Q&A with Kevin McConvey, Halton District School Board Instructional Program Leader for The Arts, K-12
“Having a consistent, province-wide approach to arts safety will ensure that everything possible will be done to mitigate student injury.”
At one time, only Music and Visual Arts were taught in most school boards. Theatre Arts was included beginning in the 1970s, and then replaced by Drama in the 1980s. Dance was later added in 1999. Since boards need to plan for this curricular complexity in their student injury prevention and safety practices, it is important to first recognize and address all areas of The Arts that may pose a risk of potential injury to students.
Q: What is your specific role in your board in terms of student injury prevention?
I am the Instructional Program Leader for the Arts, K-12, meaning that I have responsibility for all board-wide Arts programming and initiatives, including safety. Part of this role is to maintain HDSB’s Arts safety document and ensure that all teachers are following the guidelines. In addition, I’m responsible for annual safety training for Arts teachers—for example, working at heights, hazardous materials, and general safety. I also respond to day-to-day safety inquiries from administrators and teachers.
Q: Describe how the Student Injury and Prevention Initiative (SIPI) impacts your work as program leader?
During the 2016-17 school year, I worked with other members of HDSB’s School Programs Department on SIPI, identifying areas of strength and need in our Arts safety protocols. For example, we discovered that, although our board has a very strong set of Arts safety guidelines and rules, we lacked an effective and consistent way of disseminating this information and monitoring its daily implementation.
Q: When it comes to student injury prevention in The Arts, what do you feel are the higher-risk subject areas, and why?
Each arts discipline has a unique set of safety risks. Visual Arts utilizes a vast array of materials, some of which are potentially hazardous—paints, solvents, acids, etc. This requires a process by which to monitor and manage the purchase, storage, and safe usage of these materials.
The Dramatic Arts also uses materials that necessitate care, such as paint or fog machines, but adds more physical elements such as working at heights to build sets or manage lighting. Our Dramatic Arts teachers make the most use of our working at heights training program.
Safety risks in Dance are almost entirely confined to physical movement, necessitating guidelines around proper clothing/footwear, suitable warm-up activities, and appropriate levels of difficulty.
Q: Would you include Music in the higher-risk category?
I would not include Music in the higher-risk category, but we do have steps in place to mitigate hearing damage. Any extended exposure to decibel levels above 85 necessitate hearing protection to reduce hearing loss. This really only applies to teachers, as student exposure to noise is rarely, if ever, long enough to qualify them for a need for hearing protection. Teachers are offered fitted earplugs that still allow them to hear enough to guide their students. This is unique to Music in the Arts.
Q: Can you outline some key safety concerns for students in performance spaces such as auditoriums, theatres, and/or gymnasiums?
- Cabling – Cables must be properly secured to prevent tripping hazards, or the accidental tipping of speakers/lights.
- Stage prop usage – Props, such as fake weapons, must be used according to safety guidelines to prevent their abuse. We are all aware of cases in the province where a stage gun has led to a school-wide lockdown. Fog machines are also a safety concern, as they can be dangerous if used improperly or in the wrong space.
- Noise/Volume – Extended exposure to decibel levels above 85db can cause permanent hearing damage
- Working at heights – Dramatic productions often make use of stage lighting, which is almost always hung above the stage or house. For access purposes, this necessitates the use of catwalks and/or scissor lifts—both of which require Working at Heights training. This also applies to ladders over 10 feet/three metres, which are often used to access lights, hang banners, or build stage sets.
Q: What role can an interactive SIP resource (such as OSIP.ca) play in supporting student injury prevention in The Arts?
In looking at arts’ safety protocols around the province, it has become apparent that there is a lack of consistency between boards. Having a consistent, province-wide base line for Arts safety would ensure that everything possible will be done to minimize and/or mitigate student injury.
An interactive, online resource can play an important role here. While many boards have effective guidelines, few of them have comprehensive coverage of all safety concerns. If we collaborate and share our approaches, I am confident that a province-wide approach can be developed that will maximize the safety of all arts students in Ontario.