Health & Safety … Make it Happen!


As a classroom teacher in a school, I often forget I am also classified as a worker in a workplace. For teachers, health and safety is an important part of our work environment. It’s crucial that teachers have a safe workplace in order to do their jobs and students have safe places to learn. I know about many of the commonly occurring issues because I’ve experienced them first hand.

Health and safety is important to all workers

Many teachers think that health and safety issues are the responsibility of the custodial staff and/or the health and safety designated inspectors/workers. In fact, health and safety is the responsibility of all workers and workers have a duty of care to report health and safety concerns to the administration immediately. Without these health and safety reports, workers can get injured. Injured workers increase costs as they need to take time off to heal from injuries or sometimes must change jobs if injuries are extensive.

Let’s bring this down to a classroom teacher level …

Teachers love paper!

Teachers love to plaster their classroom walls and doors with student work and messages of inspiration. So what’s the big health and safety issue with paper?  Paper catches fire easily and can prevent students and teachers from exiting their classrooms. This is especially a problem when paper is plastered on classroom doors as decorations.

How can students leave their class if their steel classroom door is on fire? A common measurement of excessive paper is about 20% of paper covering the wall space. As a trained designated health and  safety worker/inspector, I use bulletin boards to estimate the amount of paper that should be on the walls. Paper should also not be on the ceiling or over doorways as it could fall on students and teachers upon exiting the classroom. Fortunately, I have not had any paper fires in my classroom, but I have had paper fall from my classroom door onto students as they were exiting during a fire drill … it happened when I was a new teacher, Yup.

Advice to new teachers: Keep your doors clear of paper so your classroom exit is clear.

Setting off school sensors is BAD! 

Another thing falling paper can do (be it on walls or doors) is set off the school fire and security sensors. Setting off sensors costs money as it means a custodian or security person needs to come in to investigate the sensor trigger. Before being aware of this issue, I was guilty of setting off the security sensors in my classroom which made a custodian upset because it took her 2 hours to find the source of the sensor disruption!

Advice to new teachers: Never get the custodians “annoyed” with you.

Teachers love to decorate their classroom and bring stuff to school!

Teachers love to make their classrooms look inviting. I understand this as a classroom teacher. But did you know that anything electrical  needs to be approved? – check out the ESA Recognized Certification Marks for Ontario.

Inexpensive lamps, lights, and electrical appliances may not have this approval and they could be at risk of catching fire! Appliances can catch fire … I once had my classroom mini fridge catch fire, really, it was bad. Fortunately, I put out the fire before it set off alarms and alerted the office and my principal.

Some teachers have a mini kitchen in their classrooms with fridges, microwaves, kettles, and coffee makers. I’ve walked into some teachers classrooms were teachers could make a complete dinner without leaving their room. Extra kitchen appliances can flip electrical breakers which the principal finds out about. Fixing the breakers costs money. Once my son burnt his hand while heating up his lunch in his teacher’s classroom microwave. Fortunately, it was not a bad burn.

Advice to new teachers: Keep kitchen appliances out of your classroom.

Teachers love to decorate and hang things from the ceiling.

Teachers also bring in extra rugs, furniture, and curtains just to make their classroom feel inviting. But the problem is that these items may not pass fire or school safety standards. Rugs are especially notorious for being tripping hazards as they move when teachers step on them! Yes, as a teacher with a tendency to trip, I’ve tripped over my share of rugs, wires, chairs, and an assortment of school supplies. I was fortunately not hurt.

Teachers also love hanging things from ceilings like tree branches, curtains, mobiles, and other assorted decorations. Based on what I have already written, these hanging objects can be classified under fire hazards and security and fire sensor triggers. Yes, I have also set off a school fire alarm sensor during a winter storm … it was a long time ago before I knew better.

Advice to new teachers: Do not hang things from your classroom ceiling.

Teachers do not throw out their teaching stuff … in case they need it!

Teachers, including me, love to collect stuff … just in case they will need it later to teach a great unit. Stuff in the classroom is not a problem until it is not stored properly and becomes clutter. Proper storage means storing things on secured shelving that is attached to walls. Proper storage also means not storing things high up on shelves as it can fall down on people. Proper storage should not hinder exiting  the classroom. Areas around classroom door exits need to be clear of clutter, shelving, toys, shoes, etc so students and teachers can get out of their classrooms fast.

Advice to new teachers: Store classroom items safely and get rid of clutter.

Make health and safety part of your teaching practice!

As a teacher I’ve learned much from my health and safety mistakes and fortunately no one was harmed. As a trained designated health and safety worker, I was educated to be aware of how dangerous a classroom can be for all learners. Keeping our classrooms and schools safe takes a critical eye to recognize hazards.

Remember, accidents can happen at any time. It is just as likely for a classroom door to catch fire, when the door is decorated for one day vs. being decorated every day of the school year. Think of health and safety like wearing seatbelts. We wear seatbelts all the time because car accidents can happen at any time. So practice your teaching with health and safety in mind at all times!

Let’s work collaboratively together to keep our classrooms and schools safe for all staff, students, and visitors.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston


Updated: January 8, 2018 — 9:37 pm

The Author

Deborah Weston

I love teaching and have been practicing for over 18 years in the Peel DSB. I have taught grades 2 through to grade 8, including split and contained Spec Ed classes. I am an advocate for issues on Workplace Health & Safety, Special Education, Mental Wellness, LGBTQT, and FNMI. I believe that when working collaboratively, teachers are better together. In 2015, I earned my PhD in Education Policy and Leadership with a focus on teacher collaboration and policy implementation. Follow me on Twitter @dr_weston_PhD


Add a Comment
  1. Robyn C says:

    Thank you for all the great information. Not many teachers understand the reasons behind these ‘rules’. I have been grumbled at for many years while trying to explain why our classrooms and doors can’t look as pretty as we would sometimes like them to look.


    1. Deborah Weston says:

      Well said :)

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