Gym Class Injuries: Physical Education & Student Safety Expert Article

Planning for injury prevention, student safety, and emergency response is necessary for properly conducting a physical education class. This article addresses best practices in the form of a safe physical environment, administrative/teacher responsibilities, and emergency preparedness.

Physical Education Injury Expert Investigations

Investigating Physical Education Injuries

According to a study released by the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, tens of thousands of U.S. students are hurt each year during gym class activities. A physical education teacher is expected to supervise children engaged in a multitude of exercise movements and activities in large, open spaces. This requires good planning, best practices, and proper supervision.

Physical Environment

Providing a safe physical environment and organizing activities in a manner that promotes safety and injury prevention is critical to physical education. The concept of a safe vs. unsafe physical environment can be described through two different scenarios:

  • Scenario A. Due to inclement weather all PE classes are required to relocate to the gym and the space is crowded. The teachers on duty break the students into well-defined groups to utilize gym space properly, creating enough space for circuit exercises to be executed by each group while maintaining an environment where the teachers can circulate among the groups and provide appropriate levels of both general and specific supervision as the circumstances require.
  • Scenario B. Same as scenario A, however the teachers decide to separate the gymnasium by activity, having a group of students play basketball on one end of the court and another group play wiffle ball on the opposite end. A basketball player runs for a loose ball just as a runner in the wiffle ball game heads to third base and they collide; one suffers a head injury while the other breaks a wrist.

These two scenarios demonstrate the importance of organizing a physical environment to provide separation of activities and adequate channels for supervision.

Scenario A arranged the student activity in a manner that was amenable to teacher supervision and provided activities in which students could be properly spaced, generally creating a safe environment for physical activity.

Scenario B failed to provide a safe environment for the students. By arranging student activities in a manner that invited collision hazards, the teachers increased the likelihood of student injury.

Administrator/Teacher Responsibility

Student safety must be a primary concern for teachers and administrators in the physical education environment. As a result of large class sizes, dynamic activities, equipment usage, outdoor fields, and students of all sizes and physical abilities integrated in the same physical space, these classes require a higher level of planning for safety than typical classroom environments.

Teachers are the first line of defense in providing a safe educational environment and must consider a number of factors that may contribute to student injury or harm.

A routine walkthrough before the children enter the area should be conducted to identify and correct or eliminate any hazards in or on the facility/grounds. This simple process is frequently the best prevention for slip hazards, clutter that may contribute to trip and collision injuries, or any other issues that require attention.

If any hazards cannot be adequately mitigated prior to the start of the planned activity, the teacher should modify the activity appropriately.

Teachers must also consider elements specific to their environment that may be conducive to assaults, abuse, or dangerous horseplay; examples of such areas may include locker rooms, retractable bleachers, and other secluded areas with limited visibility.

Environments such as these need to be managed within the context of student characteristics and behavior. It is important for teachers to adjust their classroom management in a way that accounts for special needs students and students who demonstrate behavioral concerns.

To minimize the risk of injury during a physical education activity:

  • Lessons must be planned and coordinated for the allotted space and be appropriate for the students participating prior to the class;
  • All areas need to be inspected for hazards prior to the class and during an activity;
  • Equipment needs to be appropriate for the activity and routinely inspected for defects and wear that may present dangerous conditions;
  • Students must be taught how to properly use any equipment required for the activity;
  • Students must be taught the rules for the activity and proper technique for the physical skills involved prior to and during the activity;
  • All grounds need to be assessed before activities begin and monitored for safety and security.

Teachers and administrators collaboratively are responsible for putting supervisorial methods in place that create a safe environment for children. These responsibilities include:

  • Matching students by age, size, and skill-levels for physical activities
  • Developing curriculum and activities that consider proper skill progression for all students in the group
  • Designing activities that are safe and appropriate within the available fields and facilities

Emergency Action Plan

Creating an emergency action plan and reviewing/updating it prior to each school year, or on an ongoing basis, can be critical to the outcome when a child is injured during a physical education class. It is imperative to have an emergency team in place to respond to student injuries.

School administrators and teachers should have assigned roles and an established communication plan. Practice drills should be performed on a regular basis to ensure school employees understand their roles and are able to respond in the event of an emergency.

Education & Youth Supervision Investigations

Our education and supervision experts are coaches, teachers, administrators, chaperones, lifeguards, trainers and rehabilitation professionals who speak to the standards of care for organizing youth activities and programming. Our experts evaluate the safety of schools, playgrounds, camps, child care centers, and correctional/custodial facilities to identify the various contributing causes to a specific incident.

To determine the best expert to assist on your case, please submit an inquiry or call us at 800.813.6736.

Featured Expert

Joseph A. Blackman, School Supervision, Administration & Sports Expert

Joseph A. Blackman

School Supervision, Administration & Sports Expert
Joseph Blackman is a school administration and sports safety expert with over 25 years of professional experience as a teacher, coach, and principal/vice-principal. His expertise includes day-to-day… read more.


View All Articles

Injuries in Weightlifting & Fitness Facilities

By David Ester
Expert Article

Weightlifting and fitness facilities are designed to promote fitness and health, but they are not without their share of risks. In this article, David Ester explores common causes of injury in these…

Smith Press Machine: Equipment & Safety Features

By David Ester
Expert Overview

This document provides an introduction to the Smith Press Machine, including safety features that are commonly examined in relevant forensic investigations. Smith Press Machine Casework The sports and…

Supervision on the School Playground

By Lisa A. Thorsen
Expert Article

This article examines supervision best practice philosophies associated with educational communities. The article also discusses a pro-active leadership approach to developing playground policy and…