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. Employers 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 employers to eliminate risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate those risks, employers must reduce those risks, so far as is reasonably practicable.
Hazardous manual handling and musculoskeletal disorders
Employers 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).
Manual handling is any task that requires a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, move, hold or restrain something. It becomes hazardous manual handling when it involves application of high force or long duration coupled with repetitive movements, sustained awkward posture or unstable or difficult-to-hold loads.
Handling children can be hazardous manual handling and can put employees at risk of an MSD.
Part 3.1 of the OHS Regulations has details of employers' 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, employers must:
- have a process to identify hazardous manual handling risks and eliminate them where possible
- ensure that where is it not possible to eliminate the risk, the risk is reduced so far as reasonably practicable through the use of higher-order controls such as, for example, changing the workplace layout and engineering controls
- ensure the workplace has adequate room and facilities for employees to safely perform their tasks
- ensure employees are using the correct equipment
- ensure employees receive appropriate information, instruction, training or supervision so they fully understand the safest ways to perform their tasks
Employers and employees should work together to identify and control risks, making sure that controls meet the needs of both employees and children and that any risk controls do not create new hazards.
The following guidelines may help eliminate or reduce, so far as reasonably practicable, the risk of an MSD when using furniture such as cots, highchairs and change tables.
Employers should make sure workplaces use cots which minimise the distance employees need to bend and reach.
- Cots should be of a height that will enable employees to lift and lower children into and out of the cots with minimal forward bending of the employee'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 employees to reach into cots.
- Cots should have sides that drop to reduce the need for employees 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 for employees to stand with their feet under the edge of the cot to minimise reaching distance.
- Prepare cots in advance so sides are down before employees 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 employees can easily move cots.
- Ensure cots meet all relevant structural safety requirements.
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 employees can lower or lift children before putting the tray in place.
- Use highchairs which do not have obstructions at floor level so employees 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 employees to lift and lower children into and out of the chair with minimal forward bending of the employee'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 employees can easily move highchairs.
- Consider alternative feeding arrangements for children who are able.
Using change tables
Employers should make sure workplaces use change tables which minimise bending, reaching and twisting when employees are using change tables. The list below provides suggestions on how to reduce the risk of injury.
- Use change tables with steps so children who are able can walk up and down to the change table surface, removing the need for employees to lift children. The step size and number of steps should be suitable for the smallest child using the change table.
- Moveable and portable steps should be made from lightweight and strong materials.
- Use change tables with a handrail to aid the child to climb the steps.
- Use change table steps that protect the child from a fall from an unprotected edge.
- Children should be prevented from accessing the steps unsupervised or when the steps are not in use.
- Use change tables with space underneath for employees' feet so they can stand close to the child being changed.
- Use height-adjustable change tables so employees can adjust tables to waist height.
- Make sure employees have sufficient access around the change table so they can change the child from a front position with the child's feet facing the employee's stomach.
- Make sure changing supplies and waste disposal facilities are within easy reach, reducing the need for employees to repeatedly twist, bend or use an extended reach.
- Avoid change tables that require children to be left unrestrained or require the employee to use force, bend, twist or reach when assisting children onto and off the change table.
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, when and how employees lift children onto, into or from equipment and eliminate lifting tasks were possible
- assess each part of the task to identify hazardous manual handling risks
- train, inform, instruct and supervise employees in work procedures and the use of equipment
- 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 manual handling tasks among employees to reduce risks associated with MSDs
In consultation with employees employers must review and revise risk control measures if, for any reason, risk control measures relating to the tasks of helping children do not adequately control the risks of hazardous manual handling. Employers 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
Hazardous manual handling: Review and revision of risk control measures
Storing supplies and equipment in children's services
Moving equipment in children's services
Working at low levels in children's services
Maintaining indoor and outdoor areas in children's services