When people think of employees in the public sector, they often think law enforcement or government officials. However, one significant type of employment that often is overlooked within this sector are public school educators. Because of this frequent oversight, teachers were exempt from many of the protections typical employees in the public sector would have. But, a 2018 movement by the Mass Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health led to educators’ inclusion into protections typically afforded to those working in the public sector. This decade-long fight solidified and clarified who exactly was covered and what protections were available.
Massachusetts educators now find themselves protected under OSHA guidelines, and therefore schools and educational settings must comply to these guidelines or face fines and sanctions. Districts now must guarantee that its school buildings are free of hazards that are life-threatening or could lead to serious injury. Should there be unavoidable hazards, administrators must provide sufficient warning through posters, labels, and similar methods. They must also provide and maintain the use of safe tools and equipment, as well as establishing and updating detailed operating procedures. Schools must offer teachers and staff training to recognize, minimize, and prevent safety hazards, as well as how to properly handle and use equipment and chemicals traditionally deemed hazardous. A thorough breakdown of new procedures, outlined by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, can be found here.
The start of any new school year brings with it challenges in preparations for the return of students, but this school year has the added stress of COVID-19. School administrators must keep this in mind when abiding to OSHA guidelines. As COVID-19 is a still significant hazard to students and staff alike, schools must do everything possible to remove as many hazards related to the virus as possible. This may include improving air ventilation in buildings, providing frequent cleaning and sanitation services, and maintaining testing and contact tracing protocols.
OSHA’s protection of public sector employees does not only extend to the physical operations of the workplace. School staff should know their rights in the workplace, and if they identify something that does not follow the set guidelines or that they see as a hazard to their safety or the safety of others, they can report the violation without fear of retribution from the employer. While employees are expected to be trained in and follow proper guidelines and safety procedures, they are also responsible for fostering as safe a working environment as possible, especially during this unprecedented time. Staff members are also encouraged to be aware of and report any physical behavior that can create an unsafe and dangerous working environment, including intimidating, threatening, or inappropriate behavior. This does not only include behavior from other staff members or administrators. If any students are routinely behaving in a way that threatens the safety of staff or other students, staff members should report this so proper action can be taken to create a safer environment for all involved.
For more information on how OccuMed can help your school guarantee complete compliance with OSHA guidelines for the upcoming school year, contact us today by email or by phone at 877-399-1698!