Safer Practices Part 5 – The importance of risk assessments | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

The latest in this series looks at the importance of ongoing risk assessmentsto ensure child safety. By Nicole Weinstein

Two recent incidents where children’s safety was compromised highlight the need to ensure safety remains a key priority for managers grappling with staffing issues.

Childcare settings have a statutory duty to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to keep children safe and well, as set out in the Early years foundation stage (EYFS) statutory framework. This includes ensuring the safety and suitability of premises, the environment and equipment.

However, despite the best of intentions, children’s safety can be compromised in a split second, which is why it is vital to conduct regular risk assessments and ensure that staff are vigilant and report hazards or concerns.

Locked in

In July, Wales Online reported that a child had been left locked inside a nursery alone for ‘up to 15 minutes’ when the nursery closed for the day. The setting’s ‘specialist childcare software’ was allegedly at fault, as it indicated that the child had been collected, when they had not. The provider, which refused to speak to Nursery World, told Wales Online that it has now implemented an ‘additional step’ in its sign-in and sign-out procedures whereby parents are required to personally sign out their child at the end of the day.

Care Inspectorate Wales told Nursery World it was aware of the incident that took place on 13 July and ‘immediately liaised’ with Cardiff’s safeguarding team and undertook a full inspection on 17 and 18 July. The spokesperson said that they will ‘continue to liaise’ with the safeguarding team and ‘monitor closely’ the action taken by the provider in response to the inspection.

Lack of supervision

In a damning Ofsted report on a setting in the West Midlands this June, inspectors said children’s safety and welfare were ‘put at risk’ as a result of ‘significantly exceeded’ staff-to-child ratios. Staff were admonished for failing to adequately supervise children at mealtimes and for not assessing safety risks, such as worn furniture that had become ‘unsafe’ and cleaning chemicals ‘left in reach of children’. Procedures for administering medication were also deemed ‘unsafe’.

Stella Ziolkowski, director of quality and training at National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said she is aware of similar ‘negative outcomes from inspections’.

‘We have received a number of calls regarding these issues, which include challenges with staffing, ratios not being met, and children not being adequately supervised as a result of staffing challenges the sector is facing.

‘We advise [settings] to put an action plan together on what they will do to keep children safe and prioritise these actions alongside Ofsted actions or recommendations they have been given. It might be things like staff training, looking at supervision of staff, or how they could create bank staff to cover for staff shortages and skills shortages.’

According to NDNA, the main safety concerns that members approach them about are around supporting children’s healthcare and storage of medication.

Ziolkowski said, ‘We talk to them about following instructions for medications, ensuring that they are kept away from children, they have doctors’ information on the package and these instructions are clear, stored in a secure location and have parents’ permission to administer them.’

Health and safety

The EYFS stipulates ten areas of safeguarding and welfare that all early years providers need to adhere to and are inspected by Ofsted against. These include ensuring that children are adequately supervised at all times and are within ratio, and ensuring that indoor and outdoor spaces are fit for purpose and suitable for the age of the children and the activities offered. Providers must also comply with the requirements of health and safety legislation, including fire safety and hygiene requirements.

In the case of nurseries and settings in non-domestic premises that are not part of a school and are run independently, local authorities are the enforcing authority. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the enforcing authority for nurseries on school premises. A spokesperson from HSE said that health and safety law is ‘goal-setting rather than prescriptive’ and sets ‘general requirements’ around ensuring workplaces are safe, rather than setting specific standards for individual risks.

‘Part of risk-assessing is not just to provide every piece of safety equipment on the market but to really understand the risk in that situation or place in the home and look at the risk for the children in their care,’ explained Tina Maltman, executive director at Childminding UK. ‘For example, when children can safely and independently manage stairs, it is suggested that to have a stair gate may be more dangerous as children may try to climb over them. For childminders who only care for children at this stage of development, stair gates wouldn’t be necessary. Other measures are advisable for any age, such as using cleats or clips on all blind cords to prevent the risk of strangulation.’

When it comes to specific guidance on safety risks, such as stair gates, the HSE says employers should assess the risk from stairs and ensure that any slip or trip hazards are removed or effectively controlled so far as is reasonably practicable. The spokesperson added, ‘The installation of stair gates is a reasonably practicable control measure to reduce the risk of young children falling down the stairs provided they are suitably maintained and installed effectively. Stair gates should be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.’

Assessing risks

Risk assessment is a big part of what practitioners do every day. They are constantly risk-assessing activities with children and the environment, and they also have a role to play in supporting children to manage risks safely.

The EYFS states that risk assessments should identify ‘aspects of the environment that need to be checked on a regular basis, when and by whom those aspects will be checked, and how the risk will be removed or minimised’.

Although not all risk assessments need to be written down, the EYFS says providers must determine ‘where it is helpful to make some written risk assessments in relation to specific issues’ to inform staff practice and to demonstrate how they are managing risks if asked by parents or inspectors.

Health and safety law does not set a specific frequency for review of risk assessments, but the HSE says it is ‘down to employers to decide a suitable system for reviewing and checking that their control measures remain up to date and effective’.

Ziolkowski advises settings to think about the following when it comes to determining potential safety issues:

  • Are the children safe?
  • Are there any immediate risks to children they can spot?
  • Is the environment secure?
  • Condition of the resources.
  • Possible hazards, e.g., tripping, falling.
  • Monitoring near misses and acting on them.
  • Safe and secure spaces.
  • Staff deployment.
  • Staff competence.

As part of the risk assessment, she advises practitioners to get down to the child’s level to look at the environment from their viewpoint. ‘What this might look like in a baby room, toddler room or pre-school room from the child’s perspective. Doing this, they will be able to see what the hazard might look like from a child’s view,’ she said.

Spotlight on: childminders and safe fire practices

The EYFS leaves it to providers to determine what fire detection and control equipment is suitable for their setting – fire alarms, smoke detectors, fire blankets and fire extinguishers – but it stipulates that all settings must have an emergency evacuation procedure.

Tina Maltman, executive director at Childminding UK, says childminders are expected to have a fire blanket in the kitchen – the most likely place a fire would occur – and smoke detectors on each floor of their home.

‘Fire blankets should be large enough to wrap around a child if their clothing caught fire and should be checked annually by taking the blanket out of the housing and replacing if there are any signs of deterioration that would prevent it working in the event of a fire,’ she says. ‘They can choose to have fire extinguishers too, but fire service advice for childminders usually stipulates that if a fire can’t be put out by a fire blanket, the safest thing is to evacuate the premises and call the Fire Service on 999.’

She adds, ‘Childminders are expected to practice safe evacuation with all children. This includes taking a phone with them and the emergency contact details of all children so that parents can collect them.’


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