In this article
The term nursery is often used to cover a wide range of settings for early years childcare and can be used for day nurseries, nursery schools, maintained nurseries, pre-schools and creches. These settings tend to cater for children from the ages of around six weeks old to five years old. Nurseries can be run by private businesses, local authorities, voluntary or community groups, schools, colleges or even by parents’ employers, and settings can range in size from the very small with just 10-15 or so children in the nursery to large, with up to 150 children in the setting.
The health, safety and welfare of nursery setting employees, and the health, safety and welfare of other persons who may be affected by its activities including children and parents and/or carers, should be of primary concern to a nursery setting at all times. Both the staff and management of the nursery setting should work in partnership to ensure that its statutory duties with regard to safety are met at all times. As there are countless safety hazards for those working and using nursery settings that need to be overcome on a daily basis, staff will need to maintain their own safety, as well as the safety of the area and people around them.
Health and safety in nurseries is extremely important due to the particularly vulnerable nature of early years pupils. All owners, employers or managers are legally required under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA) to make sure nursery children and staff are protected so far as is reasonably practicable from the hazards of being and working in a nursery. Additionally, the safeguarding and welfare requirements of nurseries are given legal force by regulations made under section 39(1)(b) of the Childcare Act 2006.
What is the role of a nursery?
In England, nurseries work within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework. This framework sets out the standards that school and childcare providers such as nurseries must meet for the learning, development and care of children from birth to five years, including the health and safety requirements.
On an average day a nursery is likely to open between 7am and 8am to accommodate working parents and/or carers and will usually close between 6pm and 7pm. This means that nursery staff will often work shifts. Most nurseries are open all year round, except bank holidays and Christmas. Some may close for certain periods during the year, for training or holidays.
Nurseries tend to be organised around the ages of children, and will often be split into rooms for different aged children. This means a child will play with toys and join in with activities that are suitable for their stage. Each room will usually have a lead staff member, and the staff team will tend to remain with the same children. Each child attending the nursery has a nominated key person. The role of the key person is to help ensure that every child’s learning and care is tailored to meet their individual needs. They will spend most of the time with the child, and will be the first point of contact for the child’s parents and/or carers.
Nurseries need to have a certain number of staff depending on how many children they are caring for.
This is roughly one staff member for every:
- Three children under two years old.
- Four children between two and three years old.
- Eight children aged three years old and over.
The exact ratios change based on how qualified the staff are, the size of the setting, and the length of each child’s care session.
There are a variety of staff roles in the nursery sector and specific role titles and duties may vary between individual settings. Depending on the setting, and the type of work that they are doing, the role of workers and management in nurseries may involve, but is not limited to:
- Nursery Nurse / Practitioner – this role involves taking care of a child’s learning, play, education and social development. Typical duties include supervising the children’s play, providing play-related activities, organising the children’s meals and taking care of their personal needs. Common tasks include observing children to help understand their learning needs and completing relevant paperwork, keeping records, providing regular feedback on children’s progress, and building and maintaining effective relationships with parents and/or carers and children.
- Nursery Assistant – the role of the Nursery Assistant is to work alongside qualified staff such as Nursery Nurses to ensure children receive high-quality care, are kept safe and are provided with planned and stimulating play experiences which meet their individual needs. Nursery Assistants are generally not required to be qualified as training is usually provided. Commonly, they will work with a Nursery Nurse or supervisor, who will help them develop the skills required.
- Team Leader / Supervisor – this is a first line leadership role and involves giving support and direction to the team and setting and implementing the daily routine. It has added responsibility to ensure that a high standard of physical, emotional, social and intellectual care is delivered for children under direct supervision. Depending on the setting and the role, daily duties may include supervising, directing, supporting, motivating and performance managing the team, being aware of the requirements of the nursery as a whole and being familiar with the routines of each room, working in collaboration with the management team, deputising as Person in Charge in the absence of the Nursery Manager, showing potential parents and/or carers around the nursery and enrolling new children.
