With hundreds of children, faculty and staff working closely together day after day, school buildings and facilities are a bountiful breeding ground for all kinds of biohazards. There are significant challenges for building supervisors and facility managers to keep schools safe and free of dangerous contaminants, and to recognize and properly respond to biohazards in schools.
Tom Peter, a Certified Industrial Hygienist and biohazard remediation expert from Infection Control Technologies, recently presented “Biohazard Awareness in Schools” to the New Jersey Buildings and Grounds Association Central Chapter meeting in Union, NJ. His discussion examined what facility managers need know to identify and safely clean up potential biohazard spills and contaminations.
Biohazards can occur during emergency situations, or simply manifest from standing maintenance or cleaning issues. They can be brought in as contagious outbreaks by students and staff, or through animal or insect infestations.
Whether from broken pipes or roof leaks, water damage requires careful drying and repair to prevent microbial growth. If the water contains contaminants (gray water) or sewage (black water), facility managers must take specific precautions including the use of Hazmat protective gear, proper removal of contaminated materials, and specialized cleaning and disinfectants.
Contaminated water from floods and leaks requires specialized cleaning and disinfection.
Mold and Bacteria
Ongoing exposure to mold and bacteria within school facilities poses health risks to inhabitants. Preventative measures – draining and cleaning fountains and shower heads, regular maintenance of cooling towers – are essential to limit outbreaks. Safe and effective bacteria and mold remediation goes well beyond mold removal. The extent of the outbreak, location of the growth and type of organism determine the degree of containment, dust control, HEPA equipment, personal protective gear and contaminated waste disposal that is needed. Special attention must be paid to HVAC systems to remove mold and prevent further spread.
Mold and bacteria hidden in walls and HVAC ducts and fans are dangerous facility contaminants.
Unfortunately, outbreaks of highly-contagious diseases like flu, Norovirus, Meningitis, Ebola, and C.diff (clostridium difficile) are common in school settings. School administrators are tasked with implementing protocols and policies to limit these occurrences. Building supervisors and facility managers must be well trained in disinfection and decontamination requirements when outbreaks do happen. They must also be aware of common sources of easily transmitted infections like MRSA, Impetigo, Ringworm, and Herpes. Regular cleaning and disinfection for gyms, locker rooms and equipment is imperative to minimize risk of outbreak.
Highly-contagious infectious outbreaks in schools are commonly spread on gym equipment, showers and fountains.
Blood and Bodily Fluids
When faced with cleanup and removal of blood, urine, feces or vomit, special care must be taken for the safety of the worker and the building inhabitants. The potential for dangerous pathogens like HIV and Hepatitis dictates “Universal Precautions” be taken: Treating all human blood and other potentially infectious material (OPIM) as if known to be infectious for blood-borne pathogens. Accepted cleanup procedures and controls must be in place and readily available.
Animals & Environmental Hazards
Biological health hazards from animals are typically caused by feces and urine left in nests and hiding places. Raccoons, bats, and birds are some common culprits. Feces can contain parasites like roundworm, and dried feces in buildings or near HVAC systems can cause Histoplasmosis, a fungal lung infection. There are also man-made hazards, like discarded needles (“Sharps”) that can find their way in and around schools. All of these must be handled following careful HAZMAT protocol to avoid biohazards in schools.
Environmental sources of biohazards in schools include animal waste in buildings and “sharps” in playgrounds.
What Should School Building Supervisors and Facility Managers Do in the Face of Biohazards?
Recognize there are different levels of biohazard risk.
The CDC and NIH define levels of pathogenic risk from Biosafety Level 1 (BSL1) – not known to consistently cause disease in healthy adult humans – to BSL4 – Posing a high risk of air-transmitted infections that are frequently fatal and without treatment or vaccines. These levels dictate requirements for safety equipment, procedures and qualifications of those undertaking the biohazard containment, cleanup, and remediation.
Proper evaluation of biohazard risk levels dictate when specialized remediation protocols and certifications are necessary.
Put procedures, training, equipment and resources in place to prevent biological hazards and to quickly and safely respond to biohazard emergencies when they occur.
- Evaluate the facility to identify existing and potential hazards and available resources.
- Provide training and education for building staff.
- Ensure that equipment and cleaning supplies and methods are in keeping with accepted guidelines.
- Engage an established, highly-trained biohazard cleanup company in advance to provide immediate and appropriate response when specialized certifications are required.
For more information about managing biohazards in schools or any commercial or municipal facility, contact Infection Control Technologies
Infection Control Technologies, (ICT) a division of Insurance Restoration Specialists, Inc. (IRS) is one of the nation’s leading Building Hygiene contractors performing high risk Mold Remediation, Trauma Scene Cleanup, Sewage Cleanup, and other high risk biological decontamination throughout New Jersey and the New York City and Philadelphia areas.