Staff safety considerations for challenging student behaviors

Staff safety considerations for challenging student behaviors

By Risk Administration Services (RAS)
Risk Administration Services is a Participating Insurer in the MSBAIT Risk Protection Program

Before 2020, it was not uncommon to see around 30% of a school district’s workers’ compensation injury claims stem from challenging student behaviors. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, RAS has seen these types of injuries on the rise, often compromising 40-50% of employee claims.

Responding to student behaviors has resulted in numerous physical injuries to staff, including scratches, bites, concussions, contusions, hair pulls, strains, and slips/trips/falls when running after an eloping student.

To meet the requirements of OSHA and other regulatory entities, employers are obligated to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) in response to recognized job hazards. Districts routinely provide eye and hearing protection to shop teachers and maintenance workers. PPE provision should also be extended to staff working with students inclined to bite, kick, stomp, hit, spit, or headbutt.

Once a specific behavioral tendency has been identified, PPE could be required when interacting with that student or in that classroom – alongside the implementation of proactive strategies aimed at reducing or managing such behaviors.

PPE ideas for this environment include:

  • Hand Protection: Protective gloves with gauntlet cuffs to resist scratches and bites on the hands and wrists.
  • Arm Protection: Kevlar sleeves (with hand covers or sleeve thumb holes) for use with those known to bite, pinch, or scratch.
  • Upper Body Protection: Chest guards and upper arm pads for use around those known to punch or hit.
  • Leg Protection: Protective gaiters or other shin guards for use around frequent kickers.
  • Footwear: Shoes or boots with a hard/solid upper for use around those known to foot-stomp. Closed-toe shoes with effective tread to move quickly when needed.
  • Face Protection: Safety goggles, side shields for glasses, or full-face shields to use around students known to spit.
  • Hearing Protection: Ear plugs for use around students with frequent, loud verbalizations.
  • Head Protection: Helmets, cheek-protectors, or other protective headgear for use around students known to headbutt or throw objects.

In addition to personal protective equipment, dress code guidelines should be implemented with safety in mind.

  • Hair: Long hair should be collected and worn in a bun or hat to prevent hair pulling. Ponytails or hanging braids become convenient handles for agitated students to grab.
  • Jewelry: Ear, nose, lip, or other body piercings should be removed before the workday. Painful injuries requiring costly plastic surgery repair are worth avoiding. Necklaces, ties, and rings with protruding stones should not be worn.
  • Lanyards: Lanyards should be the break-away style to prevent neck strain if pulled.
  • Clothing: Clothing with long sleeves and long pants is recommended to help protect against scratches, grabs, and bites.
  • Shoes: Shoes should have non-slip soles, an enclosed toe box, and should fit the foot securely to limit the risk of tripping when running after eloping students. Sandals and flip-flops have resulted in severe injuries during these scenarios.

Applying dress code guidelines and providing personal protective equipment can help prevent injuries to staff as they educate students and work to implement your district’s behavioral management strategies. For more resources on classroom PPE, please refer to the following RAS link: Best Practices: Dress Code and PPE.

For more information about Risk Administration Services, visit the RAS website at

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