Maintenance efforts must, first and foremost, ensure safe building conditions-in other words, safety takes priority over cleanliness, orderliness, cost-effectiveness, and even instructional support.
Facilities maintenance is concerned first and foremost with ensuring safe conditions for facility users-be they students, teachers, staff, parents, or guests. As important as cleanliness, orderliness, and instructional support may be to facilities planners, occupant safety must always be the top priority. Thus, while it may be difficult to define what, precisely, constitutes a "safe" environment, it is fair to say that ensuring safe conditions is a major component of effective school facility management.
The role of facilities managers in ensuring building safety has changed
in recent years. One of their chief responsibilities now is to supervise
the implementation of numerous environmental regulations governing school
facilities and grounds and to verify compliance with a host of regulations
and laws. Thus, the successful management of a school environment has
grown well beyond the capabilities of a single person.
The primary responsibility of school facility planners is to ensure environmental safety in school facilities.
|Environmental regulations designed to protect people
or the environment are many and varied, and may seem overwhelming to the
uninitiated reader. Yet most environmental safety regulations require only
minimal monitoring and compliance efforts unless a problem is identified.
The first step in complying with environmental regulations is to become aware of their existence, intent, applicability, and requirements. Most of this information is available from regulatory agencies, professional associations, and on-the-job training. Getting this information may not always be expensive, but it does demand considerable expertise, either hired or developed. In any case, compliance with environmental safety rules pays off relative to the alternative-the possible occurrence of significant indoor air problems, underground storage tank leaks, contaminated drinking water, or other serious environment-related safety or health incidents.
IAQ encompasses almost anything and everything
that affects the air in a building, including radon gas, paint odors,
mold, construction dust, asbestos, and stack emissions. Moreover, as allergens
and irritants (such as perfumes and hair sprays) proliferate, school district
maintenance staff must become knowledgeable about these issues as well.
One of the best resources available is the "Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools
for Schools" action kit developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection
which provides investigative checklists and hints for problem solving,
as well as additional resources for guiding efforts to assess and improve
indoor air quality.
Catastrophic incidents are not the preferred method of learning about environmental regulations. School districts need to be proactive in learning about their responsibilities from regulatory agencies, state departments of education, and professional associations.
Indoor air actually begins as outside air!
Poor indoor air quality can affect student and teacher performance by causing eye, nose, and throat irritation, fatigue, headache, nausea, sinus problems, and other minor or serious illnesses. Thus, steps must be taken to ensure that IAQ causes neither actual nor perceived illness in facility occupants. Reasonable actions might include the following recommendations, although official standards may vary from state to state and locality to locality:
School staff who ignore IAQ warning signs may end up reading about their problems in the local newspaper.
Indoor air always starts as one thing-outdoor air. Unfortunately, outdoor air may itself be of poor quality. Today's requirements for fresh-air exchange in schools mean that any impurities in the outdoor air will be brought indoors. Thus someone who is susceptible to hay fever may be able to find relief in their tightly sealed home, but they won't find it in a school classroom.
Good IAQ plans strive for problem solving through systematic investigation and, when all else fails, professional help. District staff must be encouraged to investigate all complaints thoroughly and promptly. Individual complaints may indicate either an isolated problem in a secluded area or the intolerance of a single individual to a contaminant. Repeated or multiple complaints may indicate larger or growing problems. While the details of IAQ work can be "scientific" and difficult to understand, more frequently they are straightforward and reflect common sense. For example, IAQ investigations often point to expected sources such as a classroom's pet hamster, sprays and perfumes worn by students and staff, reactions to foods or food supplements, or even allergic reactions to the aloe in tissues and hand soaps. Investigators should keep in mind that elementary-school students may have allergies that have not yet been identified by their parents or physicians.
If there is reason to suspect biological contamination (e.g., molds and microbes), the lab testing portion of an IAQ investigation begins with a study of the molds, bioaerosols, and other "natural contaminants" in the outside air for use as a control against which indoor air can be compared. Usually, HVAC filtration purifies the outdoor air so that indoor air has lower quantities of the same impurities. When indoor air tests reveal impurities that do not exist in the outdoor control, it suggests that something is "growing" inside. If investigators suspect that the problem is chemical in nature (e.g., fumes from cleaning agents stored within a facility), then volatile organic sampling may be undertaken.
