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Experts agree children will not learn about risk if they are wrapped in cotton wool

Children should have the opportunity to take risks when they are playing, experts said today. The Play Safety Forum (PSF) and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have agreed an approach to managing risk to give play providers the confidence to offer exciting and challenging play environments without unnecessary safety concerns and paperwork.

The joint Statement recognises the importance of play for children's well-being and development. The overarching message to all bodies that have an impact on children's play is that when planning and providing opportunities the goal is not to eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits - no child will learn about risk if they are wrapped in cotton wool. PSF and HSE urge all organisations to embrace the recommendations and principles in the Statement. Click here to read the full statement.

The Statement is a response to the fact that children have suffered a significant loss in their freedom to play over the past 40 years or so. Previous research has shown that a shocking half of children aged 7-12 are not allowed to climb a tree without an adult present and that one in five children aged 7-12 have been stopped from playing conkers because it's 'too dangerous.'1 The Government-commissioned reportCommon Sense Common Safety has also recommended the adoption of more sensible and proportionate approaches to risk management particularly with respect to play activities.

Robin Sutcliffe, chair of the Play Safety Forum said: "I believe that this will be a landmark statement, helping councils, schools, charities and others to give children and young people greater freedom to experience challenging and adventurous play and leisure opportunities. The implications for society will be far reaching and my thanks go to the HSE for embracing this concept and working with PSF so positively."

Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Health and Safety Executive said: "Health and safety laws are often wrongly cited as a reason to deny children opportunities, contributing to a cotton wool culture.  I welcome this statement which brings clarity and focus to what really matters when managing the risks associated with children's play. Whilst HSE's main focus is on health and safety in the workplace, it is clear that attitudes to risk are formed long before young people enter the world of work. Play outdoors teaches young people how to deal with risk and without this they are ill equipped to deal with working life."

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1 ICM research to support Playday 2008. Playday is the national day for play in the UK. For more information, visit www.playday.org.uk.

For more information please contact NCB media office on 020 7843 6045/47. Out of hours mobile: 07721 097 033. HSE press office: 0151 951 4684.

Notes to editors

About the Health and Safety Executive
The Health and Safety Executive is Britain's national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to prevent death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training, new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk.

About the Play Safety Forum
The Play Safety Forum (PSF) is an independent forum that focuses on two key areas: Defining the role of risk and challenge in play and play provision, and is hosted by Play England. PSF members include national organisations that have an active interest in the development and implementation of good practice in play provision, with particular reference to issues of risk and health and safety.

About Play England
Play England is the national campaigning body for children's play in England and is part of the National Children's Bureau (NCB). NCB is a leading research and development charity working to improve the lives of children and young people, especially the most vulnerable. For further information, visit www.playengland.org.uk and www.ncb.org.uk.

Cath Prisk director of Play England said: "Children have suffered significant loss in their freedom to play over the past 40 years or so. Health and safety laws and regulations are sometimes presented as a reason to wrap children in cotton wool, but this is often the result of misunderstandings and misinterpretation of requirements. This statement brings clarity and focus to what really matters."

About Play Wales
Play Wales is the national charity for children's play in Wales. For further information visit www.playwales.org.uk.

Mike Greenaway Director of Play Wales said: "Growing risk aversion fuelled by a fear of being  sued  means that as a society we've stopped looking at the quality of provision for play and focused just on its safety. This statement makes explicit what has always been implicit; that we should look at the benefits of play as well as the hazards; it will enable us to give children more freedom to play and to experience the joy of taking risks, like we did when we were children."

About Play Scotland
Play Scotland was formed in 1998 to make the child's right to play a reality in Scotland. For further information visit www.playscotland.org

Marguerite Hunter Blair Chief Executive of Play Scotland said: "This seminal statement allows for a more adventurous approach to children's play, which in turn should lead to lots more children playing out, having fun and feeling good. Balancing risks and benefits will enable providers to drive forward innovative and inspiring places for play at school and in the wider community.  The clarity of this statement allows families and communities to take a common sense approach to managing risk in play."

About PlayBoard Northern Ireland
PlayBoard is the leading agency for the development and promotion of children and young people's play in Northern Ireland. For further information, visit www.playboard.org.  

Jacqueline O'Loughlin Chief Executive of PlayBoard Northern Ireland said: "I fully endorse and support todays joint statement.  Opportunities for children's play including access to play experiences have often been adversely affected by adults' misinterpretation of Health and Safety legislation and regulation. The significance of today's joint statement cannot be underestimated as it provides a clear affirmation that exposure to risk in play contributes to the growth of a child's ability to manage uncertainty and challenge; life-skills which go beyond the play experience".  

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