Storing supplies and equipment in children's services

This health and safety guidance may help employers control risks to children's services employees handling and storing supplies and equipment.

The problem

Children's services employees who handle and store supplies can be at risk of harm.

Employees may be at risk of injuries known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). They may also be at risk from dangerous goods such as flammable liquids.

Illustration showing poorly maintained and overcrowded storage area in an early childhood setting.

Image: An overcrowded storage area with poorly maintained shelves. Heavy objects are above shoulder height. There is inadequate access for trolleys or step platforms/ladders.

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.

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

Handling and storing equipment in children's services can be 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 objects
  • bending and reaching due to placement of objects above shoulder height or below knee height
  • lack of equipment, such as ladders or step platforms available to access higher shelves
  • poorly maintained or inappropriate ladders
  • a lack of aids to move supplies or equipment, for example, trolleys
  • tripping or falling due to overcrowded or poorly designed storage areas
  • being hit by falling objects due to unstable or insufficient shelving

More information about hazardous manual handling and MSDs is available on the WorkSafe website.

Dangerous goods

Dangerous goods are substances capable of harming people and property because of their hazardous properties. They may be corrosive, flammable, combustible, explosive, oxidising or water-reactive or have other hazardous properties.

Examples of common dangerous goods include:

  • flammable liquids such as petrol, kerosene, turpentine and flammable paints
  • corrosives such as those found in some cleaning products
  • flammable gases such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)
  • non-flammable non-toxic gases such as compressed air and helium
  • asbestos
  • explosives

More information about dangerous goods is available on the WorkSafe website.

Solutions

The following controls may help employers in children's services reduce the risks to employees who have to handle and store supplies and equipment in the workplace.

Illustration showing an organised, well maintained and easily accessible storage area in an early childhood setting.

Image: Shelving is maintained, secured to the wall and has a safe working load that is not exceeded. Objects are stored in lightweight, sturdy, stackable containers with wheels and handles. There is adequate space for trolleys or step platforms/ladders

Equipment

  • Fix shelving to the floor and walls of the storage area.
  • Use shelving with a safe working load limit designated by the manufacturer and do not exceed this weight limit.
  • Maintain shelving and replace any cracked, loose or damaged shelving.
  • Store objects in smaller containers to avoid having to lift and balance heavy loads.
  • Use lightweight, sturdy, stackable containers with wheels and handles to store or move objects.
  • Regularly service and maintain storage area doors so they open and close easily.
  • Provide specific storage areas for outdoor or larger equipment.
  • If an outdoor storage shed is used, fix the shed securely to the ground.
  • Ensure the workplace has adequate room and facilities for employees to perform their tasks safely.

Task

  • Ensure employees:
    • place frequently used items in easy-to-access shelves between shoulder and knee height
    • store heavier objects between knee and shoulder height rather than at floor level or overhead
    • match stored items to the available shelving size, space and depth. Avoid overcrowding objects or stacking objects on top of each other.
    • use ladders or step platforms to access higher shelves
    • select the most appropriate ladder for the task, taking into account, for example, industrial or domestic rating, suitable height and base width. Note: Step platforms provide a larger, more stable work surface than ladders
    • place ladders or step platforms squarely on firm, non-slip surfaces
    • maintain three points of contact when ascending, descending or standing on ladders. For example, two feet and at least one hand or two hands and at least one foot in contact with the ladder at all times
    • stand no higher than the second tread below the top plate of ladders
    • do not use milk crates, chairs, boxes or play equipment to reach higher objects
  • Inspect ladders or step platforms regularly. Repair or replace ladders where rungs, steps, treads or top plates are missing, worn, damaged or loose.
  • Store step platforms or ladders where employees can easily access them when required.
  • Separate flammables, paints and chemicals from other stored objects.
  • Separate storage of maintenance equipment, for example, lawnmowers, from play equipment.

If using mezzanine floors for storage

  • Store items within the safe working load limit of the mezzanine floor.
  • Access the mezzanine floor by stairs with handrails, not a ladder.
  • Provide handrails and toe boards around the perimeter of mezzanine floors to prevent people or objects from falling.

Systems

  • Provide a layout plan of where specific items should be placed in storage areas, including outdoor and larger equipment.
  • Identify and label the weight, size and handling instructions for stored objects. For example, whether the object must be stored in a specific place and whether it should be moved with an appropriate aid such as a trolley.
  • Provide employees with information, instruction and supervision on documented work procedures and use of equipment and aids.
  • Ensure employees are using the correct equipment.
  • Provide reporting processes so safety issues can be identified and fixed as soon as possible.
  • Regularly review supplies and equipment in storage areas, and discard objects that do not need to be retained or have not been used within a designated timeframe, for example, 12 months.
  • Schedule and record regular inspections and maintenance of all areas of the workplace and all equipment.
  • Ensure safe systems of work, processes and procedures are in place.

Legal duties

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 specific duties relating to the control of risks from hazardous manual handling.

WorkSafe also has guidance on hazardous manual handling and MSDs.

Storing and handling dangerous goods

The Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations 2012 set out the legal duties for occupiers of workplaces where dangerous goods are stored or handled. The Code of practice for storage and handling of dangerous goods provides practical information on how to comply.

Consultation

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 lift, move and store equipment, making sure that risk controls do not create new hazards. WorkSafe has guidance on consultation, including consultation with HSRs.