Health and safety in early years is a priority. You can immediately be drawn to thinking EYFS health and safety consists of risk assessing learning environments and activities to minimise physical injury. However, health and safety in early years is much broader than a bumped head or grazed knee.
In this article, we have collected all the EYFS health and safety information you will need to run a compliant childcare setting that uses the best health and safety practices.
EYFS health and safety in nurseries: the legislation
Nursery managers and owners have a legal duty to make the nursery safe for all children and staff, including ensuring any potential dangers or hazards are protected against using ‘reasonable precautions.’
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 highlights the nursery manager’s responsibility to identify possible risks and use risk assessments to eliminate or lessen the identified risk. Section 3 of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory framework sets out what EYFS providers are required to do to ensure health and safety in early years is a priority:
Your nursery setting must have an EYFS health and safety policy that is shared with parents and staff; this is one of the EYFS statutory policies and procedures that each childcare provider must have to be compliant. This policy should include risks that have been identified (specific to your setting) and the procedure involved with reporting and dealing with hazards, accidents, and any faulty equipment.
What is good health and safety practice in the nursery?
There is a difference between a statutory requirement and good practice with health and safety in the early years. It is statutorily expected that your nursery has a health and safety policy that is shared with staff and nursery families. Yet, it is good practice to regularly remind parents of any amendments or where to access them following an incident. Share any updates to policies with your parents by sending a newsletter, or news update that gets sent directly to their phone.
Mandatory training (including induction training) covers many health and safety, fire safety, and first aid requirements. It is your setting’s decision how much training you feel is beneficial for your staff; it is always best to be prepared.
Is your nursery EYFS health and safety compliant?
Taken from the safeguarding and welfare requirements in Section 3 of the EYFS statutory framework, we have created a checklist to ensure you comply with health and safety requirements in early years and run your nursery according to good practice. How many does your setting tick off?
Health and safety of early years practitioners
Nursery managers and owners have a duty of care to reduce or eliminate, where possible, the hazards associated with working in childcare. Taking care of their staff is a top priority. Staff should be aware of the nursery’s mandatory health and safety policy and how this is implemented to keep them safe whilst at work.
First aid training in the early years
Detailed in the EYFS statutory framework (pages 26-27), there are mandatory staffing requirements associated with first aid in EYFS. There must be at least one person with a paediatric first aid (PFA) certificate across the nursery who is always available. This course must have content that covers young children and babies. It’s more in-depth than a regular emergency first aid at work course that primary school staff members frequently undertake.
Keep track of which staff members are PFA-qualified with Blossom’s online staff profile. Log in any time to see who’s qualified, and who needs a refresher course. Remember that any early years practitioners who are Level 2 or 3, and who are included in staff ratios, must have their PFA or emergency PFA within three months of starting their employment. PFA qualifications should be renewed every 3 years. It is beneficial to have several staff members trained to prepare for off-site trips and absences.
Safer recruitment in nurseries
Health and safety of children in the early years apply to much more than physical well-being from injury or incident. Health and safety also encompass safeguarding children’s welfare. Safer recruitment policies should be in place for your nursery’s employment procedures, Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE, 2022) explains further in part 3 of the document.
Health and safety in early years: guidance for children
Children and toddlers learn the most when given the freedom to be creative and explore ideas and objects. This child-led learning approach comes with increased risk to their physical safety. Your EYFS health and safety policy should identify all of the potential hazards that the children in your childcare setting may be exposed to and the steps taken to eliminate or reduce these risks. We have highlighted some of the most common health and safety discussion points nurseries face, sharing how to make your setting safe and engaging.
Child harnesses, are they a good thing?
Your childcare setting will try to organise and plan as many exciting offsite trips as possible; you may have access to transport (public or a setting minibus) or use the areas local to your location for inspiration. The use of child harnesses can often increase the safety of the children when experiencing offsite visits.
But when are child harnesses safe to use in the nursery? Dr Stephanie Satariano from Child Psychology London explains that the child’s safety is always paramount. The use of child harnesses may be necessary to allow more adventurous offsite visits in early years settings, helping to keep multiple children safe from road traffic. Dr Satariano recommends balancing the types of activities used in the learning offer, using a mixture of offsite and onsite experiences that don’t require a harness to allow children to risk manage and learn through trial and error.
Promoting healthy eating in the Early Years
EYFS healthy eating can impact future lifestyle and eating habits. It is important to share a healthy lifestyle and eating development with the children in your setting. Veganuary and healthy eating can be shared with the parents in your setting, explaining the movement towards eating more sustainably resourced produce and increasing the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables they eat as part of a balanced diet.
When visiting nurseries and schools, Ofsted will explore the provision for helping children to know how to keep themselves healthy and the guidance they give to children to support them in making healthy eating and fitness choices. Nursery leadership and management should consider how healthy eating is promoted across the whole nursery: healthy snack suggestions, fresh produce grown in a garden, and regular involvement of parents in promoting healthy eating across the setting. Remember to share your menu with parents, plus account for any allergies your children may have.
Developing mentally healthy habits in the early years
Looking after children’s health and safety also includes the broader terms of safeguarding. Safeguarding the children from potentially harmful and damaging circumstances and situations, including mentally unhealthy habits, falls within your setting’s responsibilities.
