Last reviewed 10 November 2016

As winter approaches and the clocks move back to Greenwich Meantime, early years providers need to address the additional safety issues associated with the changing seasons, writes Elizabeth Walker.

Journeys

Staff and parents need to take extra care on their journeys during the winter months when the roads become more dangerous in bad weather and it gets dark earlier. Providers should consider the following safety tips when they take children on outings or trips by foot.

  • Always hold hands with children.

  • Wear high-visibility or light-coloured clothing.

  • Use a pedestrian crossing wherever possible.

  • Try to use a well-lit route.

  • Remember it takes drivers longer to stop a vehicle in wet or slippery conditions.

  • Always set a good example and talk to children about road safety.

  • If children are using scooters and bikes always ensure they are wearing a helmet.

Drivers must also take extra care particularly during arrival and collection times when there are usually large numbers of children crossing the roads. Early years providers should discuss road safety with children and reinforce the theme through activities and play.

Clothing

Children need to play outside every day, even in winter and as long as they are dressed appropriately it is perfectly safe to do so. Parents should be advised that their children will be given the opportunity for outside play every day and that they should provide suitable clothing, such as several thin layers of clothing, winter coats, hats, scarves, gloves, and boots. An extra change of warm clothes would be advisable as children can get cold, wet and very muddy in winter weather.

Importance of outside play

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory framework makes it clear that it values the outdoor environment as much as the indoors. It requires early years providers to ensure that children have opportunities to be outside on a daily basis all year round. Outdoor provision is an essential part of a child’s daily life not an optional extra.

Early years providers should try to think positively about our climate and use the changing seasons as a resource for learning and activities. Rain, wind and snow can all provide opportunities for outside play and exploration. However, if the temperature really falls or there is a low wind chill factor it would be sensible to limit outdoor play to shorter sessions or encourage more active play so that body temperatures don’t drop too much.

Safety checks: outside space

In adverse weather conditions, there needs to be close supervision of outside play and safety issues relating to equipment and other resources need to be addressed. Safety of young children outdoors is paramount and it is vital that staff assess any risks in the environment. As well as formal risk assessments, safety checks should be carried out on at least a daily basis to ensure that outside areas are clean and free from hazards.

Slips, trips and other accidents increase during the autumn and winter seasons but there are effective measures that can be taken to help prevent them. Early years providers should ensure that:

  • all entrances and exits are clear of snow and ice, leaves and water

  • there is sufficient lighting on paths, entrances and exits

  • wet and decaying leaves on the ground are removed as they are slippery and can hide other hazards

  • there is good drainage of rain water

  • they monitor temperatures and check for icy patches on paths and outside play areas when it hits freezing

  • grit is used on areas that are prone to be frosty or slippery, eg paths that are constantly in the shade

  • signage or cones are used to divert children and adults from hazards such as icy areas

  • both adults and children have protection from extreme weather conditions in outside space through provision of shade and shelter

  • play equipment is safe to use in different weather conditions.

Safety checks: inside space

Winter weather can cause safety issues inside the provision as well as outside. Entrances can become wet and slippery and weather mats should be used to prevent water being brought in on people’s shoes. Any water on the floors should be cleaned up as soon as possible to avoid falls on slippery hard surfaces.

Room temperature should be maintained at a level to ensure the comfort of children and staff, including non-mobile children. A reasonable working temperature for adults is usually at least 16°C, although this may need to be higher for non-mobile children. Heating needs to be adequate and any appliances must be serviced annually before winter starts and suitably guarded to prevent accidents and burns.

Emergency planning

It is good practice to have procedures in place to deal with winter emergencies. Early years providers should develop an emergency closure policy for severe weather conditions which may put children or staff at risk. This includes any situation when the correct staff:child ratios cannot be maintained, such as when staff are unable to get to work due to bad weather. Providers should:

  • monitor weather warnings and take appropriate action

  • have a policy and procedures in place for emergency closure or relocation in the event of severe weather, such as snow or flooding

  • monitor room temperatures

  • ensure smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are fitted and tested regularly as more fires occur during the winter months

  • have a back-up heating and lighting plan in case of power cuts

  • have a source of safe emergency lighting, including torches with extra batteries

  • have a supply of matches, blankets, snow shovels, salt, and grit during the winter months.

Further information

The following websites offer further information on winter safety.