Reducing the risk of injury
Early childhood workers operate in demanding and fast-paced environments and can face situations which may compromise their health and safety. You, as the employer, have an obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This obligation requires you to eliminate risks to health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate those risks, you must reduce those risks, so far as is reasonably practicable.
Hazardous manual handling and musculoskeletal disorders
As an employer you also have additional duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) relating to the elimination and control of risks associated with hazardous manual handling and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Hazardous manual handling is work which requires a person to use force to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, move, hold or restrain something. Handling children can be hazardous manual handling and can put early childhood workers at risk of an (MSD).
Part 3.1 of the OHS Regulations has details of your specific duties relating to the control of risks from hazardous manual handling. You'll find cards at the bottom of the page linking to more information about the OHS Regulations and OHS Act, information about hazardous manual handling and MSDs and other resources.
To reduce the risk of MSDs, make sure:
- your workplace has adequate room and facilities for workers to safely perform their tasks
- workers are using the correct equipment
- safe systems of work, processes and procedures are in place
- workers receive appropriate information, instruction, training or supervision so they fully understand the safest ways to lift and lower children
You and your employees should discuss how and when workers will lift children onto and off equipment and furniture, making sure procedures meet the needs of both workers and children and that risk controls do not create new hazards.
The following guidelines may help eliminate or reduce, so far as is reasonably practicable, the risk of an MSD when lifting children onto and off furniture such as cots, highchairs and change tables.
How to lift children into and out of cots
Employers should make sure workplaces use cots which minimise the distance workers need to bend and reach to lift and lower children.
- Cots should be of a height that will enable staff to lift and lower children into and out of the cots with minimal forward bending of the worker's back.
- If cots have two base positions, set the base to the higher position for infants unable to stand. The higher base position will reduce the need for workers to reach into cots.
- Cots should have sides that drop to reduce the need for workers to bend and reach over the cot side to lift and lower children. At its dropped level, the top of the cot's lowered side should be at least 250mm above the top of the mattress to ensure children cannot roll out of the cot.
- Ensure there is enough clearance under cots so workers can stand with their feet under the edge of the cot to minimise reaching distance
- Prepare cots in advance so sides are down before workers lift children in or out.
- If cots have wheels, ensure the wheels have locks and keep wheels in the locked position when the cot is not being moved.
- Regularly check and maintain cot wheels, wheel locks and drop-down sides to ensure cots are safe and secure.
- Assess floor surfaces to ensure minimal friction and resistance when wheeling cots. Change floor surfaces so workers can easily move cots.
- Ensure cots meet all relevant structural safety requirements.
How to lift children onto and off highchairs
Employers should make sure workplaces use highchairs which minimise bending, reaching and twisting when lowering or lifting children in the chairs.
- Use highchairs with removable or adjustable trays so workers can lower or lift children before putting the tray in place.
- Use highchairs which do not have obstructions at floor level so workers can stand with their feet under the edge of the seat to minimise reaching distances when lifting children into or out of the chair.
- Use highchairs of a height that allows workers to lift and lower children into and out of the chair with minimal forward bending of the worker's back.
- If highchairs have wheels, ensure the wheels have locks and keep wheels in the locked position when the chair is not being moved.
- Assess floor surfaces to ensure minimal friction and resistance when wheeling highchairs. Change floor surfaces so workers can easily move highchairs.
How to help children onto and off change tables
Employers should make sure workplaces use change tables which minimise bending, reaching and twisting when workers help children onto and off the change tables.
- Use change tables with fixed steps to the side of the change mat so children, who are able, can walk up and down to the change table surface, removing the need for workers to lift children. If possible, the fixed steps should be contained within the change table's dimensions. The steps should also have a lockable door to prevent children accessing the steps unsupervised. The step size and number of steps required will depend on the size of the children using the change table.
- Use change tables with space underneath for workers' feet so workers can stand close to the child being changed.
- Use height-adjustable change tables so workers can adjust tables to waist height.
- Make sure workers have sufficient access around the change table so they can change the child from a front position with the child's feet facing the worker's stomach.
- Make sure changing supplies are within easy reach, reducing the need for workers to repeatedly twist, bend or use an extended reach.
- Avoid change tables with removable or retractable steps so workers do not have to use force, bend, twist, reach or leave children unrestrained to move steps.
Suggested change table style
Change tables should have fixed steps to the side of the change mat and the steps should be contained within the change table’s dimensions. A lockable door prevents unsupervised children accessing the steps.
Systems for safely lifting and helping children
Employers should have systems in place which reduce bending, reaching and twisting when lifting and helping children. To reduce the risk of injury, employers should:
- assess if, how and when workers lift children onto, into or from equipment
- train, inform, instruct and supervise workers in work procedures and the use of equipment which involves helping, lowering and lifting children
- provide straightforward processes to identify and report safety issues and to have safety issues fixed as soon as possible
- schedule and record regular inspections and maintenance of the workplace and equipment
- rotate tasks among workers to reduce risks associated with tasks involving helping, lifting and lowering of children
You, as the employer, must review and revise risk control measures if, for any reason, risk control measures relating to the tasks of lifting and helping children do not adequately control the risks of hazardous manual handling. You must also review risk control measures:
- if new or additional information about hazardous manual handling becomes available
- if an occurrence of an MSD at a workplace is reported
- after any incident occurs to which Part 5 of the OHS Act applies that involves hazardous manual handling
- after receiving a request from a health and safety representative
Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017
Part 3.1 - Hazardous manual handling
Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004
Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations
Hazardous manual handling health and safety guide
Occupational health and safety – your legal duties
Children’s services occupational health and safety compliance kit
Moving equipment in children’s services: A health and safety solution
Working at low levels in children’s services: A health and safety solution
Storing supplies and equipment in children's services: A health and safety solution
Maintaining indoor and outdoor areas in children’s services: A health and safety solution