Released on Monday, the report, titled Staff safety in early childhood education workplaces (2017 survey results), was based on feedback gathered as part of the 2017 Early Childhood Education Employment Survey.

More than 900 teachers took part in that survey, including 109 in supervisor positions.

Of those, almost half – 46 per cent – reported experiencing a physical or mental health problem or work related injury in the past 12 months.

That figure is up from 29 per cent in a survey conducted at the end of 2014.

“One reason for the large increase could be the publicity around the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and staff being more aware that harm in the workplace is not something that has to be put up with and accepted as part of working with young children in a sector that has funding issues,” ChildForum chief executive Dr Sarah Alexander said.

Reported injuries include strained backs, migraines, and even hearing loss, as well as mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Respondents indicated that bullying by management, overwork and exhaustion contributed to their feelings of mental stress.

Some teachers also reported being injured by the children they cared for, including one who sustained a “badly bruised knee” after being kicked by an angry child.

Other injuries stem from unsafe working environments; twisted ankles from slipping on ramps, concussions sustained in the playground, cuts and scrapes and bad posture from sitting in the office chair.

According to the report, manual handling of kids, furniture and equipment resulted in the most injuries, including torn ligaments, sprained wrists and back injuries from lifting children onto change tables.

Alexander said it was time to put “the care” back into early childhood education.

“Caring for those who care for children has to become a priority.

“It can be really difficult for staff and add to the stress of trying to give a proper service to children when they are feeling undervalued, unsupported and unappreciated around health and safety at work.

“The early childhood sector must start investing in staff education around injury prevention."

According to Alexander, employers need to ensure they provide staff with the support required to manage their work and provide a health and safety culture that allows for concerns to be raised and addressed.

“Health and safety risks to staff need to be better managed," she said. 

"Things such as excessive noise levels leading to hearing loss, staff not getting regular breaks and staff being overworked and unsupported should not be happening at any service.”

Occupational therapists Melissa Caskie and Nadia Tu'itahi from workplace health and safety training consultancy, Edusafe, said the report was “in line with ACC statistics around musculoskeletal injuries for the early childhood sector”.

They added that manual handling training in early childhood centres in New Zealand was “virtually non-existent”.

“It is clear to us that the focus needs to be on injury prevention ... and it must be addressed before it becomes a problem,” Caskie said.

Alexander said the Government needed to look after early childhood educators to ensure the industry was suitably staffed and to keep skilled teachers in the job.

“If Education Minister Chris Hipkins wants to fulfil the Labour Party’s promise to increase the percentage of qualified teachers that is mandatory for services to have, then he has got to step in now and get a strong focus placed on looking after the current workforce or there are just not going to be enough teachers around to achieve that goal,” she said.

The report can be found at childforum.com