Special Education staff are injured more frequently

The Southwest Washington Workers’ Compensation Trust has seen a 35% increase in the number of Workers’ Compensation claims in the last three years. The two staff positions with the largest increases during that time are Special Education Paraprofessionals (over three times higher) and Special Education Teachers (over nine times higher).

Identify areas of employee injury

The first step in trying to reduce these injuries is to identify where they are occurring. A supervisor investigation can assist with determining causes and corrective action. Here are steps to take to begin the process:

  • Document all employee injuries on an Employee Injury Report form
  • Inform the injured employee’s supervisor and administrator of all injuries
  • Have the supervisor investigate the injury to determine causes. Solicit recommendations for improvement from staff. Involve a Physical Therapist on employee injuries involving student manipulation
  • When a pattern (more than two from the same student) of aggressive or inappropriate behaviors cause employee injuries, the supervisor or administrator needs to take corrective action. This often involves convening an IEP team meeting

Strategies to correct causes of injury

Following are several strategies to consider for addressing causes of employee injuries related to student behavior:

  • Provide staff training in dealing with the student’s disability
  • Provide staff training in de-escalation and managing challenging behaviors
  • Modify or rearrange the student’s physical school environment
  • Provide walkie-talkies for staff with a protocol for them to receive help quickly
  • Obtain personal protective equipment such as pads or sleeves for the staff

Another strategy is to convene an IEP team meeting to discuss the student’s behavior and determine ways try to modify it. The IEP team may try the following:

  • Perform a functional behavioral assessment, creating/modifying a behavior intervention plan with various responses (positive support and adverse behavior plan)
  • Assign a paraeducator(s) to the student
  • Consider disciplinary action for the student
  • Limit the amount of time the student spends at school
  • Find an alternate placement for the student (considering the least restrictive environment)
  • Have the school nurse or IEP team discuss the student’s medication with the medical provider

Strategies to consider for addressing causes of employee injuries related to student manipulation (traditionally from lifting a student) include:

  • Evaluate lifting or transfer methods and determine if there are safer ways to accomplish the task. A Physical Therapist may be helpful here
  • Train staff in proper lifting techniques
  • Modify transfer surfaces such as raising/lowering changing tables
  • Obtain additional equipment to assist with lifting (ex. Hoyer lift)
  • Obtain additional staff to assist with lifting or modify schedules so additional staff are available during times when lifting is needed
  • Modify or rearrange the student’s physical school environment

Often several strategies have to be tried before a workable solution is found, and circumstances may require continued evaluation. The process can be frustrating, but keep trying! We want to protect our staff working with Special Education students.