The teachers of our youngest children are facing a constant but avoidable health hazard that does not get the national attention it deserves, health experts say.
A report just released by the ChildForum national organisation highlights that working with very young children in early childhood education presents a high risk of injury to staff.
Nurses and people working in the aged-care sector have been aware for many years about back and other injuries related to moving furniture and handling patients. They have been taught how to reduce risks and avoid injury unlike educators of young children in early childhood centres and homes.
Occupational therapists Melissa Caskie and Nadia Tu'itahi say the problem in early childhood education is the constant and frequent bending over, picking up, and lifting equipment and children, on and off changing tables, cots, and playground equipment.
“Much of the day for most early childcare teachers is spent doing manual handling of some kind.
“Our reaction to the just released ‘Staff Safety in Early Childhood Education Workplaces’ report by ChildForum is that it is in line with ACC statistics around musculoskeletal injuries for the early childhood sector.”
It appears that injury prevention is not a focus in most early childhood workplaces, and this is why the report shows an increase in the percentage of early childhood staff reporting injury.
To keep themselves safe and children safe, it is important to know how to move their body and watch for hazards when there are lots of things happening around them.
“Let’s face it: if your back gives out as you are lifting a child out of a cot using improper lifting and moving techniques, you are putting yourself and that child at risk of unnecessary injury.
“It is clear to us that the focus needs to be on injury prevention (this is what ACC always promotes), and it must be addressed before it becomes a problem,” says Ms Caskie.
What is worrying and disturbing is how early childhood staff are coping while working with children when they are not valued or supported while also being over-worked and stressed.
Over the years, our observation has been that when employees have been provided with education on how to improve their work practices, it greatly improves their frame of mind. They feel valued, and feel part of a team.
Additionally, there is a financial benefit to the employer (decrease in absenteeism and injuries, and therefore no need to call relievers or pay sick days off work). ACC reports show people can be off work for up to 60 days, costing a company anywhere between $4-7,000. Good health and safety is great for business too.
Ms Caskie and Ms Tu'itahi have talked with a large range of early childhood professionals and have also researched overseas to develop a training solution that will assist early childhood employers in meeting their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act and enable staff to learn practices to keep themselves safe when manual handling.
“We contacted a number of ECE centres in Australia and asked them about their manual handling training. All centres advised that it was compulsory for their staff to do manual handling training, as it was their legislative responsibility as an employer to ensure their staff were being safe in the work environment.
“Some centres did online training, some did a mix of online and in-person training.
The UK also provides manual handling to ECE staff. But manual handling training in early childcare in NZ is virtually non-existent.
We want to change this and from today Edusafe's accessible online training to all early childcare workers and teachers will be available,” says Ms Tu’itahi
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