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Are you compliant with your Health & Safety responsibilities? Do you have all your necessary risk assessments in place, working and up-to-date? Planning is important in early years work, but planning to reduce risks around young children is essential. All early years workers have a duty of care towards the children they look after to prevent accidents and injuries, so read on to make sure your planning is robust in this area.  

Why Do Risk Assessments? 

It is usually the responsibility of the owner or the Health and Safety Officer to ensure that all risk assessments are completed, and that effective procedures and protocols are set up using the information collected. However, ALL early years staff should have knowledge of risk assessments to be able to assess each situation in real time, so that they do not put children in harm’s way. Everything has a risk associated with it. Even lying in bed doing nothing carries a risk of developing bed sores and wasted muscles, so there is nothing that is 100% ‘risk-free’. The purpose of a risk assessment is to identify potential dangers and then take action to reduce them. It is not possible to eliminate every risk for every situation, but it is possible to minimise risk. There will be times that you will have to cross the road or travel on public transport for example, which have their own risks, but planning the route carefully, using a zebra or pelican crossing, having enough staff to supervise the children, and wearing high-viz jackets will minimise these risks. Where this has been done and the risk is considered low, then activities can usually go ahead.  

When Should A Risk Assessment Be Done? 

Risk assessments should be undertaken whenever there are activities or practices which could pose a risk to the children, OR to the adults involved in their care. So, for example, most settings will know that a risk assessment needs to be done for a trip out of the setting, but did you know that it is good practice to do a risk assessment if a member of staff becomes pregnant and continues to work in the setting?  Since there are an infinite number of things that could happen every day in any setting, identifying all of them would be impossible and there is always the potential for a freak accident that no one could foresee. However, by considering what ‘could’ happen carefully, and identifying common hazards and risks, you will be doing the best you can to keep everyone safe. Below is a list of common situations where risk assessments should be undertaken in early years settings: 

  • Access to the centre such as staff access and security 
  • Children and parents arriving and leaving the setting  
  • Transport  
  • Feeding children including lunches and snack times 
  • Allergies 
  • Children needing to use the toilet and/or personal care routines 
  • Hand washing and teeth cleaning 
  • The storage, administration and recording of any medication 
  • All aspects of outdoor playgrounds and play areas such as gardens, sand pits or ponds/water 
  • All indoor areas and play equipment 
  • Safety features such as fire alarms/extinguishers/gates and fences 
  • Additional needs of any babies or children with SEND 
  • Excursions outside the setting including going for a walk or on a visit/trip 
  • Playing with different materials such as mud, water, sand, art materials 
  • Pregnant members of staff or those with additional needs 
  • Home visits and personal safety with parents or visitors 
  • Working from heights or lifting/carrying/moving things 
  • Storing, preparing and cooking food 
  • Spillages and accident management 
  • Using chemicals such as cleaning routines 
  • Maintenance of all sites and equipment 
  • Emergency evacuation and procedures (e.g. intruder) 

Each setting may have additional specific areas that need risk assessments, (e.g. Forest School, swimming/paddling pool etc.,) but the above list is a good start. Look also at your Health and Safety policy and legislation from the Health and Safety Executive https://www.hse.gov.uk/ for more information on workplace safety.  

How To Conduct A Risk Assessment 

The actions needed for a risk assessment are: 

  1. Identify hazards – look for the dangers involved 
  2. Assess the risk - decide who/what is in danger and to what level 
  3. Identify the precautions and control measures needed to reduce the risk to an acceptable level – what should be done? By whom? And by when? 
  4. Record the findings – create a document and log actions 
  5. Review the process regularly – especially in the light of changes, near misses or accidents 

Below is an example of a risk assessment template that you could use, and some example entries.  

risk assessment template
Obviously, these are just examples and other templates are available on various websites, either free or for a small fee.

In some cases, you may need to do individual risk assessments for specific people, for example, for children with SEND.  

Accidents And Risk Assessments

Early years settings should also pay particular attention to the risk assessments for the prevention of accidents because young children will not always understand danger in the way that adults do. The six most common accidents amongst children are: 

  • Falls/slips 
  • Burns 
  • Choking 
  • Drowning 
  • Hanging/suffocating 
  • Poisoning 

Legislation 

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places responsibility on the employer (i.e. your setting’s governance board or owners) to ensure that the work setting is as safe as possible. Insurances must be in place and each setting must display a Health and Safety Executive poster detailing who is responsible for safety in the setting. Information leaflets should also be distributed to workers.  

Your setting must also comply with other legal responsibilities such as keeping COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) files and RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations). Risk assessments will be a major part of these procedures too.  

Risk assessments are essential, so plan them well, record and review them regularly to stay compliant and keep your staff and children safe.  

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