- Deputy Manager – this is a senior leadership position with responsibility across the setting. This role deputises under the direction of the Nursery Manager. It involves problem-solving practice issues and demonstrating what good practice looks like. Deputy managers provide expert knowledge and skills in developing children and follow the guidelines set down by Ofsted and the EYFS to enable all children to be developed in a safe and secure environment.
- Nursery Manager – a Nursery Manager provides leadership for the whole setting and promotes the aims and objectives of the nursery. Examples of daily duties include responsibility for the efficient running of the nursery and the delivery of a high-quality service, being the key contact for parent and/or carers’ issues and complaints, safe recruitment, budget management, managing special events and activities with children and families, ensuring the nursery complies with all relevant legislation, meeting the nursery target occupancy levels, managing, supervising and supporting the nursery staff and ensuring all records are properly maintained in accordance with the policies and procedures of the nursery.
- Nursery Cook and kitchen assistants – a Nursery Cook will organise, cook and prepare a healthy, balanced diet for children, taking into consideration children who have special dietary requirements and preparing suitable alternatives. They will also ensure high standards of hygiene and health and safety are maintained in the kitchen at all times. Kitchen assistants provide support to the Nursery Cook and assist with meal preparation and all food service, carry out the cleaning rota and ensure there are appropriate food waste disposal processes, and ensure that all kitchen equipment, crockery and cutlery is clean and free of stains/debris after washing.
- Administration roles – these might include finance, HR and marketing. Often the first point of contact for children and parents and/or carers. Duties include creating and maintaining staff and pupil files, record keeping, and all admin responsibilities that are crucial for the safety and care of the children and staff.
- Maintenance / Cleaners – maintaining the building(s) to ensure children and staff have a safe and comfortable environment. Duties may involve electrical PAT testing and testing fire systems and alarms. Cleaners will be responsible for following the cleaning schedule, maintaining a high cleaning standard, free from infection, deep cleaning in all areas of the building, and understanding the cleaning requirements of different surfaces and coverings and the properties of cleaning materials to ensure safety.
Generic to all roles is ensuring compliance with all relevant policies and procedures, and legal and regulatory requirements including health and safety. All staff will be working closely alongside other staff to deliver high-quality provision for children. The above lists are not exhaustive and there is often a crossover of duties between roles. Whatever the environment they work in, nursery settings workers will be responsible for ensuring the safety of their work and any equipment to protect the safety of themselves and other people.
What are the main health and safety risks nursery staff can encounter?
There are many potential health and safety hazards and risks present in a nursery setting; slips, trips and falls are some of the most common risks. According to HSE statistics, 55% of all accidents in education are caused by a slip or a trip. The main causes of slip and trip accidents in nurseries include slippery or wet floors, and toys and play equipment left uncleared. Each year slips or trips cause thousands of preventable injuries, and they can cause various injuries such as bruises, sprains, scrapes, broken bones and head traumas. Around 1,000 of these injuries involve someone fracturing bones or dislocating joints. A ‘clean and clear as you go’ policy should help to minimise this risk in a nursery setting. Also, signpost any slippery areas and make sure footwear with a good grip is worn.
Outside play areas can also be a source of slip or trip accidents in early years education. Early years provision managers should ensure that outside play surfaces are flat and well maintained. They should try to avoid surface water accumulations through effective drainage and remove algal growth where it appears. Anti-slip or soft impact surfaces are available and all children using an area should be supervised and encouraged to wear appropriate footwear for the surface.
Objects falling from heights occur, for example, when storing/accessing materials, equipment and/or toys; this is a very real hazard in nurseries, as too is the risk of people themselves falling from steps and ladders when accessing stored objects. Every day, countless workplaces are subjected to the risk of falling objects posed by unsecured materials or equipment. When these objects fall from height, the potential for injury is substantial. All materials used in the nursery must be stacked or stored safely, with the weightier objects stored at the lowest levels. A box or swivel chair is not an appropriate way to reach something up high, and any staff needing to access objects stored at height should use steps or ladders and should be adequately trained to do so safely.
