Your Childcare Facility and Health and Safety Practices
COVID-19 has thrown the issue of proper HSE (Health, Safety, and Environment) management at our childcare facilities into stark relief.
But having a proper HSE protocol in place has always been important for our facilities – more so than for schools for bigger children. The main reason for this is of course that the young ones are particularly susceptible to tumbles and bumps, to name but two types of incidents that could occur. As to their vulnerability to COVID-19? Well, the general take on this seems to be that they may be less susceptible to the virus than bigger children, and definitely less so than adults. I suppose the jury is still out on the final word on this though.
Prevention is better than cure, so all Department of Social Development as well as the Department of Basic Education’s guidelines on how this should be managed must be followed. Already in July 2020 the Department of Social Development published a new directive that detailed the phased reopening of Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes in South Africa. The aim is not to repeat what is contained in the regulations, save for some main points:
- These facilities must adhere to existing health and safety guidelines as well as the additional requirements provided for in the directive. These additional requirements include a self-assessment form; a declaration form declaring that the facility meets with the minimum health and safety standards; and a workplace plan in line with current lockdown regulations.
- All ECDs are required to conduct screening, and every person who enters the facility must be screened.
- Any person with symptoms must report them to a designated official immediately. This person must also be barred from entering the premises.
- The existing rules around sanitisers and masks must also be followed. However, children younger than 24 months will not be required to wear a mask.
- Children between two and five are "encouraged" to wear masks, considering their age and developmental abilities.
- A child must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian every day when the child attends an early childhood development programme or a partial care facility and must be screened.
- In the case of a child who is twelve years or younger and accompanied by a designated person, the parents or legal guardian must provide the child with the required information for symptom screening.
- A child with a known underlying health condition that may place the child at a higher than normal risk category as defined by the Department of Health, may not return unless a medical practitioner gives written authorisation that it is safe.
- The directive states that the following activities are expressly prohibited for the duration of the national state of disaster:
- Outings and excursions.
- Extramural facilities.
- Activities implemented by an external party that are not part of the staff of the establishment.
- Open days.
The directive also outlines several programme-specific conditions which must be followed by the various facilities. We will not go into those in detail, save to state that these relate to especially separation distances that should be kept between children for various activity types.
In general though, when one investigates documentation regarding HSE practices at childcare facilities – however you should define it – there seems to be general consensus that any overview of what should be covered with a good HSE policy at your facility (if you don’t have one in place – contact us – we can assist) should relate to the following areas or disciplines:
- Physical structure, layout, space, safety, and condition of buildings.
- Suitability of equipment.
- Welfare and development of children.
- Staffing (numbers, training, etc).
- Food service.
- Activities for children.
- Infectious disease measures.
- Administration such as notification, records, and insurance.
For COVID-19, but also, generally speaking, all ECD facilities should have:
- Hand sanitiser outside canteens, playrooms, and toilets - this should be positioned safely for children.
- Well maintained and stocked hand washing facilities.
- A strict cleaning routine - where regularly touched objects and surfaces are disinfected often.
- A plan for dealing with children and staff who develop symptoms of coronavirus.
- A plan for how they will manage core services if any staff need to self-isolate or restrict their movements.
For more details of what should be covered, you may contact us at Play, Learn, Win. Also take a look at the Guideline for Childcare Facilities in the Public Service, as published by the Department of Public Service and Administration in November 2012.
Following good HSE practices may be onerous. But establishing good protocols and policies in this regard - and enforcing them - really amounts to best practice and will stand you in good stead as owner or teacher at a facility of this nature for years to come. In one sense, therefore, COVID-19 has been a blessing in disguise, as it now forces us to take these issues much more seriously than we may have done before...