We’ve reached September in a year which has had more plot twists than an M.Night Shyamalan film. To the relief of many parents and children, our schools have now reopened but, what does this mean for school facilities management?
Learning to Live With COVID-19
While it is good news that our schools are finally able to re-open, they do, of course, look a little different to what we’re used to. There have understandably been some significant concerns regarding keeping staff and pupils safe on school premises, with Government guidelines being deemed complex and confusing at best. While it’s important for schools to promote a sense of normality for students, there are some important steps that should be taken to ensure that premises are compliant.
During these uncertain times, it’s vital that schools conduct a thorough risk assessment of the premises which should be maintained and updated on a regular basis. This should include analysis of different areas of the school in which students will be gathered, high traffic areas such as corridors and dining areas and staff rooms and facilities. Ensuring that you have a professional risk assessment in place helps to maintain standards by identifying and minimising areas which may be problematic.
Going the Distance
One of the biggest hurdles for schools to overcome is social distancing. None of us are under any illusion that this is an easy task in a school full of young people who are bursting with energy and excited about seeing their friends again. While encouraging children to stay a metre apart from one another may be akin to nailing jelly to a wall, facility managers can help by putting measures in place based on their risk assessment such as:
- Cordoning off or restricting traffic in small or narrow areas of the premises which may make social distancing difficult.
- Staggering break times to minimise the number of students using corridors and dining areas at any given time. Similarly, this will also help teachers to maintain distancing by limiting the number of staff using break rooms.
- Clearly marking lanes and one-way system in corridors, stairways and other areas which tend to see a high amount of traffic.
- Clearly marking zones in playgrounds in order to keep ‘bubbles’ at a safe distance.
Our schools are, by design, created for communal learning and, as such, are filled with a huge number of surfaces which are touched constantly throughout the day. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us gave little thought to the contact that our hands have with everyday objects; particularly within schools which have always been seen by many as safe spaces.
During a normal school day, students and staff alike will come into contact with a huge number of surfaces including:
- Dining trays and utensils
- Gym equipment
- Playground equipment
- Towel dispensers and hand dryers
Every one of these surfaces presents a potential risk in terms of the transmission of the virus from student to student and student to teacher. As such, schools need to have a comprehensive cleaning and disinfecting regime in place to ensure that surfaces are sanitised as often as possible. The cleaning regime should be checked and signed throughout the day to create a proper record of activities completed. In addition, ‘single serving’ items such as cutlery, pencils and educational materials should be used wherever possible.
On the 7th of April 2020, the Government announced that extra funding will be made available to schools to help pay for additional cleaning and janitorial services - this is in addition to the core funding allocations for 2020 / 2021.
Food for Thought
While it’s important for schools to continue to serve meals to students, this does present a number of challenges. In order to comply with Government guidelines and ensure enhanced hygiene, schools need to put the following in place for food serving areas:
- Extra cleaning and sanitation services
- Maintaining distance between catering staff where possible
- Catering staff to wear - and regularly change - gloves
- ‘Hands Free Dining’ - canteens should avoid any kind of buffet arrangement whereby students help themselves to items of food. Instead, food should be served from behind a barrier.
- Disposable cutlery and cups to be used
Food service and consumption is very much an area of great risk and so, these measures should be a high priority for schools.
You can put as many safety measures in place as you like but, if you’re not successfully communicating these to every single member of staff, all your planning is likely to go to waste. Essential areas of training for staff should include:
- Full knowledge of the school’s risk assessments and the results.
- Full understanding of the different areas of the school which may have different risks and, therefore, different regulations.
- An understanding of how to communicate the risks to students effectively without causing anxiety.
- An understanding of the symptoms of COVID-19 and how to spot them in students and colleagues.
- An understanding of the procedure should a student or staff member display COVID-19 symptoms.
In addition, staff should be made aware of any vulnerable students who may have difficulty in understanding and maintaining the measures which have been put in place.
A Show of Hands
As we now know, keeping our hands clean and sanitised is the first defence when it comes to slowing the spread of the Coronavirus. Most schools are already actively encouraging the washing of hands at regular intervals and, this should very much continue for the foreseeable future. To this end, schools need to ensure that there is an adequate supply of hot water to each and every bathroom as well as supplying a decent grade of hand wash.
While many students will be bringing personal bottles of hand sanitiser to school with them, school management need to be aware that there will be a number of students who are unable to afford to do so. Best practice for schools is to install hand sanitiser dispensers throughout the school to be placed in strategic positions such as:
- Assembly halls
Many schools find it useful to implement a hand sanitising routine whereby students are required to use the dispensers after completing particular activities.
Keeping the Wheels Turning
Many schools, particularly those in rural areas, offer transfer to students both to and from school and for sports lessons and trips. When using any kind of bus or minibus, it’s essential that a school adheres to a number of safety measures including:
- Social distancing - Where possible, seats should be left free in order to create space between passengers.
- Cleaning - Any school vehicles should be cleaned and sanitised after each and every journey, including the driver’s area and outdoor handles.
- Masks - In keeping with Government guidelines, adults and children over the age of 11 should wear face coverings when travelling on school vehicles).
As we return to our schools, it’s vital that premise management employees ensure that all of the usual safety procedures are up to date and that equipment has been tested and approved. Schools should ensure that all fire and smoke alarms are in good working order and that they have adequate equipment such as fire extinguishers and fire blankets. Schools should also update training of staff in all fire procedures.
Keeping our schools safe requires a combination of vigilance and education - along with a large dollop of common sense. It’s easy to feel snowed under when it all starts to pile up. But using a safety management system can really help keep on top.
As we know that running a school involves keeping a lot of balls in the air at any given time, iAM Compliant’s safety management system will send you handy reminders to ensure that nothing slips through the net.
If you're worried about keeping your school compliant in these strange times, have any Netflix recommendations or want to know more about our safety management system get in touch today!