Safety in the Classroom
by Cassandra Pfeifer
The Sandner Group
As the school year moves into fall and winter months, it is natural that classroom space will become less organized than it was at the beginning of the year; however, teachers must maintain high safety standards year-round in order to provide the most efficient learning space possible. When setting up and working in the classroom, it is important to prevent hazards that can arise. To facilitate a more fulfilling school year, please consider the following tips when arranging and organizing classrooms.
Perhaps the most important thing to consider is the organizational scheme of the classroom. The safety and efficiency of the classroom decreases exponentially when there is a large backlog of homework assignments, projects, and other various materials. A cluttered classroom leads to falling and lifting injuries and also increases the risk of fire. Teachers should be diligent in removing unused, broken, or obsolete materials. Taking an active approach in maintaining sufficient classroom space throughout the year will not only improve the appearance and safety of the classroom, but it will also spare teachers a large cleaning project at the end of the school year.
Another cause for concern is furniture placement in classrooms. Tables should never be placed in front of walls containing white boards or chalkboards, because teachers will be forced to reach or stand on the table in order to utilize the boards. Desks should be organized appropriately to reduce the risk of students’ feet, chairs and other possessions creating obstacles in the aisles. Students should only be permitted to keep their materials on or directly underneath their desks. Teachers should never have to step over books and papers from other classes while trying to teach their subject. Additionally, entrances and exits need to have a wide area of empty space surrounding them at all times because a student or staff member should not have to navigate around obstacles in order to exit a classroom. Failure to provide unobstructed means of ingress and egress presents huge safety risks, particularly in the event of an emergency evacuation.
Teachers should use incredible caution when determining whether to bring an item from home to the classroom. During safety inspections, our Loss Control Specialists have identified many items teachers have brought in, including armchairs, table lamps, and toasters that pose significant safety hazards and do not belong in the classroom. Another item often found in classrooms is a decorative throw rug. While rugs may look nice, carpets not properly secured to the floor create slip, trip, and fall hazards. As chairs and desks shift, carpets tend to pucker or fray on the ends. With the heavy traffic that takes place in all classrooms, it becomes highly likely the carpet will be displaced and cause someone to fall. The only carpeting, furniture, and appliances that belong in a classroom should be provided by the district and should have appropriate safety guards in place.
Disorganized extension cords pose an additional safety hazard. Extension cords are very easy to trip over, and an unorganized group of cords creates a significant fire hazard. When setting up the classroom, all cords should be secured to the floor and not placed in areas with high foot traffic. Teachers should also be careful not to overload outlets with too many plugs, because such an overload greatly increases the chance of electrical fire. If the number of electrical items outnumbers the number of outlets available, teachers should first assess whether all the items are absolutely necessary to the classroom and then ask the maintenance staff to find ways to safely plug in all of these items without overloading outlets.
In elevated storage areas, the ceiling clearance should be 18” for sprinklered facilities and 24” for non-sprinklered facilities. Only small, lightweight items should be stored in elevated areas, to prevent heavy materials and oversized items from falling and striking employees or students. Keeping heavier materials on lower shelves allows for proper lifting techniques to be used when the item needs to be moved or shifted. Step stools should be provided for elevated storage areas to allow safe access. If a step stool is not immediately available, maintenance should be contacted to retrieve one. It is always best to wait for the proper equipment rather than risk injury to get a job done quickly.
Maintaining an organized and safe classroom space is easy to do and can be done with little, if any, cost to the district. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the materials used in classrooms and how to create the safest learning space possible, please do not hesitate to contact your Loss Control Specialist at one of the numbers on the right. They are available to assist with all safety concerns and help your district be as safe as possible.