Ideas for Creating Healthier Schools

Stephen AshkinEach year, millions of schools days are lost due to illness.   While this includes many things that are outside of the school’s control, nonetheless there are numerous opportunities for the custodial staff to reduce unintentional cross contamination that can affect student and staff health.

The following are some ideas that can help:

  • Color code cleaning cloths and/or sponges so the ones used in the restroom is not used to clean a desk or cafeteria table. While sponges and cloths can appear clean, they are in fact a major source of cross contamination because bacteria and other pathogens are invisible to the eye and will be transferred to the surfaces that students come into direct contact with. Cleaning cloths and/or sponges should ideally be changed from one room to the next.
  • Mop buckets should be dumped frequently, ideally after each room. If microfiber mops are used, the microfiber pads should be changed after each room. Priority should be given to those classrooms and other areas where children sit, play or otherwise come in contact with the floors.
  • Use a disinfectant especially on high-touch points which are surfaces and objects that multiple people touch. This includes desks, pencil sharpeners, door handles, water fountains, soap and paper towel dispensers, toilet flush valves, restroom faucets, etc. Consider using UV-C light devices to kill pathogens on delicate electronic equipment such as computer keyboards and printers. These can also be used on toys, art supplies and other materials that are shared by students.
  • Keep all cleaning equipment clean so they don’t spread contaminants from one area to the next. Use disposable high filtration filter bags in vacuums and dispose them frequently as bacteria can multiply in vacuum bags and can be reintroduced into the rooms. Make sure the tanks in carpet extractors and floor scrubbers are completely emptied and cleaned after use. This is especially important for equipment that is not used on a daily basis.
  • Good hand hygiene is probably the single most important action that custodians can take to minimize cross contamination.  Custodians should wash their hands or use a hand sanitizer when moving from one classroom to the next.  If they wear gloves, the gloves should be changed from one room to the next because while the gloves may protect their hands, they still move contaminants from one surface and one room to another.
  • Use entryway mats especially in entrances with high traffic.   Mats help capture the soils at the door and make cleaning easier. Just make sure there is a plan to keep the mats clean.

Also, work with teachers to get their students to pick-up after themselves.  This activity will only take 5 minutes at the end of the school day, but will save the custodians substantial time and allow them to focus their time cleaning and doing other activities that they alone are uniquely qualified and tasked to do.  Plus, this should be considered a good “life lesson” to teach kids to pick-up after themselves, to take care of their “stuff”, be organized, etc.  The kids should:

  • Pick up materials on the floor and other surfaces such as book cases and tables, and put the materials in the proper place including the trash, recycling, compost pile, bookshelf, supply cabinet, etc.
  • Stack the chairs.
  • Clean off the tops of their desks. The kids do not literally need to clean them, but removing books and other materials allows the custodians to clean and disinfect more easily and effectively.

These actions along with the simple awareness about cross contamination can help create healthier schools and universities, which in turn can help improve student performance and meet other goals as well.

Stephen Ashkin