New Zealand schools and ECE services are usually very safe places, but when things go wrong the impact can be widely felt by everyone in the community.

What are the risks?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA), every business has a responsibility to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers, and that others are not put at risk by the work of the business (for example, customers, visitors, children and young people, or the general public).

First, you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk.

The following are examples of only some of the health and safety risks for people in the education sector. We also provide general guidance on how to manage your work health and safety risks.

Lifting and carrying children, or pushing or pulling heavy loads can put workers at risk of serious injury.

How are workers and others harmed?

Childcare workers are at risk of injury from lifting and carrying particularly when:

  • lifting children in/out of cots or high chairs, or on/off change tables – bending, twisting and reaching to lift children due to the design, placement or characteristics of cots, high chairs or change tables.
  • moving equipment – lifting, moving, carrying, pushing or pulling heavy or awkward indoor and outdoor play equipment.

Injuries and conditions can include:

  • muscle sprains and strains
  • injuries to muscles, ligaments, intervertebral discs and other structures in the back
  • injuries to soft tissues such as nerves, ligaments and tendons in the wrists, arms, shoulders, neck or legs
  • abdominal hernias
  • chronic pain.

Some of these conditions are known as repetitive strain injury (RSI), occupational overuse syndrome (OOS), cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) and work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WRMSD)

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Provide appropriate lifting aids and equipment (for example, height-adjustable change tables, cots with a higher working base, height-adjustable highchairs with removable trays, height-adjustable and wheeled trolleys for shifting things). Ensure they are used properly and maintained in accordance with manufacturer specifications.
  • Ensure large, bulky or awkward objects can be easily moved (for example, fit sandpit covers and playground equipment with large castors or wheels, use wheeled trolleys or frames for laundry bags).
  • Provide steps that are scaled appropriately for children (for example, steps that feature hand-holds, runners and have fall protection for children).
  • Develop and implement appropriate policies and procedures for lifting and moving children and equipment (for example, only non-walking children should be lifted).
  • Train workers in the selection and use of any aids and equipment, and safe handling methods (for example, hold child's hand when ascending steps).

Always ask workers for input on identifying health and safety risks, and when choosing solutions. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good choices if they’ve been involved in the conversation. Workers are the eyes and ears of your business. They could suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Toys and furniture, together with little people, can put carers and children at risk of slip, trip or fall injuries.

How are workers and others harmed?

When someone falls as a result of a slip or trip, the injury can range from minor (bruises and scrapes) to more serious, including broken bones or head trauma. The severity of the injury will depend on the circumstances.

Examples of how injuries can be caused include:

  • uneven or poorly maintained floor surfaces
  • slippery floors from water or other liquids
  • cluttered and confined areas
  • poor lighting
  • wearing footwear that does not match the environmental conditions
  • accidents from rough and tumble during playtime.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Look for slip and trip hazards as part of regular workplace inspections.
  • Educate workers about the importance of identifying and reporting slip and trip hazards.
  • Practice good housekeeping - keep rooms tidy and remove unnecessary items and clutter (for example, by providing sufficient storage and ensuring things are put away).
  • Ensure floor or ground surfaces in work and play areas are clean, well lit, clear of obstacles and in good condition.
  • Ensure floors throughout work areas are level.
  • Ensure all steps and stairs have appropriate handrails.
  • Develop policies on how to safely carry objects (for example, no unstable or unbalanced loads), particularly on stairs.
  • Provide height access equipment (for example, mobile steps with handrails) for reaching objects or performing work above shoulder height
  • Provide adequate supervision for children during playtime.

Always ask workers for input on identifying health and safety risks, and when choosing solutions. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good choices if they’ve been involved in the conversation. Workers are the eyes and ears of your business. They could suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Young children tend to get more infections because they have not developed the necessary protective immunities or hygiene habits. Teaching them good hygiene habits from a young age can help keep them, your workers and other children healthy.

Workers, children and others can be exposed to infection in number of different ways, including:

  • airborne infections – which are spread through the air when infected people cough, sneeze or speak. Air-conditioning can escalate the spread of infections.
  • contact infections – which are transmitted through direct or indirect contact with bacteria or viruses. Direct contact can include physical contact with an infected person, or contact with blood and body fluids.
  • indirect contact infections – which involve touching an object or surface that has been contaminated by an infected person.

Vulnerable people (for example, pregnant women) are more at risk so people should be diligent about keeping the spread of germs and viruses to a minimum.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Support workers and children to thoroughly wash and dry hands.
  • Encourage children to follow simple rules of hygiene such as handwashing and basic dental care.
  • Ensure equipment and toys are regularly cleaned/washed and are well maintained.
  • Keep facilities such as bathrooms, kitchens, sleep and rest areas, and play areas clean.
  • Use hygienic toileting and nappy change methods.
  • Have hygienic procedures for wiping children’s noses and disposing of tissues.
  • Display clearly written signs about hygiene procedures such as hand washing, nappy changing and toileting.
  • Implement hygienic food handling, preparation and storage, and rubbish removal.
  • Provide written information for families about hygiene practices and about recommended immunisation schedules for children.
  • Develop clear procedures for handling and disposing of bodily fluids (such as urine) and any contaminated items (such as used wound items or diapers/nappies).

Always ask workers for input on identifying health and safety risks, and when choosing solutions. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good choices if they’ve been involved in the conversation. Workers are the eyes and ears of your business. They could suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Looking after young children and babies is a big responsibility so it’s important to have good systems in place to support your workers with stress and fatigue.

How are workers and others affected?

Work-related stress is increasingly becoming an issue for workplaces.

There is often confusion between challenge and stress in the workplace. While challenge at work can have positive effects on people, work-related stress is a work-related health issue that can pose risks to psychological and physical health.

The effects of work-related stress can vary from individual to individual. In general, work-related stress is associated with:

  • illness and disease
  • low morale and engagement
  • anxiety
  • lower performance and productivity
  • antisocial behaviours.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Set achievable demands for your workers in relation to agreed hours of work.
  • Match worker’s skills and abilities to job demands.
  • Support workers to have a level of control over their pace of work.
  • Develop multi-disciplinary teams to share ideas and perspectives on ways to address situations.
  • Involve workers in decisions that may impact their health and safety, and have processes to enable workers to raise any issues and concerns they might have.
  • Ensure managers and supervisors have the capability and knowledge to identify, understand and support workers who may be feeling stressed.
  • Have agreed policies and procedures to prevent or resolve unacceptable behaviour.
  • Engage and consult with workers before implementing change processes, and ensure they genuinely have the ability to influence the decisions you make.
  • Provide workers with access to independent counselling services.
  • Always ask workers for input on identifying health and safety risks, and when choosing solutions. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good choices if they’ve been involved in the conversation. Workers are the eyes and ears of your business. They know where the health and safety pressure points are, and can suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.
  • Always train new workers on what the risks are and how to keep healthy and safe.
  • Make sure workers know how to make suggestions, raise questions or concerns.

Always ask workers for input on identifying health and safety risks, and when choosing solutions. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good choices if they’ve been involved in the conversation. Workers are the eyes and ears of your business. They could suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Violence can affect people both physically and mentally, can disrupt workplaces, and lower work performance.

How are workers and others harmed?

Violence can take many forms – ranging from physical assault and verbal abuse to intimidation and low-level threatening behaviour.

Violence or threats of violence are never acceptable.

What can you do?

First, you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. 

Our guidance violence at work for customer service areas and lone workers provides more information.

Always ask workers for input on identifying health and safety risks, and when choosing solutions. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good choices if they’ve been involved in the conversation. Workers are the eyes and ears of your business. They could suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.