K-12 School Health and Safety-Where to Start

By Ellis, Richard; Leaf, Donald et al. | Journal of Environmental Health, March 2005 | Go to article overview

K-12 School Health and Safety-Where to Start


Ellis, Richard, Leaf, Donald, Ashkin, Stephen, Journal of Environmental Health


Schools have huge responsibilities to preserve the health and safety of the children they teach. They also must protect the staff and visitors to their buildings. The health regulations and standards that are familiar to environmental health professionals are an important part of protecting children and worker's health and safety. This brief provides a place to start for those who want to know more about and cooperate with the other professionals and agencies that help protect children and other people in schools.

Many states have regulations that require schools to provide a safe and healthy environment for children. These health and safety regulations are usually enforced by the same state and local health jurisdictions that have the authority and responsibility to intervene in food safety, drinking-water systems, sewage management, and protection from hazardous materials.

One example of state regulations is from Washington State: Washington Administrative Code (WAC) Chapter 246-366. It can be found on the Internet at www.leg.wa.gov/wac/index.cfm?fuseaction=chapter&chapter=246-366&RequestTimeout=.

The language in WAC 246-366-140 is important because it requires a guide to be prepared by school and health officials jointly. The guide was intended to be created collaboratively and to promote the review of hazardous and unhealthy conditions in schools. It required gathering information from reliable sources and multiple jurisdictional entities (e.g., school, health, and labor rules, U.S. EPA resources, insurance and case law, and industry standards) into a single guide.

  WAC 246-366-140 Safety. (1) The existence of unsafe conditions which
  present a potential hazard to occupants of the school are in
  violation of these regulations. The secretary in cooperation with the
  state superintendent of public instruction shall review potentially
  hazardous conditions in schools which are in violation of good safety
  practice, especially in laboratories, industrial arts and vocational
  instructional areas. They shall jointly prepare a guide for use by
  department personnel during routine school inspections in identifying
  violations of good safety practices. The guide should also include
  recommendations for safe facilities and safety practices.

Environmental health professionals are well suited to lead the way in the health and safety of children. We are oriented toward prevention. We know that cooperation and education are more effective than the simple exercise of power. We know that an ongoing umbrella of care by school personnel is far superior to a single day of compliance when an inspector is present. We know that environmental health professionals and school administrators are interested in achieving health and safety of those within their buildings and that adversarial positions are counterproductive.

Here are some things you can do right now to get started in your locale to create safer, healthier, and high-performance schools:

Cooperate with jurisdictional agencies and others

* Learn the missions of other health and safety departments/agencies. …

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