By Dr Wendy Boyd
Senior Lecturer in ECE at Southern Cross University
Australian early childhood centres have a legislative responsibility to provide a safe and healthy work environment for their employees.
This commences with an induction program regarding health and safety in the workplace - for example employees are required to demonstrate that they understand the centre’s policies and procedures including
- emergency procedures such as evacuation procedures;
- first aid procedures- who takes responsibility;
- management of safety such as safe nappy change for the child and the employee;
- the wearing of protective equipment such as a sun hat;
- knowing the whereabouts of workplace facilities such as where to find the disinfectant and gloves
- understanding manual tasks such as how to lift children safely
- conduct of safety checks such as electric cords, splintery wood, slippery surfaces, etc
Employers are required to ensure that employees know about these facets of the centre.
Teachers and other centre employees need to understand that they are responsible for reporting unsafe areas/procedures such as if a ramp is slippery following rain then they need to take action to temporarily make it safe by diverting traffic from it, or putting a mat on it that is not slippery. They then are required to report it to their employer.
Most early childhood centres have a health and safety booklet for such reports. This identifies the nature of the hazard, when it was identified, and who identified it so that the employee can fix.
Some centres employ a maintenance person who works on these hazards at a time there is no one present, and does a safety check each morning prior to employees and children arriving. This could include ensuring the sand pit is clean, there are no spiders present (a problem in Australia), paths are clean, and there is no glass on the playground.
Some employers provide staff with professional development to educate them on manual lifting habits by inviting a physiotherapist to instruct employees on safe lifting.
This focus on managing potential risks supports employee safety. However unforeseen accidents can still occur and safety can be improved when everyone learns from these.