Shifting Focus of School Safety: Today's Leaders Must Manage a Wide Range of Risks, from Bullying to Fires to Worker's Comp

By Dotson, R. G. | District Administration, May 2016 | Go to article overview

Shifting Focus of School Safety: Today's Leaders Must Manage a Wide Range of Risks, from Bullying to Fires to Worker's Comp


Dotson, R. G., District Administration


Today's climate of budget cuts and shortfalls has increased the importance of risk management in school districts. Insurance premiums can wipe out extensive efforts to reduce costs. In the past, school safety has primarily focused on disaster preparation and security issues, but it has come to mean much more.

School safety is a holistic approach to reducing the risk of injury to education service employees, students and visitors. The person managing risk for a district or school needs a diverse knowledge and skill set, covering: security, student safety procedures, occupational safety, OSHA regulations and state law, transportation and DOT regulations, and insurance coordination for general liability and worker's compensation.

And topics like slip-and-falls, playground safety, incident investigation, active shooters, bullying, fire prevention, grounds liability and school resource officer involvement require the safety manager to develop professional competencies that many times are new or have previousl not been their professional focus.

Educators are educators first--not professional risk managers. But many times educators are relied upon to wear a variety of hats. School safety is just one of them.

Learning the hard way

I recently interviewed an excellent elementary principal about her involvement in school safety. It was her highest priority, she said, but she also admitted that everything she had learned came from experience.

For example, just the process of purchasing playground equipment made her aware of the many different design standards geared to different age groups. Safety-related issues were new territory for her.

This principal had long mastered pedagogy, mentoring of teacher competency, student discipline and other important aspects of her position. But the added safety-related duties caught her unprepared and relying on others' advice for success.

Hiring a staff person who is a competent and certified school safety manager would have saved her many hours of learning "on the fly," so that she could concentrate on her primary job focus.

Safety saves money

The Institute for Safety and Health Management has developed the certified school safety manager professional designation (http://DAmag.me/cssm) for the purpose of demonstrating competency in school safety management. It recognizes the wide array of knowledge and skill sets, with unique issues and topics relevant to school settings.

The designation allows the school safety professionals, regardless of job title, to display their professionalism. It also enables educators to work toward a level of professional competency in order to better prepare themselves for administration duties or for more varied school safety roles.

The certification recognizes school safety as a professional competency.

Many schools find themselves financially strapped, and funding a full- or part-time safety professional is not a priority. …

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