Home' Teacher : May 2010 Contents 44 TEACHER MAY 2010
Playgrounds, play, sport and injury
What does the law say?
Generally, courts have found that the mere
fact that a serious injury may occur to a stu-
dent who is playing on play equipment or
playing sport at school does not automati-
cally result in a finding that the school has
breached its duty of care. A school may be
found to have breached its duty of care,
though, if it fails to have in place a system
to inspect and maintain playground equip-
ment and playing surfaces.
Case law decisions by judges generally
suggest that schools ought to manage the
risks inherent in play and sport, rather than
curbing or preventing play and sport alto-
gether. The reasoning by Judge David Ipp,
in the 2001 case, Trustees for the Rom an
Catholic Church for the Archdiocese of
Sydney v Kondrajian, was that play and
sport remain important in the development
of a child, despite that they carry with them
a foreseeable risk of injury.
'Every sport or physical activity carries
with it a foreseeable risk of injury,' Judge
Ipp observed, 'yet ou r society accepts that
it is desirable for children to acquire skills
in sport and physical activities. Games and
activities such as gymnastics, rugby, soccer,
cricket and hockey are ordinarily part of
school curricula. This is so despite the fact
that it is foreseeable that participation in
these games, even when carefully organised
and super vised, can lead to serious injury
and, in extraordinary cases, even death.
'It ishardly necessary to spell out theben-
efits of participating in sporting activities.
Children thereby acquire physical fitness,
develop physical coordination and partici-
pate in team games. These are alldeep-rooted
aspects of community life in this country and
it is important for children to be taught the
skills to be able to participate in them.
'There are undoubted dangers inherent in
minkey. These dangers stem largely from
the fact that each player plays the game with
a hockey stick, a piece of equipment that
is capable of causing serious injury, but...
minkey is part of the curriculum in many
primary schools and this is testimony to its
acceptance by the community as being ben-
eficial for young children.'
The case of Bujnowicz v Trustees Roman
Catholic Church indicates that schools need
to have in place a system for the regular
and close inspection of the condition of the
equipment and playing surfaces.
Bujnowicz addressed an injury to
a 14-year- old Year 9 student at Good
Samaritan Catholic College in Hoxton Park
in Sydney's outer west, who twisted and
injured his knee during a lunchtime game
of touch football match with about 20 other
students. The playing field, which was prone
to flooding, had been affected by heavy rains
before the injury occurred.
Judge Christopher Geraghty in the
District Court of New South Wales found
for the school, since there had been no prior
injuries on the playing area, it had been
inspected on a regular basis and school staff
had no reason to suspect that the playing
surface was unsafe. The case went to appeal,
Judge Murray Herbert Tobias reversed that
decision, essentially because the noted that
the school's inspection of the playing fields
'was extremely ad hoc' and 'very much a hit
and miss system.'
'The question,' Judge Tobias noted, 'is
whether the (school) failed to take such rea-
sonable precautions for the safety of those
playing the game as would have prevented
the harm that in fact befell the (student)
in the present case. In other words, in all
the circumstances was it reasonable for the
(school) to take the precaution of institut-
ing a system of regular inspections of the
surface of the playing area, square metre by
square metre, in order to identify any unex-
pected potholes or indentations in that sur-
face which, if not remedied, might result in
a student who was focused on the game he
was playing inadvertently stepping into that
hole or indentation and thereby twisting an
ankle or knee?'
Generally speaking, the decisions of the
courts suggest that the 'reasonable precau-
tions' schools ought to take when it comes
to inspecting and maintaining playground
equipment and playing surfaces are pretty
high, but not so high that students should be
prevented from playing games or sport.
Bujnowicz v Trustees of the Roman
Catholic. Church of the Archdiocese of
Sydney  NSWCA 457
The Trustees for the Roman Catholic
Church for the Archdiocese of Sydney v
Kondrajian  NSWCA 308
EVERY SPORT OR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY CARRIES WITH IT A FORESEEABLE
RISK OF INJURY, SO WHAT SHOULD SCHOOLS DO TO ADDRESS THAT RISK?
STEVE HOLDEN REPORTS.
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