Manual handling injuries have a major impact on all workplaces and sectors, costing the economy hundreds of millions every year. Manual handling encompasses a wide range of actions including lifting, lowering, pulling, pushing, and carrying awkward and heavy objects; the risks are endless for anyone working in nurseries who may experience manual handling injuries, such as:
- Back injuries
- Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as shoulder strain
- Repetitive strain injury (RSI) such as wrist strain
- Soft-tissue injuries to the wrists, arms, shoulders, legs or neck
- Long-term pain in the arms, legs or joints
Manual handling tasks should be avoided wherever possible. Where it isn’t possible to avoid handling a load, suitable safety measures should be introduced and all staff should receive manual handling training to prevent and avoid injury.
Electrical equipment including staff’s own electrical equipment, will require portable electrical testing (PAT) and other specific inspections. All equipment that uses a flexible wire or cable to connect to a power supply qualifies as a portable appliance and needs to be checked. Portable appliance testing (PAT) is the term used to describe the examination of electrical appliances and equipment to ensure that they are safe to use.
Most electrical equipment safety defects can be found by visual examination but some types of defects can only be found by testing. A PAT test involves a visual inspection to check the appliance casing and flex for wear or damage. Plugs are also checked for damage, correct wiring and ensuring that the correct fuse rating is used.
After the equipment has passed a visual inspection it will normally undergo a series of electrical tests using a fully calibrated electrical PAT tester. A label will be attached to each appliance indicating the test results, and any item failing the tests will be easily identifiable and should be removed from service until repaired. You should record and retain the results of all PAT testing in an appliance register for future reference.
When a fire starts in a building, it can happen very quickly. Burns and respiratory damage are caused by flammable materials igniting or from electrical fires. Fire safety is even more important in establishments like nurseries, where there may be lots of people in the building including babies and young children.
Nursery leaders need to be able to confirm that:
- Firefighting equipment is in place.
- Fire evacuation procedures are clearly displayed.
- All staff are aware of the evacuation drill, including arrangements for any vulnerable children and adults.
It is also important to test fire safety procedures regularly to ensure that they are fit for purpose.
Food handling and preparation – outbreaks of food poisoning or other infectious diseases often occur from meals prepared in the kitchen in a nursery or from food service, through unhygienic practices when handling, storing and cooking food. Anyone working with food should be trained in best hygiene practices, to avoid contamination.
Some of the main elements of good food management and hygiene practices are:
- Good personal hygiene, including washing hands, wearing protective clothing such as aprons and hairnets and general cleanliness.
- Cleaning procedures, including washing and disinfecting the kitchen, equipment, plates and cutlery.
- Food storage, such as using proper containers, labelling and temperature control, especially with sensitive foods like meat and fish.
- Preventing cross-contamination of harmful bacteria through the use of separate chopping boards and storage, also with regards to allergens.
- Cooking food at the appropriate temperature, again particularly with meat, fish and also rice.
Dealing with challenging behaviour from children, or more significantly from parents and/or carers, can put those working in nurseries at an increased risk of being subjected to violence and aggression at work. Any incident in which a member of staff is verbally abused, threatened or assaulted by a child or member of the public during the course of their work should be reported. Staff should be effectively trained to work with potentially violent and aggressive children, parents and/or carers; for example, being able to recognise triggers and have appropriate strategies to use to de-escalate situations.
Medication in nurseries presents many risks. Nursery management should assess each child’s needs for storing their medicines and ensure that medicines are stored safely and securely.
They should provide storage that meets the child’s needs and the risk assessment and should consider medicines storage such as:
- Temperature requirements of the medicines
- Who needs to access the medicines
- How access will be restricted to authorised people
- The legal requirements relating to medicines storage
- The children that the medicines are for
Health and safety in a nursery extends beyond looking after a child’s physical health. It also includes looking after their welfare to ensure they are leading happy lives, both in and out of the nursery environment. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) states that “Providers must be alert to any issues of concern in the child’s life at home or elsewhere. Providers must have and implement a policy and procedures to safeguard children.”
