Roger Davis, RoSPA PlaySafety Inspector and Trainer, writes about the issues associated with ropes in children’s play.
Many people, at one time or another in their life, have enjoyed the thrill of swinging from a rope attached to a tree and frequently, to increase the challenge and excitement, the rope-swing often goes over water.
Such rope-swings can be great fun but equally they can represent great danger to children in particular, if the rope used is unsuitable and unauthorised.
Experienced playground inspectors find similar attempts at rope-swings in children’s playgrounds when children, and sometimes adults, tie a length of rope to the play equipment to “enhance their play experience”.
Unfortunately such ropes can lead to accidents and sadly, even death as a child becomes entangled in the rope. Any unauthorised rope should be removed from the playground and this includes ropes that may be hanging down from trees nearby in the playing field for example. Such actions are not always understood or appreciated but anyone responsible for the management, maintenance and inspection of a children’s playground should not hesitate to remove the offending item.
The majority of “ropes” used in children’s play are not ropes at all. They are actually hard; quite stiff nylon-covered steel stranded cables that can withstand the demands of children and the weather. Soft ropes are frequently made from natural fibres such as hemp or synthetic materials such as polypropylene but both rely on being braided or plaited to provide the required structural strength.
Soft ropes can be easily cut and, with modern synthetic ropes, the strands can easily unravel forming entrapments for both feet or hands and, just occasionally, a noose with potentially tragic consequences.
Hard wire-cored ropes or cables are used throughout the play industry as they generally last longer and are less prone to forming entrapments or other hazards. The main issue with the cable-type rope is wear and tear on the softer material covering the steel strands and then the steel strands breaking.
However this can easily be seen and monitored with good routine inspection of the play equipment and its individual components. Just as chain links on a swing, for example, should be checked for wear and tear so should authorised and approved climbing ropes and climbing nets be checked on play equipment. If the cable-type rope outer material is damaged it is acceptable to use a strong adhesive material tape to bind the cable thus preventing the inner steel core strands from being exposed and possibly breaking. Such actions need to be closely and regularly monitored but eventually the cable will need replacing.
Many people will be familiar with the blue-coloured synthetic rope that can be found on agility trails such as rope bridges and scramble nets. Whilst this type of rope is acceptable when it is in good condition it does fray and can create entrapments. It is essential synthetic ropes are securely fixed at the uprights and, if present, on top beams to avoid forming entrapments of arms, legs and possibly the head.
For further advice and information on suitable ropes for children’s play visit Children’s Play Safety on the RoSPA website