Two little girls who just wanted to play at the pub

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The Independent Online
They feature bouncy castles and ball pools and are a magnetic attraction for children - but are they safe?

Children's play areas in the growing "family pub" market may be putting children at risk of preventable accidents because of inadequate safety checks.

One Somerset pub is under investigation by environmental health officers after two children were injured in accidents at its indoor play area, and up to 200 children are thought to be suffering fractures every year.

Alan Smith, director of the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management (Ilam), said such reports were a rarity just two or three years ago, but the mushrooming play industry had prompted a surge of them.

Ilam has worked with other groups to produce a code of conduct, in response to appeals for information from public house managers.

But parents of injured children expressed surprise that it was left to the industry to ensure children's safety - and that it appeared in some cases to be failing to do so.

Judith Glinn, whose daughter, Holly, suffered a broken leg in a pub play area, said: "When you take your children there, you expect them to be safe. You don't expect them to be put at risk."

Holly, then two, broke her leg last November when she came down a slide at the Bathpool Inn in Taunton, Somerset, into a ball pool.

Miss Glinn discovered that another child, Melanie Knight, three, had suffered a spine injury after playing on the same slide six months earlier. A notice closing the "fun factory" was placed on the play area when a third parent complained to environmental health officers.

Their inspection found concrete on the base of the pool instead of padding, rips to a padded slope repaired with staples, inadequate netting to stop children falling from a raised area, and loose carpets. The council is still investigating the incident.

The play area was repaired and reopened, but Miss Glinn said: "It was a shock to discover that the safety of small children had been neglected."

A Whitbread spokeswoman said that "very regrettably" an error was made at the Bathpool Inn, but changes were carried out immediately and staff retrained. She said the company had developed a code of practice including safety plans, which was reviewed every six months.

Nick Balmforth, an independent children's play consultant, said Allied Domecqopened about 40 indoor play areas in the last 18 months and was expected to open another 100 in the next 18 months.

Bass has 14, with another six in the pipeline, and Whitbread said last year it was creating at least 70 new indoor play dens.

But the first code of conduct was written only last year, by Nick Balmforth, after the boom prompted Ilam, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) and the National Playing Fields Association to take action. Mr Balmforth said the key to safety was regular maintenance and inspections. By law, any major incident, such as the breaking of an arm, should be reported by staff to environmental health officers.

Peter Heseltine, play safety adviser for Rospa, said there were British safety standards for outside playgrounds but none at all for inside.

He estimated there were between 100 and 200 fractures a year, but hundreds of lesser incidents.

Mr Smith of Ilam said it was now lobbying for the Government to gather statistics on indoor play accidents. As the play areas were not licensed, no one knew how many there were.

The number of inquiries from members on play issues had nearly doubled in 18 months, indicating a rising level of concern.

But Mr Smith said the number of accidents was bound to increase as the number of play areas rose, because not every accident was preventable.

A spokesman for Bass said it used an experienced equipment company and fully- trained staff. "We even audition the staff, not interview them," he added.

"It's a different kind of job from what was traditionally seen as bar staff."

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