Back to School: Physical Education Safety Insights

By Shana Brenner

Where has the time gone? Summer is over, and now students and teachers are well into another school year. While for many, the focus this year will be on achieving academic success, the importance of physical education can’t afford to be overlooked. Obesity rates for children and teens have more than doubled over the past 30 years, and in part, one might argue it’s because most schools aren’t giving their kids enough time for P.E.

Teachers and parents alike need to make a joint effort to ensure students are able to get enough exercise on a daily basis, and in large part, this relies on providing a safe, enjoyable environment in P.E. class. Together, teachers, staff and parents can all do their part to help kids safely participate in physical education.060410_fitnessschools_hmed_1p.grid-6x2

Here are some key elements to achieving safety in P.E. class:

  • First-aid kits must be readily available: No one likes to think about it, but an injury or medical emergency can occur at any moment during P.E. class. Teachers need to be prepared to respond and provide necessary care for students in an instant. A fully stocked first-aid kit must be easily accessible in the gym and anywhere else that physical education activities take place. You can easily purchase first-aid kits designed for schools online. First-aid kits should be inventoried regularly and restocked accordingly.
  • Routine gym floor maintenance is essential: Every day, gym floors attract dust, dirt, sweat and all sorts of debris. This can make the floor slick and unsafe for physical activities. If the gym floor isn’t properly cleaned and maintained by the school, students in P.E. class could easily slip and fall, twist an ankle or get injured in any number of other ways. Think we’re overstating the importance of gym maintenance? What about the story of Rene Rodriguez, a man who recently suffered a serious slip-and-fall injury at an L.A. Fitness due to a lack of proper cleaning by the gym’s staff. Gym floor maintenance needs to be an ongoing priority of the school’s maintenance staff. Floors need to be dust-mopped on a daily basis, deep-cleaned weekly and covered when being used for non-sporting activities. Entrance mats also should be placed at every doorway to your gym to prevent more dirt and debris from being tracked inside your facilities. Routine gym floor maintenance can go a long way toward preventing injuries in P.E. class.
  • Safety padding along walls helps prevent injuries: Many activities in physical education involve running around at high speeds. Of course, sometimes, this speed can lead to some intense collisions. In some cases, those collisions can be between a student and the wall. That’s why it’s a good idea for school gymnasiums to have safety padding along the walls. This padding will help protect students when the action spills off the gym floor and into the wall, cushioning the impact and reducing the risk of injury. When choosing indoor wall padding, make sure you study the ASTM recommended specifications so you get a product that truly meets the best safety standards.
  • All equipment being used should be inspected daily: In order to provide students with the safest possible environment, it’s the teacher’s responsibility to perform a pre-activity inspection of all equipment to be used for the class period. Equipment must be verified to be in proper working order, and any hazards should be identified, removed and corrected immediately.
  • Equipment should be stored away properly when not in use: Any equipment that isn’t currently being used in physical education needs to be immediately stored away in a safe and neat manner. Equipment left around the gym can pose a serious injury hazard for students participating in physical activities.
  • Students need proper shoes and clothing for P.E. class: Proper footwear is absolutely essential for participating in P.E. class. It’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure their children have comfortable, properly fitting tennis shoes that provide the foot support needed to safely engage in exercise and activities. Students should not be allowed to participate in P.E. activities wearing flip-flops, sandals, dress shoes, Crocs, boots, skate shoes or other non-athletic footwear, as this could lead to injury and also damage the gym floor. Additionally, students need to have comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing for physical activity. Parents can do their part by helping to make certain their kids bring their shoes and clothes for P.E. class every day.
  • Pre-existing student health issues should be disclosed: If a child has any sort of pre-existing medical conditions or injuries, the parents need to let the school know so that the child isn’t asked to participate in any physical activities that may be unsafe given his or her condition. This includes heart conditions, allergies, asthma and respiratory issues, diabetes, etc. Schools should have a process in place for communicating this medical information to teachers at the beginning of the school year and throughout the year as required. P.E. teachers need to always be aware of their students’ health and well-being, and when necessary, activities should be adjusted to accommodate their special needs.

Safety in Physical Education: Everyone Plays a Role

No single party is entirely responsible for the safety of a student in P.E. class. Everyone has a role to play, from the teachers to the maintenance staff to the parents and the students themselves. When everyone does their part, students are able to enjoy all of the benefits that physical education has to offer.

Shana Brenner is the Marketing Director of CoverSports, an American manufacturer of gym floor covers and other athletic equipment with roots tracing back to 1874.

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