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Study: Workplace injury trends for school employees

September 23, 2019
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Education workplace injury trends

Along with students, Colorado's hardworking education workforce recently returned to school. Each day, as school employees dedicate their time and energy to keeping Colorado students safe and well, they're faced with unique risks for occupational injuries and illnesses,

Pinnacol analyzed claims reported from 2014-2018 to profile common injuries suffered by teachers, administrators, drivers, custodians and other technical staff, and ways to avoid them.  We've highlighted common and expensive injuries by group, along with how the injuries occur and who is at the highest risk.

Teachers, paraprofessionals, SPED teachers, administrators, nutritional services, upper managers and drivers

Injuries were most frequently experienced by those in the 30-39 age group and the most common injury causes were:

  1. Struck or injured by fellow worker, student
  2. Fall (same level)
  3. Fall (ice or snow)
  4. Strain (misc.)
  5. Struck by object by other

It’s not uncommon for school employees to be in close proximity with disruptive or aggressive student behaviors that could result in injury. Whether teachers and paraprofessionals are separating two students in conflict, working with a special needs student, or are involved in any other type of contact, school district protocol requires employees to formally report the incident in a timely manner. This could mean the employee experienced a minor slap on the arm from a child and it could mean they experienced a more serious contact injury. Either way, the injury would be classified as "struck or injured by fellow worker, student."

Additionally, Colorado’s school districts go to great lengths to ensure that teachers and paraprofessionals who work directly with special needs students are trained to identify and address factors which can lead to disruptive or aggressive student behaviors. Schools can further reduce the risk of workplace injuries by expanding this training to include support staff and teaching professionals outside the special education environment.

Custodians, maintenance, mechanics, technicians, facilities and all other employees

Injuries were most frequently experienced by those in the 50-59 age group, and most injuries happen on Wednesdays and in the months of January and October. The most common injury causes were:

  1. Strain (lifting)
  2. Falls (Same level)
  3. Strain
  4. Fall (ice/snow)
  5. Struck by (falling object)

When injuries occur

Injuries to both groups spike between 9 to 11 a.m. each day, compared with other key industries that see injury spikes around 10 a.m. Employees who have been on the job one to five years are more likely to get hurt than their peers. That bucks the trend Pinnacol has observed of more than 40 percent of occupational injuries happening to workers in the first 6 months of employment, usually due to lack of training or awareness of the hazards involved in the job.

Other findings from Pinnacol’s claims data:

  • The most expensive injuries for educators were caused by motor vehicle accidents.
  • Knees and lower backs are the most commonly injured body parts.
  • Carpal tunnel was also a frequent and expensive injury, indicating a need for better ergonomic training and equipment.

How can schools raise employees' awareness of potential hazards and better protect them from common risks?

Pinnacol occupational safety experts suggest ongoing training for educators, especially for anticipating student triggers and behavior that could result in students losing control or lashing out. Tom Jensen, OHST, Pinnacol's senior safety consultant, provides the following tips:

1. Offer more training to non-special education staff

Colorado school districts already train teachers and paraprofessionals who work with special needs students to identify and address issues that lead to disruptive or aggressive student behavior. "Schools can further reduce the risk of workplace injuries by expanding this training to include support staff and teaching professionals outside the special education environment," Jensen says.

2. Plan ahead to decrease falls and slips

Falls and slips rank among the top causes of injury for educators, our infographic notes. Take precautions to protect school employees year-round:

  • Encourage work-appropriate footwear: This means slip-resistant shoes for nutrition department workers and lug-sole boots for those working outside. During Colorado's frequent icy or snowy conditions, encourage employees to wear winter boots to and from school and change into indoor footwear once inside.
  • Get slip-on traction devices for shoes: These protect employees clearing snow and ice from outdoor walkways when they walk on unprepared surfaces.
  • Place sand or ice-melt chemical containers at entryways: Have staff spread it throughout their day when they encounter slippery surfaces, which can lower the chance of slips and falls.
  • Put floor mats at entryways: They capture snow and water as people enter, preventing slippery floors.

3. Focus on driver safety for everyone

Though bus drivers do the most driving, many other school employees operate cars, vans and pickup trucks to carry out their duties. Schools should:

  • Develop a driving safety policy for all school employees
  • Train everyone in defensive driving to lessen the risk of vehicle injuries
  • Require every driver or occupant to wear a seatbelt if the vehicle is equipped

Read Pinnacol's analysis of school employee safety trends.

For more information about workplace injury trends in key Colorado industries, visit our Safety Resources page.

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