Creating a Healthy School Environment Part 2: Cleaning & Maintenance
Students, teachers, and staff stay healthier when they work in a sanitary and well-maintained school environment. Unsanitary conditions lead to the spread of disease-causing microbes. Sickness negatively impacts attendance and student performance. Dirt and disrepair invite pests into the school. Dust contains irritants. Indoor air pollutants and allergens lead to respiratory problems and asthma. Regular, effective cleaning and maintenance mitigate these problems, creating a healthier learning environment.
The Healthy Schools Campaign offers the Green Clean Schools initiative. This program provides support for schools looking to adopt eco-friendly practices and products. A well-designed green cleaning program promotes student learning, protects custodial staff, and improves the school building’s lifespan. Don’t forget about the
The chemicals found in some cleaning products can contain irritants that lead to itchy nose and throat, headaches, and asthma. Using green cleaning products avoids many adverse health risks.
Look for cleaners with:
- Balanced pH levels
- Biodegradable ingredients
- Low volatile organic compounds (VOC)
- No carcinogens
Preventative maintenance and scheduled inspections identify problems before they can negatively impact health. A well-kept ventilation system means better indoor air quality. School’s should develop protocols that address the whole building from roof to foundation.
- Caulk windows and replace damaged weather stripping.
- Monitor the ceiling for water damage.
- Check the foundation for cracks and water.
- Trim overgrown plants near entryways.
- Inspect and clean the ventilation and boiler system.
Action Steps for a Healthier School
Step 1: Form a Committee
First of all, start by forming a committee to develop and implement a school-wide plan for green cleaning and preventive maintenance. Include custodial staff, purchasing officials, teachers, and administrators in the process. High Schools might also ask students to volunteer to be on the committee. The EPA has a model program for a healthy school environment. Schools can base their maintenance plan on these guidelines.
Step 2: Select Safe Cleaning Products
Conduct an inventory of cleaning products currently in your school. Properly dispose of anything that is out of date, not needed, or in unmarked containers. After that, select cleaning products that are recognized by third-party eco-certification programs such as EPA’s Safer Choice or Green Seal.
- Go with products free from fragrances and strong odors that might trigger asthma.
- Purchase cleaners with high dilution rates to reduce waste from packaging and keep costs low.
- Keep a standardized list of approved cleaning products at the district level.
Step 3: Develop Procedures and Training
Create policies that outline healthy cleaning practices. For example, using microfiber cleaning and spraying products on the cloth rather than onto surfaces. Similarly, educate custodial staff on
- Teach the health benefits of greener products and sustainable use.
- Train staff in chemical spill procedures.
- Educate staff about the list of approved cleaning products, and prohibit teachers from bringing in unapproved cleaners.
Step 4: Schedule Facility Maintenance
Schedule routine inspection and maintenance for the school building. Develop a system for maintaining accurate records of all checks.
- Hire professionals to inspect the electricity and HVAC system at least once a year.
- Inspect roofs semi-annually, in the fall and the spring before heavy snow or rain.
- Assess items in storage and remove anything that is outdated or not needed.
- Regularly inspect playground equipment for damage.
Step 5: Get Students Involved
Lastly, design a curriculum to teach students about the environment. Show them how they can contribute to the environmental health of their school. The Green Education Foundation and the Green Schools Alliance have many excellent resources for schools. Develop in-class activities to meet the educational level of the students.
- Elementary schools – Talk to students about the source of dust and allergens. Students can brainstorm ways to minimize allergens and dust in their classroom.
- Middle schools – Students research safer alternative to household cleaning products. They can work with science teachers to develop and test homemade cleaning recipes (think baking soda and vinegar).
- High Schools – Students conduct an inventory of cleaning products in their home and identify hazards listed on the label. Discuss why they pose a health risk.