Within the UK the regulation of toys is governed generally by The Toy Safety Regulations 1995 which introduced the requirements of the European Toy Safety Directive 88/373 into UK Law.
In terms of the regulations the expression "toy" is defined as 'any product or material designed or clearly intended for use in play, by children of less than 14 years of age'. Wooden playhouses sold within the UK clearly fall within this definition and the regulations thus apply to anyone supplying wooden playhouses in the UK as part of a business. This includes manufacturers, importers, retailers and hirers and will apply whether the playhouse is new or second hand.
The basic requirement of the regulations is that the user of the playhouse, and anyone else for that matter, must be protected against the risk of injury to health when the playhouse is used reasonably, bearing in mind the normal behaviour of children.
This general requirement of the regulations must be read along with British Standard BS EN 71 which prescribes standards to be met in the construction of toys, including wooden playhouses. The Standard is a long, cumbersome and expensive document and it is not practical to reproduce it in detail here. The essential requirements which must be met by wooden playhouses taking into account the 1995 Regulations, BS EN 71 and guidance from local authorities who have a general regulatory and enforcement functions may however be summarised as follows.
A gap of at lease 12mm should be allowed between door and frame which may be covered by flexible material to prevent ingress of elements. An alternative may be the use of piano hinges running the full length of the door.
Locks and Catches
Doors must be capable of being opened with a maximum force of 50 Newtons (approximately 5 kilograms). This means that locks will be inappropriate and any catches will require to meet these standards. In practice this will mean that most wooden playhouses either have doors without catches at all or doors equipped with simple magnetic catches.
Stable Style Doors
Where stable doors are provided a gap of at least 12mm will require to be left between the top and bottom sections to avoid the danger of "scissors" type finger entrapment. This gap may be covered by flexible material in the same manner as a door hinge gap.
Any upper floor within a wooden playhouse which is more than 600mm above the level of the lower floor will require to have a guard rail or barrier any gaps in which must be between 12 and 90mm wide to give protection from a child falling through while avoiding any entrapment hazard. The rail should be fastened to the structure of the playhouse and of secure construction.
It is generally recommended that steps and ladders to the upper floor of a wooden playhouse be constructed to a width of at lease 300mm with a gap between the steps of 230 to 300mm.
Knots and Splinters
The wood used in the playhouse construction should not display any insect holes and any knots in the wood must not be loose. There must not be splinters in any of the accessible edges or surfaces of the playhouse.
Nails and Screws
Either end of any nail or screw used in the construction of a wooden playhouse should not be accessible or protrude from the surface of the wood. The heads of any nails or screws should not have burrs on them.
Plain annealed glass (annealing is a process of slow cooling to relieve stresses) should not be used for playhouse windows. Acrylic panels are generally regarded as the safest/cheapest option. Windows should not have lead strips applied to avoid the risk of lead poisoning.
Any protective treatments or finishing coats applied should be non toxic with low levels of lead, mercury etc.
Strength of Construction Generally
Any wooden playhouse should be constructed to a strong enough standard to withstand the rigours of children at normal play. Upper floors in particular should be strong enough to support the weight of the number of children they are likely to accommodate.
Information and Warnings
The playhouse should be marked with the name and address of the manufacturer and any warnings or instructions which might be required to enable it to be used and maintained safely.
The manufacturer requires to quote an age at which a wooden playhouse is considered to be suitable for a child. Most wooden playhouses will be specified as suitable for ages from 3 years upwards but the manufacturers of some larger models or playhouses with upper floors may quote an older age.
When satisfied that the playhouse complies with the essential safety requirements of the 1995 regulations the manufacturer will self certify that this is the case and add the CE mark to the playhouse and/or any documents such as instructions or guarantees that go with it.
Responsibility for enforcement of wooden playhouse safety standards as with toy standards generally lies with Trading Standards Departments of Scottish, English and Welsh local authorities and the Environmental Health Departments of District Councils in Northern Ireland.
Please note that the information detailed above is intended as a guide for buyers of wooden playhouses as to the the type of features to expect in a wooden playhouse sold in the UK. It is not a statement of the law applying to wooden playhouse safety nor is it intended for use by the manufacturers or suppliers of wooden playhouses