A new report concludes that early childhood teaching can be high-risk work with some staff suffering the likes of back injuries from handling children, others experiencing mental health problems and some reporting both.
Forty-six percent of staff reported experiencing a work-related injury, physical or mental health problem in the past 12 months, as part of the 2017 Early Childhood Education Employment Survey of 900 teachers including 109 in supervisor positions.
In an earlier survey at the end of 2014, 29 percent of teaching staff and supervisors reported a work-related injury, physical or mental health problem, says ChildForum chief executive Dr Sarah Alexander.
“One reason for the large increase could be the publicity around the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and staff being more aware that harm in the workplace is not something that has to be put up with and accepted as part of working with young children in a sector that has funding issues.
“Health and safety risks to staff need to be better managed. Things such as excessive noise levels leading to hearing loss, staff not getting regular breaks and staff being overworked and unsupported should not be happening at any service.”
There are serious health and social ramifications to be considered from the findings of this latest report.
“The cost, financially and emotionally to staff - the majority are women and many with young children of their own - of working in early childhood education, a profession that is also known for its low pay, can be significant.
“The sector is losing skilled teachers so something has to be done to look after staff better to keep these people in the sector,” Dr Alexander says.
Dr Alexander suggests that it is time to put “the care” back into early childhood education.
“Caring for those who care for children has to become a priority.
“It can be really difficult for staff and add to the stress of trying to give a proper service to children when they are feeling undervalued, unsupported and unappreciated around health and safety at work.
“The early childhood sector must start investing in staff education around injury prevention.
“Employers need to ensure they provide staff with the support they need to manage their work and provide a health and safety culture that allows for concerns to be raised and addressed.
“If Education Minister Chris Hipkins wants to fulfil the Labour party’s promise to increase the percentage of qualified teachers that is mandatory for services to have, then he has got to step in now and get a strong focus placed on looking after the current workforce or there are just not going to be enough teachers around to achieve that goal,” Dr Alexander suggests.
The report “Staff safety in early childhood education workplaces” here
NZ Herald social issues article by Sarah Harris here
Radio NZ story here
Newstalk ZB with Mike Hosking here
The Project threenow interviews here
Press release 'ECE Teachers need preventive training' by Health Experts at Edusafe