Although school buildings have been closed since March due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, school employees continue to work on essential maintenance projects through the summer.
“COVID-19 has changed the way we work,” TASB Risk Solutions Consultant Jesse Gonzales said during a May 27, 2020 webinar. In that session, he shared tips for how members can continue critical work on campus while avoiding employee exposure to COVID-19.
What to consider
In addition to the risk of exposure to the virus, there are other everyday risk factors to consider with summer maintenance. Revisit your documented safety standards to figure out what basic protocols you need and what you should enhance because of COVID-19.
“We're so focused on COVID that it's possible to start losing focus on the normal safety issues we deal with day-to-day,” Gonzales said. “We want to look at some of the fundamentals that are still crucial to our work schedules, protecting your people, and the bottom line.”
He recommends forming a workplace safety committee that includes employees of all levels and perspectives. As your team works together to create a plan, think about the following:
Many schools are implementing extra safety measures, from screening for illnesses to providing supplies such as masks and gloves. In preparing for your summer jobs, think about the resources you will need to complete each project and ensure your employees’ safety.
Consider how many people are necessary to complete the job safely and efficiently. Group work is common for construction and maintenance projects, but there may be jobs that can be completed by one or two people. In situations where a group is required, make sure staff distance themselves from each other when possible. You might also consider splitting shifts and rotating assignments.
Think about how many tools you need for each job based on the number of employees onsite. It is best to designate tools for each employee to minimize the spread of COVID-19. If tools must be shared, disinfect them after each use. Personal protective equipment (PPE), including leather work gloves, eye protection, non-sterile nitrile gloves, and face masks should also be available and should not be shared among employees.
Easy access to water is necessary to stay hydrated and to wash hands. Set up outdoor drinking and handwashing stations with a seven-gallon water container, hand soap, paper towels, and a bucket for wastewater. Make sure it is clear which water is for drinking and handwashing.
If employees do not have easy access to indoor restrooms, renting portable restrooms is an option. Do your research to verify they were disinfected before bringing them onsite, and make sure the vendor performs regularly scheduled follow-up disinfection.
If practical, limit work vehicles to one person. Employees should keep vehicles well ventilated by rolling the windows down. If they use the air conditioner and they want to keep windows closed, teach them to select the mode that brings in fresh outdoor air. After driving, disinfect commonly touched surfaces like door handles and steering wheels.
Many schools have ramped up their cleaning and disinfecting efforts because of COVID-19. When preparing for maintenance jobs, assess your protocols to see if any changes are needed. You may need to clean more frequently and use different supplies. The most important precaution is to wash your hands and disinfect commonly touched surfaces. Some school districts are removing shared items such as coffee makers and condiments in break rooms to reduce the virus’s spread. If you do keep these items, make sure they are disinfected after each use.
This tip sheet offers additional information on what resources you need onsite and what guidelines to follow.
The conditions of the day and project site should help you determine when to schedule work and what precautions are needed to ensure employees’ safety.
It is important to remember the risk that triple-digit summer temperatures bring and adjust work schedules and conditions accordingly. This includes working during the cooler parts of the day if possible and scheduling frequent breaks.
“If you're going to have physically intensive work, you may want to do it in the morning,” Gonzales said.
“You want to have easy access to a rest area and encourage employees to wear something lighter and have something to cover their heads.”
Ventilation in buildings
Since the coronavirus can spread through the air, it is important to ventilate buildings where work is taking place.
- Turn on your ventilation systems about two hours before employees are onsite
- If possible, keep the ventilation going while the buildings are vacant
- In buildings without ventilation systems, ensure the windows work, and keep them open before and during working hours
Screening and prevention measures
Temperature checks and screening questionnaires should be implemented for employees and visitors to help prevent the spread of illness. It is also important to know if there have been any exposures to COVID-19 at the worksite and if any conditions or items onsite pose an additional risk. You can use the OSHA Occupational Risk Pyramid to help assess the risk is at each job. It is recommended that you consult medical professionals, your human resources department, and legal professionals to help guide your screening methods.
Employee training and safety
Communication and training are key to keeping a safe working environment. While regular training meetings may still be necessary, they will most likely look different than before the pandemic. Training can be virtual or held in smaller groups with social distancing. At these training meetings, it is important to keep everyone informed on changes in procedures, such as COVID-19 screening and cleaning protocols.
“You need to go over any sort of new information with employees,” Gonzales said. “For example, when you’re asking them to do more and more cleaning with stronger chemicals, they need to know how to read labels properly.”
In addition to communicating safety measures to employees, you should share this information with visitors and vendors you are expecting on campus.
How the Fund can help
The Fund is here to help as you navigate summer work and the risks you will face next school year. You can keep up with our COVID-19 articles to help you address new risks posed by the pandemic. We also offer a variety of training options to help you address these risks.
Through our SafeSchools and SafeColleges online training for members, we offer courses on PPE, chemical spills, and bloodborne pathogens. If you have Auto, Liability, Property, or Workers' Compensation coverage with the Fund, you receive access to six compliance courses. Then, based on your coverage lines, you can access up to 20 more courses.
In addition to taking advantage of our information and training, you should keep up with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can find additional resources on the TASB COVID-19 resources page. For more information or a virtual risk assessment, contact your risk solutions consultant.