Common indoor air pollutants include (but are not limited to):
Most IAQ problems result
from inadequate air handling and ventilation. Low levels of contaminants rarely accumulate to dangerous levels if the building is
Potential sources of IAQ contaminants include (but are not limited to):
Building administrators also need to be concerned about creating air quality problems. For example, landscaping "environmental" areas is a popular and worthwhile school revitalization project. However, if not properly handled, such initiatives can introduce moisture and mold problems (e.g., from mulch laid outside air-intake vents), lead to fire-exit violations (e.g., if access to exits are obstructed or impeded), and invite bees and biting insects (e.g., if pollen-releasing flowers are planted). The answer is not to forbid landscape initiatives, but to make sure that projects are carried out with proper foresight. The right questions - addressing issues such as plot location, intended use, and potential impact on health and safety - must be asked (and answered) prior to granting permission for any improvement projects.
For more information about indoor air quality management, visit the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities' IAQ resource list at http://www.edfacilities.org/rl/iaq.cfm, which provides list of links, books, and journal articles addressing indoor air quality issues in K-12 school buildings, including building materials, maintenance practices, renovation procedures and ventilation systems.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral
found in certain rock formations. When mined and processed, asbestos fibers
can be mixed with a binding material for use in a variety of products.
Asbestos products are strong, fire-resistant, corrosion-resistant, and
good insulators. In schools, asbestos was commonly used in building materials
and has been found in floor and ceiling tiles, cement pipes, pipe and
boiler insulation, and spray-applied fireproofing. While the presence
of asbestos-containing materials does not in itself pose an immediate
health threat, it is well known that asbestos becomes hazardous when the
microscopic fibers are released into the air, as can occur as a result
of damage or deterioration.
Federal law requires that school organizations conduct asbestos inspections every three years and perform semiannual surveillance.
The type and amount of asbestos in a product varies depending upon application. The condition, location, and exposure of the material to air are factors in determining the proper response. Asbestos fibers are so small and light that they can remain airborne for many hours (increasing the chance for inhalation) if they are disturbed and released into the air. Preventing the release of asbestos fibers into the air should be a school district's primary concern.
Asbestos abatement projects (i.e., removal or encapsulation) are usually undertaken by outside contractors. District staff who get involved in asbestos removal must be trained, certified and, in some instances, have their health monitored.
AHERA requires local education agencies to:
In other words, school districts must know where asbestos materials are located in their buildings, inform occupants, and train their staff how to work in affected areas. EPA officials conduct random checks and audit district records for asbestos monitoring and reporting.
For more information about asbestos and asbestos management, visit the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities' Asbestos resource list at http://www.edfacilities.org/rl/asbestos.cfm, which provides lists of links, books, and journal articles on how asbestos abatement and management is conducted in school buildings, and how schools can comply with federal regulations.
Public water supplies are generally categorized as either "community water systems" or "non-community water systems." If a school district gets its water from a local city authority, it is likely on a "community water system." If a school district uses its own wells as its water source, it would be classified as a "non-community system." In 1976, the U.S. Congress passed the Safe Water Drinking Act, which authorized the U.S. EPA to set standards for maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for specified substances in water. Most state departments of environmental protection also have regulations addressing water-testing procedures. To ensure compliance with applicable water management regulations, school districts should:
Lead in drinking water has been shown to have a substantially detrimental impact on human health. The U.S. EPA requires that schools take adequate measures to ensure that lead-lined water coolers are repaired, removed, or replaced. Schools are also required to test and remove lead contamination from all sources of drinking water.
If a school district receives its water from a community system, water-testing requirements may be the responsibility of the local water authority. If, however, a school district has its own wells, it may have to comply with numerous water-testing requirements (such as for nitrates, chlorination, and turbidity), although state and local requirements vary.
In some areas, schools face water shortages. Moreover, once an adequate water source is identified, storage levels must be properly maintained, monitored, and treated. Because schools normally operate in peak-use time frames, water treatment equipment has to be sized to handle peak demand. Water-related considerations may affect the size of the boiler room as well as space for storing service equipment and chemicals. Effective water systems management requires a well-trained staff or a professional firm hired to perform the monitoring and testing. In many states, certificates and permits are required to perform these services.
Waste management is a catch-all term that includes trash removal, recycling, and the disposal of hazardous waste. Trash removal is probably the most high-profile aspect of waste management in a school setting. In many jurisdictions, it is illegal to dump, burn, or otherwise dispose of solid waste (e.g., paper, wood, aluminum, trash) without a permit. Thus, school districts must be aware of applicable local and state laws and regulations concerning solid waste disposal.
Recycling may also play an important role in an education organization's
waste management plan. Many townships and cities require recycling. In
other areas, school districts may have to choose between the environmental
and social benefits of recycling and the incremental costs incurred to
Most states and many localities have laws that restrict the disposal of certain types of waste in public disposal facilities. For example, Massachusetts restricts the placement of cathode ray tubes (CRTs), computer screens, televisions, fluorescent bulbs, and lithium batteries in the trash because of the presence of mercury in their components. Planners must consult with authorities about specific waste guidelines applicable in their area.
