Early years settings must follow common sense as well as the law on safety matters, says Mary Evans
Accidents can occur even in the best-run nurseries, but with an effective health and safety policy, backed up by a thorough staff training programme, the risks of serious illness or injury can be greatly reduced.
If nursery staff are ever tempted to complain about the restrictive bureaucracy of the house rules covering health and safety, they should remember that the laws were introduced to ensure that employers protected their workers.
According to a spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Health and Safety at Work Act and subsequent related regulations require employers to safeguard the people working for them. The law also requires employers to ensure the safety of members of the public who may be affected by their activities, which covers children at nurseries and their parents when they visit the nursery.
Guidance that has been issued by the HSE specifically for the education sector covers many issues ranging from tackling violence to coping with contractors working on the premises and to organising farm visits.
The scope of an employer's responsibilities is underlined by Jane McKeown, manager of the Kids and Co workplace nursery for Darlington Borough Council.
She says, 'Over the past few months I have invited experts to talk to our staff meetings and take questions. We had the fire officer who actually inspects this building and knows it well. Then we had the health visitor, with whom we discussed issues such as lifting safely, first aid and hygiene, as well as child-related issues. Next month we are going to look at food hygiene. These sessions give us an opportunity to keep everyone up to date.'
She adds that the nursery routinely runs risk assessment exercises to maintain its high standards of best practice.
'When we are planning an outing, for example, we will run a risk assessment exercise scoring off on a point system. We look at every aspect and what is involved and we assess the risks and what we need to do to minimise them.'
Fire protection and safety comes under the aegis of the Home Office, and nurseries are required by law to hold regular fire drills.
Ms McKeown points out that while the fire bells are tested in Darlington Town Hall at a set time every week, she runs a fire drill at random times once a month, during which the children have to leave the nursery and go into the garden where the registers are checked. The pitch and tone of the fire bells in the nursery were changed so that while they alert everyone, they do not frighten the babies!
Nursery managers need to establish an ethos of safety awareness among their staff to reduce the risks of untoward events in the course of a routine day at the nursery. The areas covered should range from stringent hygiene procedures to strict safety rules, such as sterilising toys in the baby room on a daily basis or draining the paddling pool immediately after use.
However, there is a further onus on managers, to think the unthinkable and then plan and prepare how to cope with it. This was highlighted by the Dunblane tragedy in 1996. The massacre had a profound impact on Ann Beadle, who with her business partner Margaret Petre runs the ABC nursery in Copeland, West Cumbria.
Mrs Beadle recalls, 'I was at a national meeting of the National Day Nurseries Association when a colleague from a nursery in Dunblane was telephoned with the news. It really hit me and made me think what we would do if an intruder tried to get into our nursery.
'We worked out an emergency procedure with the staff. An alarm was installed which goes off when the outer door opens. I can see the porch from my office and I can shut the inner door if someone arrives whom I don't know. The door has a panel of security glass in it so we can check a visitor's identification.
'We have an agreed evacuation procedure. At a special signal from me, one member of staff will raise the alarm while the others evacuate the children to a safe and secure part of the building from which, if necessary, there is another escape route.'
Health and Safety Executive publications, whether free or at a cost, are available by mail order from HSE Books, PO Box 1999 Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 6FS (01787 881165). For other enquiries contact the HSE's Info Line on 0541 545500 or visit its website at www.hse.gov.uk/hsehome.htm
What to include in your health and safety requirements
Daily building checks
- The general safety of the building, indoors and outdoors, should be checked daily by a named senior member of the staff - the manger or deputy. This should include checking for storm damage such as fallen tiles and vandalism, for example, ground covered with broken glass, litter, cans, ring-pulls as well as animal faeces.
- Check all entrances and exits are clear and in working order.
- Unlock all emergency exits, check security doors, garden fences, locks and bolts on doors and garden gates.
- Check that outdoor play equipment is safe.
- Check the garden for fungi and unwanted or dangerous plants.
- Check that emergency lighting is in working order, that light switches are safe and all areas are adequately lit.
- All electrical and gas equipment to be maintained and subject to annual inspections. The service histories of appliances should be recorded in a log book.
- Faults and repairs to be logged. For example, if a toy is damaged or worn it should be labelled and removed until it can either be repaired or discarded.
- Strict hygiene standards should be set and maintained.
- All new staff should have the nursery's health and safety procedures clearly explained to them as part of the induction process and be given the written health and safety policies in their induction pack. This will include details of the nursery's hygiene regime.
- All new staff should be trained in the evacuation procedures in the event of a fire or other emergency.
- All members of staff should have first aid training and take refresher courses every three years. New staff to be sent on a course as soon as possible.
- All staff to be kept aware of signs of illness such as meningitis, hepatitis B, AIDS.
- All staff must know where to turn off the water and electricity supplies and must be trained to use all electrical equipment correctly and safely.
- Use regular staff meetings to focus on different health and safety issues such as assessing outside play equipment for use by different age groups, or personal health in terms of keeping up to date on tetanus vaccinations.
- All vehicles used to transport the children must be properly licensed, insured, inspected and maintained.
- If using a minibus, the driver must be trained and experienced in driving this size of vehicle.
- No children should ever be left alone in the vehicle.
- Adult to children ratios must take account of the age and ability of the children involved.
- Outings must be planned and checked beforehand for suitability, access and safety. This involves running a thorough risk assessment exercise and taking appropriate action. For example: amend the original plans, increase adult:children ratios, ensure the youngest children wear reins and so on.
- A travelling first aid kit must be taken on all outings in the care of a named member of staff.
- Parents helping on an outing must be properly briefed beforehand.
- Notify the parents beforehand if specialised clothing is needed, such as boots or swimming costumes.
- All parents will have to sign a consent form to allow staff to take their children off the premises.
- Fill in the outings log book correctly saying which staff (plus parents) took which children where, when and how, what checks were made beforehand, with a brief description of what happened, and a full note of any untoward incidents.
- In the event of an incident, the accident book must be completed and the manager must investigate to see what went wrong, why and how it could have been avoided. Any lessons learned should be shared with all the staff.
- See the HSE guide on School Visits to Farms for useful safety checklists. The guide gives checklists both for the farmer and the staff in charge of the children, which include, for example, protection against the risk of E.coli infection.