Safer Schools and Saving Money:

The Perks of Creating a Culture of Safety

10/21/2016  |  Tom Strasburger, Keith Martin and Tony Messer

Schools are built to educate children, but the business of running a school involves much more than what happens in the classroom. While schools must adhere to state and federal regulations, creating a safe environment conducive to learning is more than simply being in compliance. It’s about creating a culture of safety.

A chemistry classroom is not the only place someone can get hurt from improper handling of chemicals. Custodial and facility staff members are often exposed to cleaning supplies and harsh chemicals for various tasks.

In districts with a culture of safety, staff members are aware of safe and unsafe behaviors and choose to conduct themselves in a safe manner. From a practical standpoint, this means teachers know not to stand on chairs or other unstable surfaces when decorating their rooms and teachers and students know to follow equipment operating instructions. When a new policy goes into effect, administrators make sure all applicable employees sign-off on the policy, thus confirming they are both aware of it and understand it. Employees take required training courses for compliance, but more importantly, they are assigned to take training based on when certain types of injuries are likely to occur to minimize the chance of injury. And when accidents happen – which they inevitably do – staff members know how to properly report them so that key people are automatically notified to begin investigations and put controls in place to address workplace hazards to rectify safety issues.

Although creating a culture of safety may require an entire safety programming overhaul for some districts, it is definitely a worth-while initiative. Teaching staff to avoid unsafe behaviors and situations helps reduce the likelihood of injuries. This can help reduce the number of injury claims the district files, which in turn can help reduce its insurance premiums. The money that would have been spent on medical bills, substitute teachers, workers’ comp and other insurance premiums can go toward classroom initiatives.

Ensuring All Staff Complete Training

Federal and state mandates may require certain employees or employee groups to take training courses such as blood borne pathogens, mandated reporter and more every year. Of course districts with a culture of safety meet these mandates; they go beyond being in compliance to offer staff a wide variety of safety training.

These districts require staff to take a wide array of training courses, and they assign specific courses based on an individual’s job description. Instead of cramming face-to-face trainings into valuable in-service days, the training is spread throughout the school year and is offered online so staff can take courses when they have time in their schedules.

Training strategies include seasonal training that is appropriate to address certain types of risks, such as Slips, Trips and Falls in November and ladder safety for maintenance staff in April. Requiring staff to take these courses in November and April is a strategic move. Most slips, trips or falls occur when it starts to get icy between November and February (for most states), and maintenance staff is often up on ladders making repairs during project season between the end of one school year and the opening of the next. Therefore, training staff in the months leading up to these times helps ensure they know how to incorporate safe practices into their routines. 

Reporting All Accidents and Hazards

When injuries occur, what happens next can have a large impact on the financials and safety of a district. Quickly investigating incidents and addressing the associated hazards that cause injuries helps to drive down the cost of insurance. The faster the investigation is completed, the faster the cause can be addressed. For example, a teacher was walking in a hallway when he fell and hurt his tailbone. If he didn’t provide any information about how the accident occurred, administration is left with many questions. Did he trip over something? Was the floor wet and, if so, was there a “wet floor” sign? Was a tile loose? If the teacher filled out the report to say a tile was loose resulting in him losing his balance and falling, key people would be immediately notified to take action and fix the tile to ensure no one else gets injured.

Properly reporting all accidents and hazards, and central record keeping in general, has many benefits. Should an accident result in a workers’ compensation claim, or worse, a lawsuit, the district will have clear documentation of employees’ injuries and the details of accidents. It also makes it possible to analyze all accident reports for trends to make decisions about what risk management initiatives to implement to prevent future occurrences of certain types of injuries. If accidents keep occurring in the same location or at a certain time, there may be a physical hazard causing the accidents or a training deficiency in staff and faculty that can be addressed.

Tracking Completion of Compliance Tasks

State and federal mandates require districts to conduct drills, inspections and other tasks several times throughout the year. Properly completing the drill or inspection prior to the deadline is essential to compliance. However, this is another time where compliance is important, but making sure faculty and staff understand safety concepts is more important than being in compliance. Conducting drills is about preparing staff and students to act in the event of an incident.

Properly Labeling and Handling All Chemicals

A chemistry classroom is not the only place someone can get hurt from improper handling of chemicals. Custodial and facility staff members are often exposed to cleaning supplies and harsh chemicals for various tasks. Making sure all chemicals are properly labeled with required details helps keep everyone safe. And if a staff member spills a hazardous chemical, or if a student accidentally ingests a chemical, all faculty members are trained to act accordingly to ensure everyone’s safety.

Seeing Results from a Culture of Safety

Anderson School District Three (ASD3) in Iva, SC and Chatham County Schools in Pittsboro, NC both successfully created a culture of safety and are subsequently reaping the benefits. ASCD consists of five schools and employs 370 employees while Chatham County Schools is a 17-school district with approximately 1,200 employees. Like many districts around the country, these districts not having dedicated safety staff does not erase the responsibility to meet various regulatory safety and compliance requirements. These two districts do that and more by being strategic about implementing programs that make school safer and to mitigate risk. There are ways to fill that position with resources and technology. Moving from a manual, paper system to an automatic, online system helped the districts more efficiently manage their safety program and create a culture of safety.

By focusing on a culture of safety, ASD3 was able to meet the 10 requirements of PARR, a property, causality and workers’ comp insurance program, and received a 5 percent rebate – $5,000 – on its insurance. ASD3 has also seen a reduction in the number of workers’ compensation claims in the areas of training, which subsequently saves the district approximately $5,000 a year in workers’ compensation insurance premiums. Chatham County Schools expanded training offerings for staff and was able to make the entire staff training process more efficient for everyone. Chatham County Schools also saw a reduction in their workers’ comp insurance premium, which has saved the district approximately $45,000 to date.

The money both districts would have spent on insurance premiums and/or claims, and the money they could have spent during litigation, can now go toward other initiatives. Additionally, the time and effort administrators put into risk management can now go toward improving other processes. Now that the business of running their district’s safety programs is easier, ASD3 and Chatham County Schools can focus their time, energy, and money on educating children.

Tom Strasburger is the Vice President, Sales and Marketing at PublicSchoolWORKS ([email protected]).Keith Martin is the Treasurer of Finance at Anderson School District Three in Iva, South Carolina ([email protected]).Tony Messer is the Chief Financial Officer of Chatham County Schools in Chatham County, North Carolina ([email protected]).
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