In any case, both solid waste and recyclables should be removed from occupied areas as soon as possible after being collected. Storage facilities (even temporary storage areas) must be located away from occupied areas to minimize the risk of fire and infestation.
The Right-to-Know Act (http://es.epa.gov/techinfo/facts/pro-act6.html) requires planning and assessment for a range of hazardous waste materials-from small-engine machine shop oil to science laboratory chemicals. Chemicals used by maintenance and custodial personnel may need to be noted on a material safety data sheet (MSDS) to verify that proper procedures for their use, storage, and disposal have been followed. No potentially hazardous material should be brought into a school facility without being properly labeled and having an MSDS on file. Staff must recognize the potential volatility of chemical agents that can enter breathable air when they are handled improperly. For example, many people know that when the roof leaks, wood can get wet and mold can grow. Fewer people know that the bleach used to clean mold stains may itself have serious health ramifications if the space is not properly ventilated during use. Thus, the ongoing review of systems, monitoring, and testing is critical to the recognition and handling of potentially hazardous materials.
Certain hazardous waste materials, including asbestos, also require that the
organization sign a waste manifest for the receiving dump or waste site.
For example, the dumping of soil contaminated by leaking fuel oil during
a tank removal project may require the district to sign a waste manifest
before the solid waste management facility will accept the contaminated
dirt. This manifest may assign ownership and potential liability to the
district in the event of a future site-cleanup mandate. In some cases,
storage facilities may offer (for an additional cost) to burn the material,
thereby avoiding the waste manifest procedure and negating potential future
liabilities. These decisions require forethought, due diligence, and disclosure-and
may warrant the advice of the district's legal counsel.
"Universal precautions" is an approach to infection control that requires all human blood and certain bodily fluids to be handled as though they were infectious. Thus, all persons who clean, or otherwise come into contact with, bodily fluids should take appropriate barrier precautions to prevent skin and membrane exposure.
The disposal of medical waste, including blood-borne pathogens (BBPs), requires additional supervision and planning. "Universal precautions" is an approach to infection control that requires all human blood and certain bodily fluids to be handled as though they were infectious. Thus, all persons who clean, or otherwise come in contact with, bodily fluids should routinely take appropriate barrier precautions to prevent skin and membrane exposure. This includes wearing gloves, masks, protective eyewear, gowns, and mouthpieces (e.g., during resuscitation). The disposal of needles and sharp instruments also requires special care (e.g., used needles should never be recapped or broken by hand). All building surfaces exposed to bodily fluids should be decontaminated by cleaning with a bleach/water solution at a 1:10 ratio or another EPA-approved tuberculocidal cleaning agent. All cleaning tools should be disposed of immediately after use (and double-sealed in 6-mil polyethylene plastic bags). It is advisable for decision-makers to refer to local hospitals, clinics, and doctor offices for guidance in this area. Procedures for handling medical waste from the nurse's office and athletic training facilities should be clearly written, and all staff involved in cleanup and transport of such waste must be adequately trained. Storage and transportation of such materials is regulated, and disposal may require the services of certified or licensed individuals or firms.
An issue that further complicates proper cleaning practices is that janitorial staff are advised to wear latex gloves when handling hazardous materials (and even general cleaning agents), although some individuals may have severe allergies to latex gloves. Therefore, employees must be monitored for skin or respiratory reactions when wearing latex gloves. If the use of latex gloves by students is warranted (e.g., in chemistry labs), such procedures also require monitoring, and may justify parental notification.
Wastewater management (sewage plants) is another topic that some schools may need to be concerned about. Whether wastewater goes to a local community waste plant, an in-house waste treatment plant, or an on-site drainage field, school staff should have a thorough understanding of their wastewater management responsibilities. Regardless of ownership, water treatment facilities must be managed and run by certified operators. District-owned facilities face special operational concerns that stem from the great fluctuations in demand placed on the system due to the variability of the school schedule. On a daily basis, facilities must handle peak flow during school hours (and even more specifically during windows between class periods). Weekends and holidays, on the other hand, present intervals of very low demand. Prolonged dormancy associated with summer vacation pose additional start-up issues each fall. Therefore, staff must be prepared to schedule equipment use, maintenance, and testing accordingly. Care of on-site systems should include annual inspections, pumping, and regular maintenance as needed. Kitchens should have grease traps to prevent grease from being transported to drainage beds in the system. The drainage beds themselves should be well marked. Wastewater from science labs and maintenance shops (both potentially carrying hazardous materials) must be managed from their source all the way to the treatment facility. These pipes must also be protected from accidental damage (on more than one occasion a local school organization has placed playground equipment right on top of a sewer bed or driven equipment poles through a drainage pipe).