Dangerous conditions cited at 9 public schools
Accidents ‘waiting to happen’ says state report
STORY SUMMARY »
Hawaii education officials are promising to increase safety inspections of public schools in response to a state report that found 55 violations at nine campuses and two offices during the past year.
More than half of the safety deficiencies discovered were considered "serious" and could have killed or badly injured students or employees, the report found.
Most problems were found in shop programs. They ranged from slippery sidewalks to table saws missing safety guards, according to the investigation by the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division.
State investigators found the following safety hazards at nine Hawaii public schools and two Education Department offices:
» 43 electrical hazards.
» 14 unguarded machines with the potential to amputate, cut or send objects flying toward eyes or mouth.
» Seven places where students and staff could trip or slip.
» Eight fire or explosion hazards.
FULL STORY »
Nine public schools and two Department of Education offices have been fined more than $42,000 for 55 safety violations, most of which put the lives of employees and students in danger, according to a state report that deemed some facilities "an accident waiting to happen."
The violations, a majority of them found in shop classes, included uncovered holes in the ground, cracked insulation on electrical wires, table saws missing safety guards and gas cylinders lacking valve caps, according to an investigation by the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division (HIOSH).
The agency, part of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, classified 35 of the cases as "serious," meaning the deficiencies could have killed or critically injured someone.
"What we found was alarming," HIOSH's Jennifer Shishido told Board of Education members yesterday.
The violations over the past year cost schools a combined $42,776.50 after penalties were reduced from $58,700. The money goes to the state's general fund, said Labor Department and Industrial Relations Director Darwin Ching, a former school board member.
The statewide, unannounced investigations, which began in December 2006 and ended last month, targeted eight high schools, one middle school and two administrative offices, Shishido said, declining to identify them. When public schools were last checked for safety about 10 years ago, problems existed, but they were not as dangerous, she said.
Mark Behrens, safety and security specialist for public schools, acknowledged the Education Department needs to have campus administrators, janitors and others be more aware of safety violations and conduct regular inspections.
"A lot of the campuses you are dealing with are over 100 years old, so you are going to have electrical problems," he said. "So unless you are going out there actively, monitoring, or walking through and identifying these things, you are not going to be able to correct them. Our goal is to build that capacity at the school level."
He said education officials would consider partnering with a volunteer group, Veterans for Safety, that offered to assist with inspections, and follow HIOSH's recommendation to provide additional training to school administrators.
School Board member Kim Coco Iwamoto said the Education Department should use the report to lobby for more state funding and replace aging machines and electrical appliances. Member Denise Matsumoto suggested a thorough inspection of schools during the holidays so that rooms found to have problems can be closed.
State inspectors said the safety issues could explain a 9 percent increase in workers' compensation cases involving Education Department employees, from 972 in 2004 to 1,059 in 2005.
It is unclear how many isle students, if any, were hurt because of the violations. Schools Assistant Superintendent Randy Moore said he was not aware of a state database carrying that information. He said individual schools track student injuries.
School board member Herbert Watanabe, a former shop teacher, said he was not surprised by the findings. He noted that a Big Island school was recently sued by the mother of a student who broke her ankle after tripping on a curb that was steeper than building standards.
"My impression ... is that this is just the tip of the iceberg," he said.