If you are considering building a cubby for the kids over Christmas, or rigging up some backyard play equipment, there are some basic rules to follow to make sure it is safe – and legal
If children are lucky, they escape with a few sprains, bruises and grazes, but injuries can be much more serious
Things to consider
For equipment more than 500 mm from the ground, Kidsafe recommends a clear fall zone of at least 1900mm for 0-6 year old children and 2500mm for older children
The area around cubbies, open-sided raised decks and trampolines should be free of hard objects including toys, bicycles and pot plants.
Cubby houses should also not be too close to other equipment such as clotheslines, and if they are nearby, a balustrading of 900 mm should be erected to stop a child from falling onto them or overreaching.
For higher cubbies, it is also prudent to consider adding a balustrade around most of the structure, except for the entry and exit points, to reduce the risk of accidental falls.
The recommended maximum fall height for any play equipment is:
1000mm for children 0-3 years of age
1500mm for children 3-5 years of age
2500mm for children 5 years and over. (However, keep in mind, in some councils this is also the maximum total height of cubby houses without development consent. Therefore, a lower floor height would be required to allow for railings and potentially a roof)
Although netted trampolines have helped reduce injuries, attention to safety is still needed
Around all trampolines, including netted versions, there should be a 1500 mm clear fall space – especially as children often like to climb around the outside of the netting when mum or dad are not looking.
“It’s really important to keep the trampolines away from hard surfaces such as walls and fences and trees,” says Lockhart.
“If you picture one of those netted trampolines, users do bounce off the walls so they’re designed to have a little bit of give, and push the user back into the trampoline. But we do see incidences occur where those nets give way.”
Nets are improving with the addition of UV stabilisers, however, should always be checked regularly for signs of wear and tear.
Play equipment that is more than 500 mm from the ground needs to be surrounded by a soft surface to reduce the impact of a child’s fall.
For lower heights, well-maintained grass can work well and for raised equipment, Kidsafe recommends mulch laid 250mm thick.
Lockhart suggests seeking out eucalyptus or cyprus mulches as other types sometimes contain shredded oleander or grevillia, which may cause skin irritations.
“You can get them as a certified product, but you can buy it, so it’s a bit cheaper, as a non-certified product,” says Lockhart.
Swings should have a clear space in front and behind to protect children if they are suddenly flung off the swing, and the fall zone should have a soft surface such as child-friendly mulch.
Many injuries occur from either misusing or poorly maintaining play equipment, says Lockhardt.
“A lot of the times, plastic items, when they’re left outside for extended periods, the UV just damages it, makes it quite brittle and fragile. It may not be obvious to the child that they are damaged.
“Also, if it’s an item that can be rotated or moved around, sometimes that will eventually break and crack, and timber of course – it cannot withstand the harsh Australian environment, so therefore painting it or treating it, coating it with linseed oil or a clear polyurethane will help protect that.”
Keep it legal
Every summer stories emerge of home owners ordered to take down their backyard cubbies by their local council because they do not meet the regulations, including being built in a bushfire zone, being too high, too big, or out the front of a property.
Before construction, check your local council guidelines as to what is required of a cubby in the backyard as each council’s rules vary.
Most councils have their guidelines online.