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Author Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 78, Issue 3 - November 2018
PublisherITEEA, Reston, VA
ReleasedOctober 24, 2018
Copyright@2018
ISBN2158-0502
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Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 78, Issue 3 - November 2018

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Table of Contents

SAFETY SPOTLIGHT: Completing Accident/Incident Reports

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STEM educators must exercise caution when completing accident/incident reports.

 

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. In analyzing the accident/incident report forms, the authors found that 78% (14/18) of the attendees provided statements that could have been misinterpreted and potentially contributed to instructor liability. From these experiences it became apparent that STEM educators should be made aware of better practices for completing accident report forms.

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Writing the Report

Completing an accident/incident report requires some knowledge and practice. The following steps are recommended to provide accurate information on an accident/incident report form. To prepare for writing an accident/incident report, you first have to gather and record all of the facts. For example:

1.     What was the time, date, and specific location of the accident/incident?

2.     Who was involved in the accident/incident (e.g., teacher, student[s], others)?

3.     Was there an event that led up to the accident/incident?

4.     Specifically, what were the employee and students doing at the time of the accident/incident?

5.     Were there any witnesses? What did they say about the accident/incident?

6.     Were there any environmental conditions that contributed to the accident/incident (e.g., wet floor)?

7.     What activity was specifically being conducted, what equipment was being used, what safety precautions were taken, what personal protective equipment (PPE) was worn, and other similar information?

8.     What specific injuries were witnessed?

9.     What first-responder action was taken and by whom?

Additional information you should include regarding damage, etc.

10.   What are the suggested corrective actions (e.g., additional student/teacher safety training, preventive maintenance, undertaking a job hazard analysis, review of engineering controls, administrative procedures, and personal protective equipment)?

11.    Immediately following the accident/incident, were there time-stamped photos taken of the location where the accident/incident occurred? Attorneys and expert witnesses will look for things like lack of safety guards, safety zones, signage, and housekeeping practices that may have contributed to the accident/incident.

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Complete the accident/incident report form using language recommended in Table 1. If you have concerns or questions about your responses, you may wish to contact your faculty union representative (if you have one at your school and if you are a member), your direct supervisor, or possibly your school system’s attorney (called a solicitor in some states) if they can be reached that same day. Ask them to review the form before it is submitted. They may advise you on how to better word your responses to avoid any misinterpretations.

In crafting your responses, it is important to remember to provide only factual information that cannot be misinterpreted and potentially contribute to your liability. This can be difficult sometimes because the questions on an accident report form can be misleading. Table 1 provides examples of some questions commonly found on accident/incident report forms, responses the authors have seen that could be misinterpreted, and alternative responses.

In addition to the examples in the table, the authors offer one final caution—be careful what you discuss with your administrators and colleagues regarding an accident/incident. Although it is not formally documented via an accident/incident report, these individuals could also be subpoenaed to discuss what they knew about the situation. This means they would have to divulge any information you shared with them. If you are not sure what to say or are not comfortable discussing it with your administration, request that your faculty union representative or school attorney/solicitor be present during those conversations.

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Recommendations for School Systems

School systems should have an approved accident/incident report form. If your school system has a form that it developed with its safety officer and legal counsel, that should be used. If your school system does not have an approved accident/incident report form, then see if your state department of education or state professional association has a form they recommend. If your school system or state lack an approved form, you can use the ITEEA accident report form accessible online (ITEEA, 2014).

School systems should be providing safety training to their employees at least once a year. During safety trainings and department meetings it would be better practice to conduct a session on accident reports. One method for presenting a session on this topic is to provide a prompt to teachers. You could use one similar to that provided in Table 2, or modify it for your grade level and content area. After providing the prompt, ask teachers to complete the accident report form approved by your school system or state. Have teachers share their responses and discuss the legal ramifications of their responses. 

 

Conclusions

The authors wish to clarify that they are not advocating for STEM educators or administrators to mislead or withhold information related to an accident/incident. In the event that the accident/incident goes to court and an instructor or administrator has to testify, the full factual story will be revealed. The authors are advocating for better professional practices (training on accident/incident report forms) and greater awareness of the legal weight of an instructor’s responses both verbally and documented via accident/incident report forms. If the accident/incident report contains accusations, conjecture, secondhand information, or other nonessential information, it could come back to legally harm the reporter. A good rule of thumb is the following: If you think it could be a legal issue in the event that you have to complete an accident/incident report, then you should address it before it becomes an issue!

 

References

International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA). (2014). ITEEA’s safety resources. Retrieved from www.iteea.org/Resources/Safety/

 

Tyler S. Love, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of Education and Director of the Capital Area Institute for Mathematics and Science (CAIMS) at Penn State Harrisburg. He can be reached at tsl48@psu.edu.

Ken R. Roy, Ph.D. is the chief science safety compliance adviser for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and safety compliance officer for the National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA).  He also serves as Director of Environmental Health & Chemical Safety for the Glastonbury Public Schools (CT).  Dr. Roy can be reached at safesci@sbcglobal.net. Follow Dr. Roy on Twitter@drroysafersci.