November 17, 2023

Workplace injury trends for school employees

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 2019-2022 to profile common injuries suffered by teachers, administrators, drivers, custodians and other technical staff, and ways to avoid them.  

Injuries were most frequently experienced by those in the 40-49 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 (not person)

Other findings from Pinnacol’s claims data include:

The most common injury types include:

  1. Contusions
  2. Sprains
  3. Strains
  4. Lacerations, and
  5. Contagious Disease

When looking at injury frequency, a trends analysis identified that knee injuries are the most common type of injury followed by skull, lower arm, hand, and then lower back.

When injuries occur

Injuries tend to spike between 10 to 11 a.m. each day and employees who have been on the job one to five years are more likely to get hurt than their peers. 

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

1. Offer more training to non-special education staff

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.

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 or it could mean they experienced a more serious contact injury. Either way, the injury would be classified as "struck or injured by a 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.

2. Plan ahead to decrease falls and slips this winter

Falls and slips rank among the top causes of injury, our infographic notes. As we head into winter, take the following precautions to help protect workers:

  • 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.
  • Keep ice cleared and provide slip-on traction devices for shoes: These help reduce falls for employees when they walk on unprepared surfaces while clearing snow and ice from outdoor walkways.
  • 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, reducing slippery floors.

3. Review your loss trends to identify areas where strains are occurring

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), such as strains, sprains, low back pain and nerve compression syndromes, e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome, are some of the most costly workplace injuries. Assessing and mitigating the risk factors that cause MSDs, such as repetitive motion and awkward posture, are critical in reducing the risk of injury. Pinnacol’s Safe lifting and ergonomics page provides resources to help mitigate these risks.

4. Focus on driver safety for everyone

While vehicle accidents are not in the top five in this trend analysis, injuries resulting from vehicle accidents rank typically higher in severity. 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 distracted and defensive driving to lessen the risk of vehicle incidents, 
  • Require every driver or occupant to wear a seatbelt if the vehicle is equipped, and
  • Teach employees how to ensure their vehicles are ready for this winter. Pinnacol’s vehicle safety checklist is a good resource to help people self-inspect their vehicles.

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