Injury Prevention for Paraprofessionals
By Kevin Bartsch, MSGIA Assistant Director Workers’ Compensation Pool Operations
and Harry Cheff, Certified School Risk Manager
Paraprofessionals have become a key player in many aspects of a school. Paras commonly provide instructional assistance to students in a range of academic settings, including but not limited to Title I, Special Education, and in the traditional classroom. In these capacities, Paras supervise students on the playground, in the lunchroom, concerts, field trips, etc. This range of demands and responsibilities on paraprofessionals increases the likelihood of injuries, many of which can be prevented with thoughtful planning.
The leading cause of injuries for this professional group is “Fall, Slip or Trips” and “Struck Injured By” type injuries. During the winter months, 60% of fall/slip accidents occur when one is walking from a vehicle to the building. Slips, Trips and Falls can be addressed and in most instance avoided by focusing on what commonly occurs first thing in the morning in the daily life of a Para. For starters, Paras should on these icy days select footwear with good traction, and they should either avoid wearing fashionable shoes with slipper soles or high heels or, short of that, they should wait to put them on until they get safely to the classroom.
Some additional reminders in preventing slip, trip and fall accidents include remembering the importance of the “first step/last step” guideline while walking. This pertains to the first step of getting out of your car. When you open the car door, place two feet on the ground and use both hands to stand. As you walk across the parking lot, be aware of elevation changes associated, for instance, with inclines from parking lots to sidewalks. Also, remember that entryways can pose problems, as do walk-off mats to tile flooring, and that it’s often best to follow cleared paths upon arrival at school. Using a step ladder, navigating stairs, or moving up and down bleachers are all potentially dangerous activities. When doing these things, try to keep your hands free and avoid carrying too much.
Struck Injured By claims are increasing each year. The more common types of claims include “Falling or Flying Objects,” “Objects Being Lifted or Handled by Others,” and “Fellow Worker, Patient, or Other Person.” The best way to avoid these types of injuries is to recognize the root causes. Monitor storage areas and keep them tidy (don’t overload shelves). When working in classrooms that are cluttered, remember that items may fall easily. Be aware when someone is lifting/carrying something. If a load is unsteady, put it down and make adjustments—better yet, make two trips.
The most common type of injury is “Struck Injured By Fellow Worker, Patient, or Other Person.” These types of injuries are associated with students becoming aggressive towards staff members. In the past five years, MSGIA has experienced an increase in these types of claims. So, please be careful when assisting or working with high needs students. MSGIA would encourage Districts to access Safe Schools online training. These classes include:
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder (49 min) – This course will assist school staff members to better understanding Oppositional Defiant Disorder; it will do so by investigating its symptoms and risk factors while providing insight into effective approaches to working with children with ODD.
- Paraeducators: Behavior Management Basics (28 min) – This course will examine the role of the paraeducator as well as common factors related to challenging student behavior and the basics of behavior management.
- Paraeducators: Roles and Responsibilities (55 min) – This course will define the important role of the paraeducator, address the need for teacher and paraeducator teamwork, and highlight best practices related to commonly assigned paraeducator tasks.
- De-Escalation Strategies (21 min) – This course will educate school staff on the proper use of de-escalation strategies in properly managing student behavior. Topics covered include the Conflict Cycle and preventative measures, the development of meaningful relationships, how to recognize signs of escalation, and de-escalation tips.
Finally, Paraprofessionals are often asked to monitor playgrounds, supervise lunchrooms, and chaperone on field trips. In these and similar situations, paras need to be supervising first and allowing the students to engage in whatever activity they are participating in. Intervene if the health, safety, and well-being of students and staff is compromised. On the playground and field trips, paraprofessionals also need to be aware of their surroundings while chaperoning or supervising students. MSGIA Safe Schools class that would assist Paras in meeting the requirements of monitoring students is “Playground Supervision.”
MSGIA recognizes the importance that paraprofessionals play in the day-to-day operation of a school. Workplace safety should thus be a priority. We want everyone to have a successful injury-free year.
In the event you have questions or additional suggestions regarding injury prevention issues with Paraprofessionals, please contact the following individuals:
Kevin Bartsch, MSGIA Assistant Director of Workers’ Compensation Pool Operations
Harry Cheff, Certified School Risk Manager
Annette Satterley, Certified School Risk Manager Return to 2019 Fall Newsletter