Hazards in a Childcare Centre

Hazards in childcare cannot be taken lightly. Keeping children and workers safe is a key responsibility of all childcare centres.

Keeping children safe is a multi-faceted task involving education, supervision, and crucially, the childcare environment, It is simply impossible to watch all children all the time, so hazard identification and elimination becomes a key part of the strategy.

This article aims to provide you with a guide to identifying the common hazards in childcare as well as the not so common so that you can effectively make the childcare facility a safer environment for all parties.

Identifying hazards in a childcare centre

Vigilance is the key to identifying hazards in childcare. Hazard identification is not something that simply can be done every quarter and then forgotten. To this end, daily checks should be conducted of all indoor and outdoor areas. A system should be in place that ensures all hazards are reported and acted upon.

To support these daily checks, there should be regular safety audits conducted as well as having food safety plans  and infection control policies and procedures in place. These policies and procedures will help to identify and eliminate any potential hazards prior to them arising.

The most common risks and hazards

While every workplace and childcare facility is unique and will present its own challenges there are some common hazards to look for when addressing the question – what are the possible hazards in an early child care facility? These commonly found hazards include -:

  • Workers being required to lift, carry or move children and/or objects.
  • Workers having to work at low levels (think floor and children sized furniture)
  • Tripping and slipping hazards
  • Using furniture to reach high points on walls (chairs and art work)
  • The risk of communicable diseases
  • Work stress
  • Harassment and bullying

Risk Assessment in Childcare

Once childcare centres must take every step to identify risks and then manage them in an appropriate manner.

Risk management is an ongoing process that involves the following steps.

  1. Identifying workplace hazards
  2. Making an assessment of the obvious and underlying risks associated with identified hazards.
  3. Mitigating and controlling the risks.
  4. Monitoring and reviewing all risk controls.

It is important to recognise that risk management is an ongoing process that must be practised in any environment where children or childcare workers are present. Regardless of where the childcare service is operating – either on site or on excursion, childcare providers must carry out appropriate safety checks  to ensure everyone’s safety.

Once hazards in childcare have been identified, it is critical that appropriate steps are taken to control, manage and mitigate risks. Some common ways to mitigate and control include-;

  • Eliminating or removing the hazard entirely – this is an easy quick fix to perennial hazards like clutter equipment creating risks of tripping and falling. Declutter and remove the risk.
  • Modifying or replacing the potential hazard with something not as dangerous – this is particularly effective when dealing with toxic cleaning chemicals. These can often be replaced with organic chemicals that have at least the same amount of effectiveness. Similarly sharp objects can often be replaced by objects that have dull soft edges.
  • Taking appropriate steps to protect people from coming into contact with the risk by isolating it – a typical example here is to keep medications and other potential harmful chemicals under lock and key.
  • Planning to mitigate risks by looking at ways to redesign equipment and where possible implementing the use of safety guards. Useful tools that can be accessed here include PowerPoint guards and childproof locks.
  • Controlling policies and procedures with regular training and supervision. Ensure that all safety policies are covered in staff induction programs and that regular workplace health and safety training is conducted to ensure all staff remain aware and vigilant.
  • Appropriate use of equipment to create barriers between people and hazards. Simple protective items such as sunscreen, sun hats, gloves, hairnets and aprons can go a long way to reducing risks

Comprehensive Hazard Identification Checklist

By its nature any hazard can potentially cause  harm. Hazards are present in many different forms Armed with a simple checklist, parents, guardians and childcare workers can take a look at the childcare centre and identify any potential hazards that could cause harm to children or workers.  Some common hazards in childcare to look out for are described in the following checklist.

Physical risks to children and educators van involve such actions as  bending, twisting or reaching.  Obstacles that could cause slipping, tripping  and falling have the potential to cause painful and costly soft  tissue or back injuries. Childcare educators required to work  on the floor with  children represent a risk to themselves and others.. Similarly, workers or children deciding to stand on chairs to reach materials are taking an unnecessary risk.
Things to critically examine include :

  • Floors – particularly split level areas with steps,
  • Ladders – are they properly maintained and used where appropriate
  • Slippery surfaces,
  • Processes that involve lifting, carrying or working at low levels
  • Processes that involve moving objects – have people been trained to take the appropriate steps?

Mechanical or electrical risks can be caused by any piece of machinery, equipment, or kitchen appliance. Besides representing mechanical hazards, there is also some risk of fire if items are not properly maintained.

Things to look for include

  • frayed power cords
  • unplugged power points

Chemical risks can be present in substances that contain acids, poisons or aggressive cleaning agents. Risks from exposure or improper use include fire, and poisoning.

Things to look for:

  • Chemical bottles or containers stored within reach of children.

Biological risks include such nasties as bacteria, viruses, mould, and vermin. Where these things are present there are risks of cross-contamination and food poisoning.

Things to look for:

  • Evidence of vermin (droppings)
  • Dampness on walls or ceilings
  • Broken insect screens

Psychosocial risks can be evidenced by such things as workplace stress, bullying and harassment.