Play areas are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and, if not properly cleaned on a regular basis, can be hazardous to public health and safety

Play areas in shopping centres and restaurants are usually considered to be convenient solutions for parents who need to keep their children occupied and entertained. Most restaurants have security measures like cameras, safety tags, child minders and a sign-in system, to make sure little ones remain safe.

But do they consider the unseen dangers such as exposure to bacteria and viruses that may be lurking?

These recreational areas are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and if not properly cleaned, on a regular basis, can be hazardous to public health and safety. Over the last few months there have been various reports of measles outbreaks and the H1N1 virus affecting three children at the same school in Pietermaritzburg.

Industroclean Managing Director, Emma Corder urges all establishments and institutions with play areas, to maintain a strict cleaning regime to reduce exposure to possible infections. “Retailers, restaurants and schools need to take hygiene and cleanliness very seriously,” she says. “While it is impossible to eliminate all risks of infection, you are able to at least minimise them by routinely sanitising, cleaning and disinfecting all areas.”

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Over a busy period; such as weekends or holidays, a play area could host more than 100 children in one day. Corder says that it is important to clean and sanitise daily, while spot cleaning several times a day. “Remember, these play areas accommodate children from about 18 months to about eight years old, so they’re at different development stages, which means that the playroom is subjected to a wide range of germs. Managers should make sure that these areas are shut down to do a full clean-up to prevent the spread of contagious diseases.”

Easy steps in making sure that your little ones stay germ free

Even though the responsibility of making sure that children’s play areas are kept clean and safe rests on the owner or management of an establishment, parents can also follow easy steps in making sure that their little ones stay germ free:

  • Should your child be ill, keep them at home to avoid them from further compromising their immune system or placing other children at risk by exposing them in a play area.
  • Keeping hand sanitiser in your bag is always a winner, especially when soap and water are not accessible. Remind your child to distribute the gel onto his palms and work it between his fingers. This is a good habit before and after play time.
  • Eating or drinking in the play area is a big no-no, as this contributes to making play surfaces sticky as well as possibly attracting vermin.
  • Wash your child’s hands or clean them thoroughly with wet wipes if they have been playing in a sandbox and before they eat in order to get rid of dirt, sand, and possible animal waste. Unfortunately, hand sanitiser won’t do the trick here as the alcohol will not remove these offending particles.”
  • Parents of younger children who are still in nappies should ensure that they are changed regularly.

Over a busy period; such as weekends or holidays, a play area could host more than 100 children in one day

A clean and safe playing area is a non-negotiable

According to Selwyn Stephens, Operations Manager at the Eagle Eye Spur in Observatory, clean-as-you-go is the order of the day in the restaurant’s play area. He explains that management on duty do inspections during their shifts and are responsible for ensuring that playroom assistants or whoever is working in the area clean up on a daily basis. “If there’s a spill or a mess, it is dealt with immediately. But generally, it is cleaned every night. Everything gets washed and wiped down. The area is vacuumed, and mats are cleaned.”

He adds that a multi-purpose product that acts as sanitiser, cleanser and disinfectant is used throughout the area, along with carpet powder and a vacuum cleaner.

Cleaning experts advise that all playground equipment be pressure washed at least once quarterly, to get rid of grime that builds up, especially on equipment like swings and monkey bars. All play areas should have mopping units, cloths, window cleaning equipment and vacuums at hand to ensure hygienic spaces for children in which to play.

“These areas should also have wipes available, not only to wipe down surfaces, but also for staff and children to use for their hands. Industroclean stocks a wide range of cleaning and hygiene solutions, including disinfectants that can be used on toys, sprays for spot cleaning and vacuum cleaners with specialised filtration systems.”

Corder insists that any entity that wishes to provide the public with a play area should fully commit to keeping this space hygienic at all times. She has the following cleaning tips:

  • Surfaces must be wiped down as often as possible.
  • Use a two-step process. Start with soap and water to remove dirt and anything sticky. Once this has been done you can disinfect play equipment with non-toxic detergent so that viruses, fungi and bacteria can be removed.
  • Identify which detergents are best suited for play area equipment. Consult any manuals that came with the play area equipment for information on how to best care for it and the safest detergent to use.
  • Provide bins for rubbish and signage to remind people to keep the area tidy. This makes play areas easier to maintain.
  • Don’t allow food and beverages into play area. Ensure that wash basins and hand sanitisers are available.

“A clean and safe playing area is a non-negotiable. If you’re providing a recreational space, make sure that your staff can effectively carry out the necessary cleaning routines to keep germs at bay,” Corder concludes.

Article by Emma Corder, Managing Director at Industroclean.