Working at low levels in children's services

Children's services employees can be at risk when they work at low levels with children. This health and safety guidance may help employers control those risks.

The problem

Early childhood workers often have to work at low levels as they engage with children. Examples include:

  • working at floor level
  • bending
  • crouching
  • kneeling
  • sitting on children's furniture

Working at low levels in children's services can put employees at risk of injuries known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Illustration showing employees sitting on children's furniture and the floor - an example of at risk working at low levels..

Image: Employees sitting on children’s furniture and the floor to work at low levels may be at risk.

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, 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

Working at low levels in children's services can be hazardous manual handling and may put employees at risk of an MSD. Sources of risk include:

  • awkward postures due to sitting on children’s furniture or the floor
  • awkward postures due to crouching at floor level or kneeling on the floor
  • tripping or falling due to raising or lowering the body to and from low levels
  • no adult-sized seating being available
  • working at low levels for long periods

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

Solutions

The following controls may help employers in children's services reduce the risks to employees working at low levels.

Equipment

  • Provide adult-sized chairs with adjustable seat height, backrest height and tilt.
  • Choose chairs that can be raised and lowered beyond the usual range so employees can sit in a supported posture while engaging with children at eye level.
Illustration of worker using an adult-sized chair that can be adjusted, raised and lowered - an example of safe working at low levels.

Image: An adult-sized chair can be adjusted, raised and lowered so employees sit in a supported posture while working at low levels.

  • Decide whether chairs should have castors or glides. This decision will depend on what the chair is used for and whether the chair is permanently located in an area or wheeled in and out as required. As a general principle:
    • chairs with castors can be moved easily and should have brake options to prevent unwanted movement
    • chairs with castors are not suitable for non-carpeted surfaces unless the castors have friction brakes
    • chairs with glides should not be considered mobile and should not be carried in and out of areas
    • any administrative procedure to control risks, for example, using chair brakes, will rely on appropriate instruction, training and supervision
  • Provide additional seating options for employees, for example, reading chairs or couches.
  • Provide seating in outdoor play areas for employees to sit on as an alternative to squatting, crouching or sitting at ground level.
  • For tasks that must take place at floor level, provide a surface to cushion the point of contact between the employee’s body and the floor.
  • Ensure employees are using the correct equipment.
  • Ensure the workplace has adequate room and facilities for employees to perform their tasks safely.

Systems

  • Reduce tasks at low levels.
  • For tasks which must take place at low levels, limit the duration of the task or rotate the task to limit employees’ exposure to risks.
  • Provide employees with information, instruction, training and supervision on documented work procedures and use of equipment and aids.
  • Implement 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.

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 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 your specific duties relating to the control of risks from hazardous manual handling. WorkSafe also has guidance on hazardous manual handling, including the Hazardous manual handling compliance code.

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 work at low levels, making sure that risk controls do not create new hazards. WorkSafe has guidance on consultation, including consultation with HSRs.