Nursery Management

Infection prevention and control – Early Years essentials

  • Infection prevention and control – Early Years essentials

Infection prevention and control are critical in childcare settings. To maintain a safe and hygienic environment, you have to assess the level of risk you face, explains Laura West…

Infections are easy to contract and transmit. But it’s equally easy to avoid if everyone plays their part and puts into practice proper preventative actions.

Infections explained

First, let’s understand what an infection actually is. Bacteria, fungi or viruses entering the body are what cause infection. They can be minor and stay in one area, like an abscess or boil, or spread through the body, like flu or a blood infection.

It’s easy to deal with general infections, but sometimes they can cause more serious health problems. You can spread infections like flu or norovirus from person to person, but not all infections are transmittable.

There are many infections that people can pick up, at work, around the home and in public places. We can spread them by blood, bodily fluids, waste, skin contact or infectious aerosols such as sneezing, dust and water droplets.

The spread of infection is also known as the ‘chain of infection’. By breaking a link we can halt the process. There are six links to consider:

  • Organism – the bacteria, virus or fungi
  • Reservoir – a reservoir can be environmental, such as the workplace setting, the water supply or in a living organism such as a rodent or bird. Humans are the only reservoir for many human pathogens
  • Portal of exit – how the organism leaves the reservoir. It could leave in faeces, blood, mucus, contaminated water or the bloody meal of an insect
  • Mode of transmission – how the organism is transmitted from one host to the next
  • Portal of entry – how the organism enters the body
  • Vulnerable host – commonly the most vulnerable are the very young, the elderly and people with a suppressed immune system

Infections generally enter the body via one of four routes:

Inhalation – meaning, we breathe it in.

Ingestion – entry through the mouth. This often occurs accidentally through hand-to-mouth transfer, when a person has a substance on their hand and then does something like bite their nails, smokes or eats lunch.

Injection – caused by sharp objects that penetrate the skin and allow harmful substances into the body. Particular hazards include discarded needles and syringes.

Absorption – this usually takes place through cuts or other breaks in the skin. However, other substances can penetrate and be absorbed by unbroken skin.

How infections occur

Infection can occur in a number of different ways within a childcare setting. The main way is putting contaminated hands, fingers or pens into the mouth, nose or eyes, or inhaling infectious aerosols or droplets from the air (eg breathing in after someone has sneezed).

Other ways include contamination via broken skin (a wound) or coming into direct contact with a microorganism or something contaminated by microorganisms.

More serious ways of contamination could involve splashes of bodily fluids such as blood or excrement coming into contact with the eyes, nose, mouth or open wound, or a skin-penetrating injury – eg being contaminated via a discarded needle or animal/insect bite.

In order to do effective infection prevention and control, you have to assess the level of risk. Once you’ve identified a source of infection, you must consider how likely it is that infection will occur.

In order to do this, think about how often your staff carry the task out, how many employees are exposed, and how much infectious material is handled. If you consider that there is a risk, decide whether existing infection prevention and control measures are sufficient or if you require more.

Occupational hygiene

Within industries where people work with people (adults and children) or animals, the basic infection prevention and control principles of occupational hygiene should be applied in all situations. Occupational hygiene principles that all staff should follow include:

  • Washing hands and arms thoroughly before eating, drinking, smoking, using the telephone, taking medication, applying makeup or inserting contact lenses
  • Covering all existing and new cuts and grazes with waterproof dressings and, if needed, wearing gloves before starting work
  • Taking meal breaks away from the main work area
  • Wearing appropriate protective clothing to stop personal contamination, eg plastic aprons, gloves, disposable shoes, waterproof clothing
  • Avoiding hand-to-mouth or hand-to-eye contact. Don’t put pens and pencils in your mouth and dispose of contaminated water safely

As well as occupation hygiene, good environmental hygiene and design are also essential. These principles include the following:

  • Use equipment that is easy to clean and decontaminate
  • Clean all work surfaces and work areas regularly
  • Ensure, where possible, that the workplace and its services such as water systems and air conditioning systems are designed to be safe to use, easily cleaned and well-maintained
  • Treat water systems to either kill or limit micro-organisms’ ability to grow
  • Control pests, such as rats or insects within the premises

Effective cleaning

Cleaning products are the next area of infection prevention and control to consider. Disinfectants can be used to reduce bacteria to a safe level; this is achieved by using the disinfectant along with very hot water (82ºC or higher) for best effectiveness.

But remember, they must be diluted to the correct levels and left in place for the specified ‘contact time’ before rinsing. Disinfectants won’t break down grease and dirt. Detergents will, but will not kill bacteria, However, sanitisers are a combined detergent and disinfectant that will kill bacteria if left for the correct ‘contact time’.

Washing your hands regularly, effectively and thoroughly is the best way to keep the level of hand-based bacteria to a low or zero level.


As well as controlling the day-to-day risks it’s important to consider potential action that may be required in an emergency situation. If an employee is exposed to blood or potentially infectious materials, you will need to wash the exposed area thoroughly with soap and running water.

If blood or bodily fluids are splashed in the eyes or mucous membrane, flush the eye area with running water for at least 15 minutes.

Report the exposure to your supervisor, document the incident and investigate how this happened using health and safety procedures. It is also advisable to seek medical advice. It is a good idea to have a ‘clean up’ or ‘spill kit’ available.

Hand-washing advice for Early Years staff

Washing your hands is one of the most important aspects of infection prevention and control…

  • Use a designated hand-washing sink
  • When washing your hands thoroughly, don’t forget the backs of your hands and in between your fingers
  • Use liquid soap (antibacterial is best) and hot water
  • When drying your hands, never use shared towels – always use disposable paper towels or an air-dryer
  • Hand-washing needs to be done for 40–60 seconds

You need to wash your hands before and after:

  • Going to the toilet
  • Eating and drinking
  • Taking medication
  • Smoking
  • Putting makeup on
  • Inserting contact lenses
  • Handling raw food, eg meat, eggs, etc
  • Handling allergenic foods
  • Removing any rubbish
  • Handling cleaning chemicals
  • Blowing your nose or touching your face or hair
  • After any work activity where you may have become contaminated

Laura West is the childcare health and safety specialist at MCW Nursery Support Service Ltd, a family-run business specialising in health and safety, auditing and training for the childcare industry. Visit