One Size Fits All?
We often get questions from services about health and safety issues – for example, cleaning, storage, food and nutrition requirements and supervision. Services are worried that they may be breaching regulations, that there may be something they are failing to do or understand. This is understandable because the old regulations were often very prescriptive. However, while some aspects of the current regulations are quite detailed, like ratios and reporting requirements, there are many things that are quite the opposite.
Regulations relating to the health and safety of children, for example, are generally quite broad. What do educators need to do, for example, to ensure “every reasonable precaution is taken to protect children from harm and any hazard likely to cause injury?” (National Quality Standard 2.3.2)
There is of course no single answer to this question, no “one size fits all” response. Every Service and every situation is different. It’s a matter of using a systematic approach to ensure the risk of harm to children is consistently minimised or eliminated in every situation. This is where risk assessments come in. They should be undertaken regularly, and in any new potentially hazardous situation, but they can be used whenever you aren’t sure if what you’re doing is in the best interests of a child. For example, are the children receiving enough dairy food daily?
Sometimes the idea of completing a “risk assessment” scares people because it sounds like a complicated procedure, but it’s really quite simple: identify risks, work out how best to eliminate or minimise them and take immediate action to do this. The success of a risk assessment depends on how well each step is undertaken.
In the dairy food example, the risk is that the children may not receive adequate nutrients which may affect their development. Educators could consult the Australian Dietary Guidelines or government websites to clarify the recommended dairy intake, and adjust the weekly menu if required.
Can you see how the regulations empower educators to use their professional judgement, expertise and understanding of what’s happening at their Service to ensure the health and safety of children? This doesn’t mean they have licence to ignore all reputable sources of information or advice. In fact, as professionals they are expected to consider these when determining appropriate practices at the Service. That’s something to remember and maybe highlight when you explain to families and assessors why these measures are the safest and/or most appropriate for the Service.