No teacher or studio owner likes to think about an emergency situation arising while he or she is in charge. Unfortunately, it does happen. A little time spent preparing and taking precautionary measures will ensure that you and your staff know what to do should an accident or emergency occur.
Identify Potential Hazards
Whether you’re setting up a new space or renewing a 10-year lease, it pays to take a fresh look at the interior and exterior of your studio with safety in mind. Do a walk-through regularly to look for things that can cause accidents. Grab a pen and paper and take note of the following:
-Are electric sockets within reach of your 4-year-old students? Plug them with safety covers when not in use.
-If you have a changing area, how is the lighting? Check bulbs to make sure they have the proper wattage; wattage that is too high is a potential fire hazard.
-Take special care to check for any unusual steps up or down in your building (either too high or too low), or unevenness in the floors of your studios, dressing rooms, bathrooms and hallways. According to the National Safe Kids Campaign, falls are the leading cause of unintentional injury for children.
-Make sure that furniture kids may be tempted to climb, such as benches and chairs, are necessary, sturdy and in locations where adults can provide supervision.
-Take a close look at the outside of your studio. Check for potential dangers such as leaky gutters and poor visibility at the front door.
-Would emergency personnel be able to find you? As Robert Solomon, assistant vice president of the National Fire Protection Association tells DT, “It is very important for the emergency responders to be able to make out the address.”
If you don’t own the space, bring any problems you find to the attention of your landlord so he or she can handle them. Looking for hazards should become an ongoing task. Use the “Safety Checklist” at right as a basis for creating one tailored to your space, and mark your calendar to remind yourself to run through the list regularly—for example, once a month before you sit down to pay bills. This will help you stay aware of things that could cause accidents or injury.
Communicate with Students and Parents
One way to identify hazards is to keep your ears open to the concerns of parents and students. If you let them know in person, on your lobby bulletin board and in your monthly newsletter that you are looking out for them, they will feel comfortable coming to you with concerns. This not only keeps your studio safe but also creates a healthy dialogue among everyone.
Have parents fill out a questionnaire when they sign their child up for classes. This can help identify important information that parents may not think to disclose to you. Keep the form brief and concentrate on things that you would potentially need to know, such as medical conditions, allergies, injuries and other physical challenges students may have.
Knowing these facts ahead of time can make the difference between a minor incident and an ambulance ride. If a child has a history of seizures or asthma, it is important that the teacher know ahead of time. Parents should provide basic information on what to do if the child has a seizure or attack during class.
Keep emergency contact information on file for every student. Aim to have at least two different phone numbers for every student, and update this list periodically. Mail a note home or send reminders via e-mail or newsletter every six months, asking parents to update emergency numbers.
Set Preventative Guidelines
Taking precautions is key in avoiding emergency situations. When you create a basic dress code, keep safety in mind. For example, requiring students to pin hair back and wear properly fitted dance shoes not only encourages discipline and contributes to a professional appearance in the studio, but can also help students avoid trips and falls.
Developing and enforcing rules for behavior is just as important. Let students know that they need to keep hands to themselves and that running is not acceptable. Keeping up on these simple things can help ward off all kinds of accidents.
Have an Emergency Plan
Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare, an emergency situation will arise. It is important to have a plan in place, and make sure that everyone that works with you knows what to do.
A good emergency plan starts with the telephone. Post emergency numbers in a visible place right by studio phones, along with any special instructions (such as dialing 9 for an outside line). Make sure that the address of the building and name of your studio are on this sheet as well, so that the person calling can give this information to emergency personnel quickly. Also, have an emergency kit ready. Stock it with flashlights, ice packs, aspirin, ointment, gauze and other materials.
All staff should know where the main and fire exits are in order to get everyone out of the building quickly. Also be sure they know where students’ contact information is kept so that these files can be pulled if necessary. For situations such as a fire, when it would be necessary to evacuate as quickly as possible, create a phone tree to help get the word out more efficiently. Phone trees can also be handy for informing parents of weather closures as well as changes in class and rehearsal schedules.
When there is an emergency, the person who responded should fill out an incident report sheet afterward for you to keep on file, both to better prepare for future emergencies and in case questions are raised as to whether the situation was handled properly. Be sure to have him or her include the people involved, the nature of the emergency and the actions taken at the time it occurred.
Emergency situations happen. Being prepared can greatly improve response time and effectiveness. Taking steps to prevent the situations from happening in the first place can also help give you peace of mind so that you are free to concentrate on your other tasks in the studio.
Freelance writer Catherine L. Tully has more than 30 years of dance experience.