Coaches, P.E. Instructors, Volunteers, Chaperones, Recess Personnel Injuries

by Harry Cheff, Risk Management Associate

 There is an adage in the workers’ compensation arena that goes something like this:

 “Safety is about choices.

Most accidents can be traced back to an action or in-action.

When you investigate, you will find that someone made a choice or decision that lead to that accident!”

This guiding principle is doubtless germane to a broad range of educational situations common to our school grounds and related activities, but it’s especially applicable for those times when staff and faculty serving in their various roles as coaches, P.E. instructors, volunteers, chaperones, and/or recess monitors gamely but unwisely decide to participate in a student activity. This, in short, is when the train leaves the track, so to speak, and the adult becomes an injured player or participant rather than a safe and protective teacher, coach, or chaperone.  Thus mindful of the lessons we can learn from the above adage and the often avoidable mistakes of others, one is well served to keep in mind the following reminders when supervising students.

 Coach, Volunteer, & P.E. Instructor

The employee group experiencing an alarming and disproportionate number of injuries is coaches, P. E. teachers, and volunteer coaches.  A deeper understanding as to why and how this group suffers more injuries requires a closer look at the general make-up of these employees.  Based on injuries reported, strain is the leading cause of accidents.  Typically, these people are injured while practicing or engaging in the activity with their players.  Moreover, many of the individuals who suffer these unfortunate injuries experienced a similar injury in high school, college, or while playing in a recreation league. 

 Individuals participating with the student-athletes and younger participants do so for a variety of reasons, including low participant numbers in that event or sport, the need to demonstrate as a coach a certain strategy or skill, the desire to show off, or because they believe that a second- or third-string player is not able to adequately challenge the first-string player.  When this type of decision-making becomes the rule rather than the exception for these coaches deciding and when and if to get involved in risky situations, the results can lead a torn muscle, tendon, ligament or any number of other injuries, including sprains, dislocations, and broken bones. 

 Volunteers & Chaperone

Every District should have in place a policy that addresses the role volunteers and chaperones play in assisting schools with the many activities.  MTSBA Model Policy 5430 states the following:

“The District recognizes the valuable contributions made to the total school program by members of the community who act as volunteers.  District employees who work with volunteers shall clearly explain duties for supervising children in school, on the playground, and on field trips.  An appropriate degree of training and/or supervision of each volunteer shall be administered commensurate with the responsibility undertaken.  When serving as a chaperone for the District, the parent(s)/guardian(s) or other adult volunteers, including employees of the District, must abide by all rules, regulations and policies of the District. Chaperones and volunteers shall be given a copy of the rules and sign a letter of understanding verifying they are aware of and agree to these District rules before being allowed to accompany students on any field trip or excursion.”

Guided by this policy, please remember that, while on field trips, for instance, one must be vigilant about avoiding potential hazards, including those associated with such physical and relatively risky activities as sledding, skiing, and ice-skating, as well as the less obvious, more common, but, on balance, equally dangerous activities tied to playground games and athletic drills.  In each of these kinds of common scenarios and situations, supervision is your primary duty, and thus your optional participation should be limited and very much under control. After all, each time an employee, volunteer, or chaperone chooses to participate while serving as supervisor, there is a risk of injury.  If injured during participating, the adult in question could incur unanticipated financial, emotional, and physical challenges associated with the recovery process. 

Paraprofessionals & Playground Aide

Due to the shortage of teachers across the state, a common practice in schools involves having paraprofessional fill in while a teacher is out sick, on leave for school business, etc.  Remember your limitations if subbing in P.E. under these circumstances.

 Anytime a staff member is supervising children on the playground, that staff member needs to be aware of his or her surroundings. Most playgrounds have apparatuses and equipment with moving pieces, such as swings, merry-go-rounds, seesaws, swivel tire-swings, etc.  These, to be sure, are replete with potential problems and related risks.  Students and equipment are moving, and recess monitors need to be supervising and not participating.  Don’t encourage and try and catch a student jumping from playground equipment.  Also, the common games students play on playgrounds, such as football, kickball, basketball, tetherball, tag, red rover, etc., are likewise potentially dangerous.  Finally, when escorting upset students from the playground, be able to protect yourself from the unexpected. 

 Employees need to be reminded that every injury is avoidable if precautionary measures are taken.  For example, if an employee feels the need to participate in a sport with a students or student-athletes, he or she would be well served to a) warm up adequately, b) recognize that you are playing with and competing against children and teenagers much younger and thus typically much fitter and much less predisposed to injury. 

 Additional reminders to help ensure staff will go home safely include the following simple steps:

  1. Remember that 100% of all decisions are made between the shoulders and the top of the head. Bear in mind that the body naturally goes through the normal aging process.  Muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints and even one’s sense of balance is not what it used to be.  
  2. Recognize who the better players are and let them demonstrate the move/drill being taught. And, if you must demonstrate, run that drill at half speed. 
  3. Finally, understand that there can be serious legal implications if a participating employee injures a student or student-athlete to be injured.

 MSGIA’s primary, the overriding concern is the health, safety, and welfare of everyone and thus our goal is for every employee – regardless of the role or position he or she serves in the District – to avoid injuries while on the job.  So, we ask that employees avoid whenever possible engaging in risky, physically demanding activities and instead make good choices to work safely with and for our students this school year. Return to newsletter