In Conversation With ... Jeff Floyd
on safety training recommendations for school districts
Kentucky School Advocate
In Conversation With … features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate.
Jeff Floyd is loss education and safety manager for Kentucky Employers’ Mutual Insurance (KEMI), the largest provider of workers’ compensation insurance coverage in Kentucky. Floyd and his team of trainers provide free safety training and education resources to policyholders, including Kentucky schools.
Q: How many school districts does KEMI work with?
A. About 130.
Q. What types of workers’ compensation claims are most common for school districts?
A. Slips and falls; strains and sprains, typically caused by lifting; and teachers being injured from an altercation with a student. Those are the big three. By far in any school district, our biggest exposure is slips and falls. There are a lot of causes and one of the biggest, which is on the increase, is distracted walking – people looking at cellphones as they walk.
Q. Which employee category has the most on-the-job injury claims?
A. In schools you have three basic categories: teachers and administration; custodial and maintenance; and food service. The majority of injuries are for teachers, but it is because there are more of them.
Q. So that doesn’t mean that teaching is the most dangerous job, just that they make up the largest percentage of a district’s employees?
Q. Your department’s role is to provide training and other safety resources, correct?
A. We are here to help. Our services are part of what school districts pay us for. We try to identify some that are having safety problems and offer our services, but they can also get in contact with us at 800-640-KEMI or firstname.lastname@example.org and we are happy to help to them in any way we can.
Q. Where do schools go wrong in their approach to safety?
A. Many schools have safety meetings only in the summer or when they are required to do so by OSHA or some other agency, but then they won’t have any regular training or messages during the school year. What you want to do is build a culture of safety, and it is hard to do that if you don’t provide a safety message throughout the school year.
Q. One of your recommendations is that schools develop formal safety programs. What does that involve?
A. There are several elements to a successful safety program. One is a safety handbook. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, just a general list of safety rules, things like “Don’t stand on chairs and desks.”
Q. What else?
A. Having safety training. It could be as simple as a safety message sent out by email. Some school systems have safety meetings, and so they might have our safety trainers come in and meet with kitchen or maintenance staff on an in-service day or with teachers to talk about slips and falls that can come from not wearing appropriate shoes or standing on a chair to put up posters or running after a child. With food service workers you have cuts and burns, but the big issues are slips and falls around the freezer. In custodial, we see injuries where they have mixed cleaning chemicals that shouldn’t have been mixed. Safety meetings and posting information online are good ways to keep these hazards on their mind.
Q. You also recommend establishing safety committees. Explain how they work.
A. Having a safety committee is another way to manage safety. A safety committee looks at claims and trends and comes up with strategies to provide training for those areas and does building walk-throughs to look for areas of concern.
Q. Who are the members of a safety committee?
A. Usually a representative from central office, a couple of teachers, and a couple of food service and custodial and maintenance staff.
Q. Does KEMI require its school clients to have a safety committee?
A. No, it isn’t required, but it is highly recommended.
Q. KEMI provides a lot of online resources for safety education. Can you describe some of them?
A. Schools can go to worksafeky.com. If you click on the education tab, we have sample safety policies, a safety committee charter and a sample safety program they could use.
Q. Your department will also give guidance on starting a safety program?
A. Yes. We will sit down and help them get a handbook and committee created. We go to a handful of schools’ safety committee meetings. It depends on what they would like for us to do.
Q. Give me an example of an action a safety committee might take to prevent injuries and accidents in the school.
A. Using a calendar, a safety committee can plan its messages before the school year starts. Perhaps they decide that for November, they want to talk about winter pedestrian hazards. We have multimedia resources that schools can then email to staff. They are three–10 minutes in length. If you put these little things out in front of people, then on a snowy day they may think “I better be careful” or “I better wear these shoes instead of my heels.” We have a ton of safety material free for them to use.
Q. Does your department work with staff at the school level or the district level?
A. We usually work school by school but we have worked with some co-op groups and with the whole school system. We will also go to specific schools and do training for their staff. We try to make it as fitting to their needs and schedule as we can.
Some schools systems have a designated safety person – they usually have another role, but safety is part of what they do. We understand that safety is not their area of expertise, but what we want to offer is a value-added service. That would include us sitting down in a partnership role to develop a safety program in terms of a handbook, safety committee and also providing training.
Q. When schools implement a safety program, what typically happens?
A. When a district implements some of these programs – and they don’t have to do them all – they see positive results. Typically there’s a reduction in workplace accidents but also in the cost of claims. It’s not a guarantee, but it pretty much takes care of itself.
Another benefit is you end up with a better-trained workforce, where people look out for one another.
Q. Why are safety walk-throughs – where school leadership or safety committee members walk through the school and look for safety problems – important?
A. It shows everyone that safety means something to us, and that we are looking at these things, so if you notice a hazard, you should let us know so we can have it fixed.
Q. The third category, teachers being injured by students, is an area that KEMI does not provide training for, correct?
A. Yes, there are other companies that do that. It is a difficult problem to provide training for. It is not like having an unguarded piece of machinery where you can put a guard on it and make everyone safe.
Q. If a school district calls and wants KEMI do some training, what are a couple of programs that you would suggest for positive impact?
A. One is the slips, trips and falls training and the other is a “Why is safety important to you” session. We are able to give real-world examples of how someone’s life was negatively changed by an accident.
Q. You’ve said that others at KEMI pay attention to how active districts are in promoting safety.
A. Yes, the work school districts do is shared with others at KEMI. Our underwriters know which are safety-oriented because of the involvement the schools and districts have had with our department.
Q. Does that have an impact on underwriting?
A. Well, we don’t give a 5 percent credit if you’ve had a certain number of trainings, for example, but we do look and see what they have done to prevent problems. When districts send out messages to all their employees about safety, they copy me and I make a copy and put it in the district’s file so everybody here knows they sent that out to their employees.
We know that sometimes schools are going to have a bad day, but if year after year they have above-average number of claims, then they probably don’t have very good safety program in place.
Q. What role do school boards play in safety?
A. I think safety is a top-down initiative, and it should be talked about at the board level. It is a piece of the overall picture for sure.