Early childhood workers often have to move and carry large, bulky, awkward or heavy objects. Examples include indoor and outdoor equipment such as:
- climbing frames
- model kitchens
- block trolleys
- evacuation cots
- children’s furniture
Moving equipment in children's services can put employees at risk of injuries known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
MSDs and hazardous manual handling
An MSD is an injury, illness or disease that arises in whole or in part from hazardous manual handling. MSDs include sprains, strains, fractures and soft-tissue injuries.
Image: An employee is at risk of injury when manually lifting and carrying heavy or awkward objects.
Hazardous manual handling is work which requires a person to use force to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain something and involves one or more of the following:
- repeated, sustained or high force
- sustained awkward posture
- repetitive movements
- exposure to sustained vibration
- handling people or animals
- loads that are unstable, unbalanced or hard to hold
Moving equipment in children's services can involve hazardous manual handling and may put employees at risk of an MSD. Sources of risk include:
- bending, twisting and exerting high or unexpected force due to manually lifting, moving or carrying heavy or awkward indoor and outdoor equipment
- lack of aids. For example, trolleys not being available to move equipment
- poorly maintained or inappropriate ladders
- an insufficient number of people to do the task
- pushing or pulling evacuation cots that are difficult to manoeuvre over uneven surfaces or in small spaces
- limited time to set up and clear away equipment
More information about hazardous manual handling and MSDs is available on the WorkSafe website.
The following controls may help employers in children's services reduce the risks to employees who are required to lift and move equipment at the workplace.
- Replace heavy or awkward equipment with lighter equipment.
- Ensure heavy or awkward equipment is fitted with wheels so it can be easily moved. Ensure wheels are lockable so the equipment remains in place at its destination.
- Store equipment close to where it is used.
- Use trolleys for moving heavy or awkward objects that do not have wheels rather than manually lifting and carrying objects. Match the trolley to the weight and dimensions of the objects being moved.
Image: Using a trolley to move playground equipment and toys reduces the need to manually lift and carry objects. Large wheels help move the trolley over uneven surfaces.
- Use sandpit covers that are segmented or rolled to reduce the need to manually lift the entire cover.
- Store objects in smaller rather than larger containers to avoid having to lift and balance heavy loads.
- Use lightweight, sturdy, stackable containers with wheels and handles to store or move objects.
- Ensure employees are using the correct equipment.
- Ensure the workplace has adequate room and facilities for employees to perform their tasks safely.
- Measure doorways to ensure they are wide enough for evacuation cots.
- Fit evacuation cots with large-diameter wheels, for example, 100mm to 150mm, to help negotiate external surface obstacles. Wheels should be sturdy, lockable and well maintained to move the cot with minimal resistance.
- Assess the floor and ground surfaces of the evacuation route for minimal friction. For example, no thick carpet, tanbark or broken concrete. Modify existing surfaces where necessary.
- Ensure evacuation cots never have to be lifted over structures, for example, steps or raised door frames. Install equipment such as ramps to remove the need to lift cots.
- Ensure emergency exits are accessible at all times and are not locked or blocked.
WorkSafe's guidance Using cots, highchairs and change tables in early learning workplaces has more information about cots.
- Consider weight, size and manoeuvrability when buying or replacing equipment.
- Identify and label the weight, size and handling instructions for equipment that employees move. For example, whether equipment must be moved with an appropriate aid such as wheels or a trolley, or whether it can safely be moved with two people.
- Set appropriate routes for trolleys so they are not pushed over surfaces with a high level of friction or resistance or lifted over structures such as steps
- If facilities are shared with other organisations, consult with employees and agree and document a process for how equipment should be moved, who will move equipment and when it will be moved.
- Provide employees with information, instruction, training and supervision on documented work procedures and use of equipment and aids.
- Ensure employees have adequate time to set up and clear away equipment.
- Put in place reporting processes so safety issues can be identified and fixed as soon as possible.
- Schedule and record regular inspections and maintenance of all areas of the workplace and equipment.
- Ensure safe systems of work, processes and procedures are in place.
As an employer you 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 reasonably practicable.
Hazardous manual handling and MSD risks
Employers 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 MSDs.
Part 3.1 of the OHS Regulations has details of duties relating to the control of risks from hazardous manual handling. WorkSafe also has guidance on hazardous manual handling.
Employers must identify hazards and provide risk controls in consultation with employees and any health and safety representatives (HSRs). Consultation should include discussions about how employees will move and lift equipment, making sure that risk controls do not create new hazards. WorkSafe has guidance on consultation, including consultation with HSRs.
Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004External link
Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017External link
Occupational health and safety – your legal duties
Hazardous manual handling
Compliance code: Hazardous manual handling
Children's services occupational health and safety compliance kit
[ARCHIVED] Storing supplies and equipment in children's services: A health and safety solution
Maintaining indoor and outdoor areas in children's services
Using cots, highchairs and change tables in early learning workplaces
Choosing and using trolleys