AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Health and Safety in the Workplace

AFT members may not work in typical "industrial" settings, but they work in complex institutions where they are potentially exposed to numerous hazards. At times, these exposures come with health consequences—some more recognizable than others. For instance, recent research has found that:

  • Teachers have higher rates of respiratory infections than other workers.
  • Education employees (teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, custodians) and healthcare workers have high rates of work-related asthma.
  • Nurses and other health professionals have higher rates of back injury and lower-back pain than construction workers.
  • Teachers and paraprofessionals are at a higher risk of literally "losing their voices" than the general working population. Many leave the profession early and involuntarily because of serious voice disorders.
  • School secretaries are at risk of several musculoskeletal disorders (carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic back, shoulder, neck pain) because of computer work.
  • School bus drivers and special education teachers have much in common with mental health professionals and tax collectors—they all have some of the highest rates of work-related assaults.

School renovations, indoor air quality, mold and moisture, cleaning fluids, and chemicals all pose hazards to our members in the workplace. Less than ideal environmental conditions contribute to higher rates of staff absenteeism for health problems. Students suffer as well, and the impact on their learning and health can be considerable.

In short, your working environment can have an enormous influence on your health and well-being. Fortunately, many— if not most—of the exposures that lead to work-related illness or injury can be significantly reduced or eliminated.

AFT Health and Safety provides information and resources to help leaders and members identify hazards, and work toward preventing exposure and improving the environment. Training is also available to AFT affiliates on a wide variety of topics, including model district and employer policies, and contract language to improve environmental conditions, ergonomic programs and occupational risks.

We have posted a series of fact sheets on key health and safety issues. For additional information, contact AFT Health and Safety at healthandsafety@aft.org or by phone at 800/238-1133, ext. 5677.