Safe staffing and safe recruitment are a fundamental part of getting care and support right for individuals and operating a healthy and safe environment. Safe staffing is about having enough staff, who have the right values and skills, to deliver high-quality care and support. Safe recruitment is about ensuring that only individuals who are suitable for working with children, whilst keeping them safe from harm and risks, are appointed. These make sure that children receive safe and effective care and support that is responsive to their needs. If a nursery does not implement safe staffing and safe recruitment it could put staff and the children that they care for at risk. For example, staff shortages or unsuitable appointments put services under extreme pressure and can mean staff have to choose what care can or can’t be delivered that day. This could lead to neglect and/or a safeguarding incident.
All play includes an element of risk, but sometimes risk is the central characteristic of play, for example when children deliberately put themselves in a position of uncertainty. Many children seek out such adventurous play, moving at speed, sliding head first down a slide, rolling, spinning or hanging upside down.
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) guidance Development Matters states that an effective learner is willing to have a go through:
- Initiating activities
- Seeking challenge
- Showing a ‘can-do’ attitude
- Taking a risk, engaging in new experiences, and learning by trial and error.
The HSE makes it very clear that children need to take risks in an effective play environment. For example, it says, “HSE understands and accepts that… children will often be exposed to play environments which, while well managed, carry a degree of risk and sometimes potential danger”, and “HSE wants to make sure that mistaken health and safety concerns do not create sterile play environments that lack challenge and so prevent children from expanding their learning and stretching their abilities.”
Health and safety law does not expect all risks to be eliminated, but states that “reasonable precautions” are taken and that staff are trained and aware of their responsibilities and can make sensible judgements in children’s best interests. Carrying out a full risk assessment in the nursery will help to manage health and safety standards.
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999), the minimum a business must do is:
- Identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (hazards)
- Decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
- Take action to eliminate the hazard or, if this isn’t possible, control the risk
Risk assessment requires making a judgement on Risk Severity. Risk Severity = probability of risk materialising x impact of risk on, for example, a person or people, a business, a property etc.
Risk assessment requires making a judgement on Risk Severity. Risk Severity = probability of risk materialising x impact of risk on, for example, a person or people, a business, a property etc.
Probability may be understood as:
- Low (Level 1) – a reasonably informed person would think it very unlikely this risk would materialise in the foreseeable future.
- Medium (Level 2) – a reasonably informed person would think there is a significant possibility this risk would materialise in the foreseeable future.
- High (Level 3) – a reasonably informed person would think there is a very significant or even likely possibility the risk would materialise in the foreseeable future.
Impact may be understood as:
- Low (Level 1) – any impact that is minimal, having regard to the importance of interests affected, impairment of function and duration. Typically, the impact is isolated and short-lived.
- Medium (Level 2) – any impact that is significant, having regard to the importance of interests affected, impairment of function and duration. Typically, the impact is limited to one function or group, but there is a material operational impact and the effects may continue.
- High (Level 3) – any impact that is severe, having regard to the importance of interests affected, impairment of function and duration. Typically, the impact impairs a critical function and/or has a systemic impact and the effects may be long-lasting or permanent.
Nurseries must ensure an assessment has been made of any hazards, which covers:
- What the potential hazard is – the risk assessment should take into consideration, for example, the type of equipment used, the way in which it is used and the environment it is used in.
- Who or what could be harmed by the hazard.
- How the level of risk has been established.
- The precautions taken to eliminate or control that risk.
Managing risk is an ongoing process that is triggered when changes affect the nursery’s work activities; changes such as, but not limited to:
- Changing work practices, procedures or the work environment
- Purchasing new or used equipment or using new substances
- Workforce changes
- Planning to improve efficiency or reduce costs
- New information about the workplace risks becomes available
Risk assessments should be recorded and records regularly reviewed and updated whenever necessary. Should an accident occur, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will request copies of the risk assessments.
