is trying to dodge proper accounting of either (it is just that language isn't used precisely).
    – matt_black
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 18:42
  • I believe my city replaced traditional sand with the soft rubber on play grounds because of the potential for traps – a some person was placing nails/razor blades/etc. in the sand.
    – mrchaarlie
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 17:42
  • 1
    @mrcharlie - how would using granulated rubber preclude someone from placing razor blades there?
    – warren
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 19:43


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