Academic journal article Technology and Engineering Teacher

Completing Accident/incident Reports: Recommendations to Avoid Legal Pitfalls: STEM Educators Must Exercise Caution When Completing Accident/incident Reports

Academic journal article Technology and Engineering Teacher

Completing Accident/incident Reports: Recommendations to Avoid Legal Pitfalls: STEM Educators Must Exercise Caution When Completing Accident/incident Reports

Article excerpt

Imagine you are an instructor in a STEM education lab or makerspace. It is early in the day, and students are working on an engineering design challenge using hand and power tools. You are circulating around the classroom supervising and assisting students. Suddenly a student yells that a classmate is bleeding. You rush over to find the student's hand is punctured from trying to use a screwdriver to scrape hot glue off of their project. You have to think very quickly about what to do. You don't have time to read your notes from previous safety training. Immediately you instruct a trustworthy student to call the school nurse and tell other students to stay back. You put on a pair of vinyl gloves from your first aid kit and use gauze to put pressure on the bleeding until the school nurse arrives. After the accident you are still shaken by what happened and have decided to assign nonlaboratory activities for the rest of the day. Your principal contacts you and requests a written explanation of what happened by the end the school day to help prepare for the inevitable call from the parent/guardian.

It is at this point that STEM educators must exercise caution. Although your administration may request to see an accident/incident report by the end of the school day, you must remember that accident/incident report forms can be used as legal documentation in the event of a lawsuit. Avoiding mistakes like those explained below can sometimes prevent STEM educators from being found reckless or negligent (assuming all other proper safety protocols were followed).

Why Accident/Incident Reports Are Important

Accident/incident reports are used to share information with other people and produce a written record of important information about the incident as required by local and state standards. This information can be used to develop new safety strategies, update employee/student safety training, and other types of decisions for a safer working/learning environment. The content of the accident/incident report must clearly reflect information that is strictly factual and unbiased to avoid presenting opinions and judgements. It should provide appropriate information, noting what happened just before the incident and then during the incident, If the actual incident was not witnessed, always note that the information being provided was reported to you and by whom it was reported. It is critical that the employee authoring the accident/incident report reread it to assure the information is understandable, the entire form is completed appropriately, and it confers what is intended. Refrain from including judgmental statements and condescending or sarcastic remarks. Remember that accident/incident reports are legal documents that can be used in litigation by legal representatives, expert witnesses, and potentially utilized by a court in determining a ruling. The accident/incident report should be completed as close as possible to the time of the accident, preferably on the same day.

Lessons Learned from Recent Experiences

During the past few years it has become apparent to the authors that a large number of STEM educators may be unsure of how to properly complete an accident/incident report form. One author has served as an expert witness in lawsuits dealing with several laboratory accidents. As part of his review of the documents for each case, he examines the accident/incident report completed by the instructor. During this review, it was evident that, in some cases, instructors neglected to include critical information, made assumptions without supporting facts, and made other errors.

Additionally, one of the authors conducted a makerspace safety training workshop this summer with elementary teachers, science teachers, T&E educators, art teachers, and librarians from various school districts within one state. During the workshop he provided teachers with a prompt about an accident occurring in a makerspace and asked the workshop attendees to complete the accident/incident report form that was approved by their state department. …

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