School Facilities Maintenance in Light of COVID-19

School Facilities Maintenance in Light of COVID-19
School Facilities Maintenance in Light of COVID-19

Business and Operations

As the 2019–2020 school year closes, many leaders are asking questions about reopening in the fall. There is much to consider. Making sure everyone remains safe during this vexing pandemic is essential.

There’s no precedent for this situation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently released guidelines for reopening public spaces, including businesses and schools. It recommends a three-prong approach that school leaders can follow.

The following does not constitute legal advice. We always recommend that you work together with your legal advisors and facilities partners as you craft your strategies.

Step 1: Develop Your Plan

The CDC recommends creating a plan well before reopening your campus. You must determine what areas need to be cleaned, how these spaces will be disinfected, and the equipment and resources required.

Choosing appropriate cleaning and disinfecting products as well as PPE is more critical than ever. There are many options available. American Facilities Professionals recommends hypochlorous acid, an electrolyzed solution of water and salt, for disinfecting, along with an antimicrobial. The United States Environmental Protection Agency also provides a list of recommended disinfectants.

The cleaning solutions you’re using must be effective against killing the COVID-19 virus, and defensible should the unthinkable happen. American Facilities Professionals asks: If, God forbid, one of your employees contracted the coronavirus and became seriously ill, incurred steep medical bills, and sued you for not providing a safe place of employment, could your disinfection and risk mitigation protocols stand up to a jury?

Part of ensuring your protocols are stringent enough includes following Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) guidelines. OSHA's general duty clause states that "each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." Your school’s approach to cleaning and disinfecting must adhere to this definition. For schools, consider the following.

  • How will desk arrangement provide adequate physical distancing?
  • How often will desks be sanitized?
  • How will students be kept physically distant?
  • How will you provide and maintain sanitary restrooms?
  • How can you minimize touching of doorknobs, light switches, and other commonly used devices?
  • How frequently should you sanitize heavy traffic spaces?

Step 2: Implement Your Plan

The second step is to implement your plan to clean and disinfect, following rules for using your chosen products. Expect the workload to increase substantially from previous years, especially during the school day. It may be necessary to increase the size of your facilities staff to maintain adequate sanitation.

Step 3: Maintain and Revise

Remember, communication is critical to effectively execute your plan. Check-in with your teachers, students, and parents frequently to assess and reassess what’s working and what requires adjustment. This situation is ever changing and processes might have to be modified frequently due to evolving regulations at the federal, state, and local levels. Make certain that someone at your school is constantly in contact with regulatory authorities.

The CDC has outlined each of these three steps in more detail here. It has also provided recommendations for K–12 schools that should be reviewed by team members who are responsible for constructing your school’s reopening strategies. As things develop on the national level, ISM will also continue to update our COVID-19 resource page.

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