UNISON Northern Ireland

Health & Safety - Childcare Settings


UNISON is aware that many childcare facilities are now beginning to re-open as the Covid-19 lockdown begins to ease and more people return to their workplaces. The definition of a keyworker that can access childcare has been expanded.

UNISON is here to provide advice and representation for our members working in childcare settings who may be concerned about the health and safety of the children they care for, their colleagues and themselves.

If you have concerns about what is happening in your workplace or would like to become a health & safety rep, please contact your branch. You can find branch details here.

The advice from the NI Executive is that childcare facilities can begin to re-open on a phased basis, following certain conditions. Your employer must put in place a number of measures to protect you and the children.

Before re-opening, your employer must:

  • Have sufficient numbers of children attending;
  • Must inform the HSC Trust Early Years Team about their plans to provide care as safely as possible for children in each setting and complete a risk assessment to ensure that care can be provided as safely as possible to children.

Play Pods

Alongside regular hand cleaning, hygiene and cleaning measures, your employer should maintain small group sizes (known as Play Pods) to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19. Children and staff should, where possible, only mix in a small, consistent group. Each small group should stay away from other people and groups in the childcare setting. The same staff and children should stay with each other each day, throughout the day. A Play Pod should normally have no more than 12 children in it. There must be two adults in each Play Pod at all times.

Depending on the size of the pod a floating/relief staff member may be necessary to ensure staff get breaks but this should be limited as much as possible. Your employer should ensure, as far as possible, that the same staff are assigned to each group every day and that the children use the same area of the setting every day with a thorough cleaning of the rooms at the end of the day. As far as possible, you should practice social distancing with other staff, including those within your Play Pod.

Infection Prevention

Your employer should have policies in place around infection control and these must have been updated in light of Covid-19. You must have been given access to online training/information on Covid-19 (http://childcarepartnerships.hscni.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/COVID-19-IPC-Resource-for-CC-Settings-1.pdf) and your employer must make sure you are familiar with this. Your employer must make sure sufficient handwashing facilities are available, or provide hand sanitiser in rooms.

Your employer should also make sure that shared spaces and shared resources are used in a much more restricted way (e.g. stagger the use of staff rooms and office spaces, prevent the sharing of stationery and other equipment).

What if a child or worker becomes sick?

Your employer should have a clear plan in place if a child becomes sick, both for children displaying the symptoms of Covid-19 and those without these symptoms. There should be a designated area where sick children can be attended to by a limited number of trained staff. If direct care is required while waiting for a child to be collected, you should be given PPE to wear (a mask, apron and gloves). PPE should also be provided for those caring for the child if a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained. If a risk assessment determines that there is a risk of splashing to the eyes then eye protection should also be worn.

If you or your colleagues become unwell and are displaying the symptoms of Covid-19 you should be sent home immediately and should self-isolate for 7 days. You should be tested for Covid-19 as an essential worker (https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus/testing-and-tracing-covid-19/testing-covid-19#testing-for-essential-workers). If you test negative, you can return to work. If you test positive, the rest of your Play Pod (including other workers) should be sent home to self-isolate for 14 days.


If you have been shielding during Covid-19, the advice is that you should not work outside your home. You should rigorously follow shielding measures to stay safe. Your employer should support you to do this, such as by asking to carry out work from home. If you are considered ‘clinically vulnerable’ (but are not shielding) and cannot work from home, you should be offered the safest possible roles at work, staying 2 metres away from others wherever possible.

If you live with someone who is clinically vulnerable, including those who are pregnant, you can attend the childcare setting. However if you live with someone who is shielding the advice is that you should not attend the childcare setting as strict social distancing cannot be maintained.

Read the full guidance on re-opening childcare settings here 

Useful Resources 

Promoting safe work during Coronavirus - A guide for UNISON members

Promoting safe work during Coronavirus - A guide for UNISON branches

Are you at risk? Health and safety poster

Are you at risk? Risk assessment leaflet for members

Social distancing and hygiene in the workplace

How to work safely - leaflet for members

Health and safety risk assessment

Interested in becoming a Health and Safety rep?