Developing mentally healthy habits in EYFS can help to direct children to positive adult outcomes. As 1 in 6 children present with probable mental health disorders, it is an area your setting must be competent in supporting. Encouraging your staff to recognise the signs of unhealthy social and emotional behaviours is an important part of supporting children who are beginning to display poor mental health patterns.
Running staff training sessions building knowledge about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can help to keep your staff aware of the household, community and environmental ACEs that can significantly impact mental stability in children.
How to avoid injuries in the nursery setting
The most common first aid incidents in the nursery are bumped heads. The mixture of unbalanced feet and active play can be the perfect recipe for bumps, trips, and grazes in the nursery! You can take steps to reduce the number of minor injuries in your nursery.
Evaluate the risks evident in your nursery: are the hallways tidy and clutter-free? Do the rooms have suitable toy storage available? Are the areas that involve water regularly cleaned and wiped to avoid slips? Encourage the children to respect their environment from an early age by teaching the importance of risk awareness and safety when playing in the nursery. The use of tidy-up songs and timers can help to give some structure and inject some fun into tidying up whilst reducing the amount of health and safety incidents.
Health and safety guidance for parents and visitors in your nursery
Parents and visitors will attend your nursery regularly; this may be for daily pick up and drop-offs, visiting governors (if linked to a maintained school), catering deliveries, local authority professionals, Ofsted inspectors, and prospective families will all be on the nursery premises. You and your nursery team must evaluate the health and safety concerns, risks, and potential risks for all nursery premises (including outdoor space) to avoid any injuries or incidents during their visit.
Visitor safeguarding in EYFS
Early years settings must be an environment where children can learn and develop. Ofsted inspectors evaluate provisions and make judgements surrounding safeguarding, they will consider how well a nursery has created a culture of vigilance. The EYFS statutory safeguarding responsibilities will be evaluated alongside how confident staff use their professional judgement to keep children safe and prioritise health and safety in early years.
A safeguarding and child protection policy is one of the mandatory EYFS policies you must have. Some settings add visitor procedures to this policy rather than having a separate visitor safeguarding policy. You should share your safeguarding policy with visitors when they arrive so they can comply with your policy. When they sign in, they should be asked to show identification, wear a visitor badge whilst on the nursery premises and follow any additional protocols, like using a different entrance and adhering to the photography policy you may have.
Operating your nursery in a Covid-19 world
Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, yet there are still confirmed cases of other infectious diseases such as Group A Strep; following similar isolation and tracking protocols as Covid-19, it is helpful to remember the processes that worked when operating your nursery successfully during the pandemic.
Continue with the practical measures your staff, children and parents adopted during Covid-19 with increased hygiene facilities such as hand sanitisers and optional face masks for visitors who feel unwell. Promote good hygiene practices through your parent app, reminding parents to encourage children to wash their hands regularly and use tissues to catch sneezes and germs effectively.
Communicate regularly with your parents if there is an infectious disease confirmed case (Group Strep A) and direct them via your parent app to seek GP or 111 support if they are concerned for their child’s health. Reminding parents of your nursery’s sickness policy following a sickness bug can be useful through an in-app parent notification.
Optimising plug safety in your nursery
Health and safety considerations span from child welfare to plug safety in your nursery. Ensuring your electrical appliances and plug sockets are in working order is a large part of being health and safety compliant. The most discussed plug safety options are plastic plug socket covers and RCDs (residual current devices).
The Department of Health has previously stated that in the UK, health and social care settings should not be used as the plug sockets are fitted with government-regulated safety features, preventing injury due to children putting their fingers in them. Settings can also get various RCD protectors, which are safety-sensitive devices that automatically switch off the electricity when a fault is detected.
Ofsted has no official position on the use of plug socket covers. They instead highlight the need for practical measures decided by the nursery to keep the setting safe for all. You should consider refreshing your staff on the checklist using advice from Electrical Safety First to ensure they are practising good electrical safety:
Health and safety considerations for your nursery building
Keeping your nursery premises health and safety compliant can avoid injuries and make the nursery a safer place to work and learn in. Included in your risk assessment policy, you will be aware of any areas of the premises that may cause increased levels of risk (you may have a ramp that becomes icy in the winter or several large trees that could pose a risk in extreme winds). Discuss as a nursery team the potential health and safety risks inside and outside the nursery and aim to eliminate and reduce these risks where possible.
Health and safety, and Ofsted: questions to consider
When your nursery or childcare provision is inspected, you and your nursery team will certainly be expected to answer several key questions asked by the Ofsted inspector. Prepare your team by using some of the questions below to evaluate their confidence in verbalising your nursery’s procedures with health and safety during staff meetings.
Audit your health and safety procedures in your nursery
It is good practice to regularly undertake a maintenance health and safety audit and premises audit. This can be done with external services or with your leadership team. At a minimum, your premises should keep children safe, warm and dry, and provide a suitable learning environment.
Schools are governed by the good estate management guidance from the Department for Education; it can be good practice for nurseries to be aware of this document and complete their health and safety audits in a similar fashion. You should assess the current provision (including equipment) and identify any alterations and work needed on the building, equipment or nursery rooms. Once the maintenance is identified, you should calculate the potential cost of completing the work. Finally, prioritise the work needed to be done in line with funds and budgets.