Beginning around age five, most children spend a great deal of time in school. Because of this, parents entrust teachers to not only teach their children reading, writing and arithmetic but also to keep them safe during their time away from home.
School districts emphasize the importance of safety in schools—and with school buildings housing thousands of students at one time, safety is an important component of school life. Teachers and other school personnel need to consider their own safety on the job, in addition to the safety of their students.
For teachers and all other school employees, including cafeteria workers and janitorial staff, the best way to prevent on-the-job injuries is to create a greater awareness of these potential hazards.
The most frequent injuries will be those sustained from slips, trips and falls. There are a number of safety prevention tips to help alleviate potential hazards.
- Hallways, classrooms and reception areas should be kept free of debris and clutter, and trash should be collected and removed daily.
- Electrical and telephone cords should be routed around doorways and walkways.
- Worn, torn or loose floor coverings should be repaired or replaced immediately.
- Floors should be swept or vacuumed daily.
- Spills should be cleaned up promptly and “Caution: Wet Floor” signs displayed.
- Library and classroom bookshelves should be solidly constructed and neatly arranged to reduce the possibility of injuries sustained from collapsing shelves or toppling books.
- Schools with stairwells should ensure the stairs are in good condition, covered with a non-skid material and equipped with sturdy handrails.
Teachers and other staff could also sustain injuries from attempting to break up student fights and possible altercations with irate parents.
- Faculty and staff should receive training in conflict resolution techniques, as well as any other training required or suggested by the school district.
- A low student-to-teacher ratio is recommended, as it enables instructors to provide more personalized attention to students and maintain greater discipline.
- The presence of hall monitors can also be a deterrent to fighting.
Although rare at the elementary level, teachers may sometimes find themselves the targets of personal attacks perpetrated by students (particularly those in the upper grade levels). Schools should uphold a “zero tolerance” policy that enforces predetermined punishments for specific offenses—with no exceptions—toward students who commit a hostile act against an employee.
Cafeteria workers often face an increased risk of burning or scalding since they work in close proximity to ovens and stovetops. Precautions should be taken to reduce the number of burning or scalding incidents in food preparation areas. Food preparation workers should be thoroughly trained in the safe use of all ovens, appliances and kitchen equipment.
Maintenance workers may experience electrical shocks while using power tools or mobile, heavy equipment. All machinery should be equipped with safety guards.
Physical education instructors and school nurses may face an increased risk of exposure to blood borne pathogens, such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), due to possible contact with students’ blood. Safety measures should be in place to protect workers from possible exposure to these pathogens. Protective gloves should be worn at all times when workers are exposed to blood or bodily fluids of either students or workers.
Emergency drills are not just for students. Of course, teachers are expected to know where to go in the event of an emergency, whether there’s an internal lockdown, a tornado or a fire. Teachers should be familiar with these procedures to keep students and themselves safe, especially since they are often tasked with organizing everyone during a drill. It is also a good practice for teachers to create alternative routes and procedures in case they are in another part of the building or the typical path is obstructed. Teachers should have these alternative plans approved by school administration.
Depeding on the subject they teach, teachers may handle some hazardous or dangerous materials, including chemicals, shop equipment and even scissors. The key to avoiding an accident is to know how to properly use and dispose of the equipment or material being used in the classroom. Even using scissors to cut up projects for students can result in an accident if the teacher is not paying attention. It is also important to properly care for the injury in a timely manner, no matter how minor the employee thinks it is. Be sure to notify the front office of the accident, regardless of the severity.
Teaching is a valued profession that often emphasizes preparation and education to students, but those two factors are just as important for teachers. Preparing for the unexpected and educating themselves about potential workplace hazards are the best ways to prevent an injury at work.