WA Regulatory Authority issues additional caution to ECEC sector in wake of another burnt feet case

WA Regulatory Authority issues additional caution to ECEC sector in wake of another burnt feet case

by Freya Lucas

October 20, 2020

For the third time in recent weeks, the West Australian State Administrative Tribunal has issued a financial penalty to a provider over an incident in which a child’s feet were burnt by hot ground surfaces, prompting Samantha Palmer, Deputy Director General, Governance, Integrity and Reform for the WA Regulatory Authority to issue an additional caution to the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector in WA about the importance of safeguarding children from hot weather. 


“Most childcare service operators seem to focus primarily on UV exposure in their service policies,” she said. “They must also have clear procedures in place to ensure that play surfaces, play equipment and walkways are checked regularly on hot days.”


In the latest instance an ECEC provider was brought before the State Administrative Tribunal by WA Regulatory Authority, the Department of Communities, with the Tribunal finding that the provider had breached Section 167 (1) of the National Law for an offence involving failure to protect children from harm and hazard, imposing $10,000 in penalties and costs.


The breach relates to an incident on 3 February this year, when a two-year-old child sustained burns to her feet whilst playing in the service’s outdoor area. A Department of Communities investigation found that a group of children had been taken outside for afternoon tea in the service’s undercover area at 2:20pm. 


A small number of children left the undercover area and moved into an outdoor yard, before being escorted back by the service’s staff. The burns may have been caused by the child stepping on either brick pavers or a metal grate that was or had been directly exposed to the sun. The child was not wearing shoes at the time, and the burns required medical treatment. The maximum temperature in Perth on the day of the incident was 38.4°C. 


“Adequate supervision, thorough risk assessments and staff communication are just as important in avoiding these kinds of incidents,” Ms Palmer said.


“As we’ve now seen in three cases, some materials used in outdoor matting and playground structures can get very hot very quickly, and can remain hot for some hours.


The Department of Communities’ Education and Care Regulatory Unit conducts on-site compliance checks all year round, she said, warning providers that hot play equipment and surfaces “will be a focus during the summer months.”