There are a number of laws and regulations that apply to the management of nurseries including, but not limited to:
The Childcare Act 2006 stipulates that childcare is “any form of care for a child, including education or any other supervised activity”. Most childcare providers caring for children under eight years old must register with Ofsted.
Nurseries that keep computerised records of individuals’ personal details are usually required to register as data users with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Food Safety Act 1990 – it is vitally important that all nurseries involved in catering comply with food safety legislation.
Why is PPE important
Personal protective equipment (PPE) protects workers from hazards such as trips, burns, electrocution, infections and falls. While there is some PPE that is universal to many occupations, nursery staff have certain PPE which is specific to their job.
This includes, but is not limited to:
- Disposable gloves (vinyl or nitrile) should be worn when there may be exposure to blood, bodily fluids, secretions or excretions and when handling contaminated equipment.
- Disposable plastic aprons are designed to protect uniforms/clothing from moisture/soiling during direct childcare such as nappy changes. In the majority of cases, plastic aprons will be appropriate for standard precautions. In some cases, where extensive contamination of blood / body fluids is anticipated a long-sleeved fluid-repellent gown may be more appropriate.
- Respirator mask – the purpose of respiratory protection is to protect the wearer from pathogens spread by the airborne route, for example measles, chickenpox and tuberculosis, and when performing aerosol-generating procedures on children with suspected or known influenza or other respiratory tract infections.
Some main pieces of PPE that can help limit risks and boost safety for kitchen staff include:
- Aprons – hot liquids and spills can be kept at bay while using an apron.
- Oven gloves – these protect the hands of the employees who need to move hot plates and pots and pans around the kitchen.
- Footwear – non-slip shoes should be worn at all times, no matter the environment, to prevent slips and falls.
- Disposable vinyl gloves – these protect hands from hot foods, such as chillies and peppers during preparation that can irritate the skin and eyes.
- Hair ties or nets for those with moulting or long hair – this will mainly keep their hair from falling down and getting in the way of visibility and help prevent any hair and dirt from touching and affecting food preparation.
Maintenance and cleaning staff roles can come with a different set of hazards and risks, and PPE requirements may include:
- Eye protection to protect their eyes from hazards their job role might present to them, such as dust particles, debris and chemicals splashing up.
- Safety gloves / disposable gloves protect against different hazards such as corrosive chemicals and prevent germs and bacteria from people’s hands from being directly transferred onto items being cleaned and used.
- Overalls and/or outerwear provide protection from spillages or marks, and protect maintenance staff from the elements.
What training should nursery staff take?
Depending upon their role, staff and management working within nurseries will have completed training and qualifications specific to that role. In addition to their occupational training, nursery staff will need to participate in adequate health and safety training to ensure that they are competent to do their work.
When nursery staff are trained to work safely, they should be able to anticipate and avoid injury from job-related hazards. Safety training is essential for all nursery employees appropriate to their role, and training should be directly applicable to the responsibilities and daily practices of the person being trained.
This training for nursery employees might include, but is not limited to:
- Health and Safety for Employees
- Health and Safety for Managers
- Manual Handling
- Paediatric First Aid Training
- Workplace First Aid
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Assessing Risk
- Fire Safety Awareness
- Fire Safety in Schools
- PAT Testing Awareness
- Food Safety and Hygiene for Catering Level 2
- Safer Recruitment
- Administering Medication
Nursery workers should at a minimum refresh their safety training at least every two years and participate in continuing professional development (CPD).
Get started on a course suitable for nursery staff
PAT Testing Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Workplace First Aid£20 + VAT View course
Fire Safety in Schools£15 + VAT View course
Electrical Safety Awareness£20 + VAT View course
PUWER Awareness£20 + VAT View course
COSHH Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Food Safety and Hygiene for Catering Level 2£20 + VAT View course
Paediatric First Aid Training£20 + VAT View course
Safer Recruitment£20 + VAT View course
Health and Safety for Managers£49 + VAT View course
Health and Safety for Employees£20 + VAT View course
Administering Medication£20 + VAT View course
Slips, Trips and Falls£20 + VAT View course