Coronavirus: Expectations of councils regarding playgrounds and outdoor fitness equipment

Outdoor gym equipment in park

Update - 5 January 2021

The UK Government last night (4 January 2021) announced a new national lockdown.

Unlike the original lockdown announced in March 2020, this time outdoor playgrounds are allowed to remain open – although outdoor gyms, sports courts, swimming pools and golf courses must now close.

The Government’s full guidance regarding the new lockdown can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home

In terms of outdoor playgrounds, the guidance states these can remain open to allow for outdoor exercise:

You can exercise in a public outdoor place:

  • by yourself
  • with the people you live with
  • with your support bubble (if you are legally permitted to form one)
  • in a childcare bubble where providing childcare
  • or, when on your own, with 1 person from another household

Public outdoor places include:

  • parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, forests
  • public gardens (whether or not you pay to enter them)
  • the grounds of a heritage site
  • playgrounds

In terms of outdoor gyms, the guidance states that these should close:

Indoor gyms and sports facilities will remain closed. Outdoor sports courts, outdoor gyms, golf courses, outdoor swimming pools, archery/driving/shooting ranges and riding arenas must also close. Organised outdoor sport for disabled people is allowed to continue.

For more information, you can refer to our previous advice below or contact us directly for more specific risk management advice regarding your local outdoor spaces, playgrounds and gym equipment.

See our guidance for local councils on reopening playgrounds and outdoor gyms

Previous guidance - March 2020

Several of our local council clients have been in touch recently asking, in light of the Government’s new ‘lockdown’ advice, whether they are now obliged to fence off or otherwise secure playgrounds and outdoor fitness equipment and/or display closure notices.

The Government’s official advice has been criticised for being inconsistent, particularly in regards to whether they are encouraging people to get out and exercise for health and wellbeing purposes or suggesting that people shouldn’t go out at all.

In terms of playground and outdoor fitness equipment, however, the guidance does appear to be clear in that these areas should be avoided by the public.

The Government has ordered “certain businesses and venues to close”, which includes:

  • Indoor and outdoor leisure facilities such as bowling alleys, arcades and soft play facilities.
  • Communal places within parks, such as playgrounds, sports courts and outdoor gyms.

However, we are all aware of the problems with relying on the general public to take heed of Government advice.

Is it therefore the local council’s responsibility to secure and fence off playgrounds, sports courts and outdoor gyms or display closure notices?

Our opinion on this is no. Besides the extra resources required for this type of action, this may still not stop the ardent member of the public from trying to gain access. There is ample publicity, on TV and radio, regarding the closure of such equipment so a simple notice should suffice to remind the public of the current government advice if you wish to display something.

Fencing off the equipment would not be considered necessary and that no liability could be attached to the council if someone somehow alleged that they had contracted Coronavirus (COVID-19) due to the council’s lack of action.

However, if the equipment is defective in any way then normal safeguards should be put in place to avoid injuries occurring.

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BHIB Councils Insurance provides specialist insurance solutions for Local and Parish Councils. As part of BHIB Insurance Brokers, we have been delivering professional insurance and risk management guidance to our customers for over 50 years.

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