Cheap Fixes for School Safety

A couple years ago, an educational institution forked over more than $3 million following an incident where a television set fell on a faculty member’s foot. The television was not properly secured to the cart, and the injury was not fatal. The financial cost of this oversight, thus far, has been significant, and the case is still in litigation. While an extreme and unusual outcome for what would normally be a simple worker’s compensation claim, the case highlights the need to focus on basic safety issues. A rather simple, effective process called the tactical site survey helps educators identify the most significant safety issues in schools. A multidisciplinary safety and emergency preplanning inspection of a school, the tactical site survey can not only make school a safer place, it can also enhance the very quality of the educational process.

A carefully coordinated tactical site survey process can significantly reduce the number of hazards on campus, while instilling a more natural awareness among staff regarding safety. While qualified consultants can provide great value in performing this type of inspection each year, few school systems have the funding to pay for private services of this type year after year. In addition, this approach normally does not affect the cultural change that drives regular employees to spot, report and correct common safety hazards on a daily basis.

Using available resources to properly train internal teams to conduct tactical site surveys is not only more cost-effective, it also heightens safety awareness among rank and file employees in a lasting way. The states of Indiana and Wisconsin have conducted statewide“train the trainer” programs for approximately one thousand instructors for less than what private consultants would charge a single mid-sized school system to coordinate just one year’s worth of tactical site surveys. Involving line employees in the tactical site survey process, combined with an awareness campaign, creates a much greater cultural change among staff regarding safety hazards. This last point is of particular importance as most safety hazards can be corrected with simple measures — moving a box of office supplies that have been carelessly placed in front of a fire exit door, or tightening a loose safety strap on a television set.

This type of approach not only helps staff to quickly identify and correct thousands of everyday hazards on campus, but it can also lead to an improvement of the academic climate. Students, staff and visitors can spot an environment where safety is not a priority. Though they may not specifically and consciously evaluate your grounds and facilities for safety, they will inherently notice when they regularly pass hazards like an empty fire extinguisher cabinet, exposed wiring or loose boards on a set of wooden stairs. The subtle, powerful message these type of situations conveys is powerful in a very negative way.

Ongoing safety hazards convey a sense that safety and people do not matter. These poor-quality safety messages also have implications for the quality of a school. When a vending machine fell from atop its perch on a table in a private school and killed a child, it not only cost millions following litigation, it also sent a clear signal to the community that the school was not as high a quality organization as it could be. No one trained in the manner described would walk by such a blatant hazard without recognizing it. Furthermore, few properly trained individuals would then ignore such a deadly situation and allow a child’s death.

Using the all hazards approach and involving local public safety practitioners, the tactical site survey process will reduce the risk of crimes ranging from theft to terrorism and risks as diverse as heavy items stacked on filing cabinets or sharp pointed scissors lying on a teacher’s desk. With a concerted effort and well-designed program, reductions in costs associated with insurance, worker’s compensation claims, civil litigation, vandalism, theft and a range of other concerns can be realized. For a free tactical site survey Web tutorial and checklist, visit and click on the resources section.

Not taking this proven risk management approach is a sure way to waste valuable human and fiscal resources. Internalizing the tactical site survey process can save time, trouble, money and, in some cases, even the lives of students, employees and visitors.