Colorado’s student population grew again last fall, with the biggest gains in charter and online schools. All that growth, naturally, has fueled a good deal of construction activity at our schools.
Expansion projects, often undertaken while a building is occupied, can create safety and health risks for school employees, not to mention students.
We’re talking dust and debris for starters. There also are hazards related to asbestos, mold and lead, among others. Each of these can pose serious health risks.
Asbestos exposure, for example, can lead to asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare, aggressive and incurable cancer.
Asbestos may be found in insulation, drywall, ceiling and floor tiles, cements, paint and more. Most homes and commercial buildings built before 1980 contain asbestos products.
Commercial renovation or remodeling can be especially hazardous because many common building materials already contain asbestos. When asbestos products start to deteriorate or are cut, sanded, drilled or disturbed in any way, microscopic fibers enter the air.
Mold, meanwhile, is usually not a problem indoors unless mold spores land on a wet or damp spot and begin growing. These spores, when breathed in, can cause asthma, rhinitis, sinus infections, pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
Lead has been poisoning workers for years. It can damage the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, reproductive system and, when absorbed into the body in high enough doses, can be toxic.
So, what can be done to prevent or reduce safety and health hazards? Here are nine ways to prevent or control health and safety problems in the planning phase of the operation.
- Enlist the help of your architect and builder in taking measures to assure the safest environment possible both during and after a project.
- Asbestos, lead-based paint and mold-contaminated building materials should be identified and removed by trained personnel prior to any renovation and construction that will disturb them.
- Do a screening of the building using a trained lead paint inspector/risk assessor.
- Review the applicable regulations (such as OSHA asbestos and lead standards) and find out what is required.
- Use local ventilation or other protective devices to ensure the safety of employees when renovation work and/or new construction results in the spreading of dust, stone, and other small particles, toxic gases or other harmful substances.
- Isolate renovation in occupied buildings so that dust and debris will be confined to the renovation/ construction area.
- If not already established, create a Health and Safety Committee. The committee should meet regularly with the construction manager and should be involved in the investigation and response to complaints.
- Once work has begun, construction workers should use work practices that minimize dust creation. They should be discouraged from walking through the occupied areas and tracking dust and dirt through the school. Walk-off mats, the use of removable coveralls, and wiping down equipment before exiting the work area are all effective practices.
- Communicate hazards to staff and parents of students on a regular basis. Being open and direct is essential to alleviate undue fears and concerns.
There’s more, of course, but keep in mind one point above all others: school administration personnel cannot be ignorant of the activities going on within the walls of their schools and on school property. You have a duty to provide a safe and healthful workplace for your students and employees at all times, even during construction.
Morgan P. Mahoney, an Insurance Advisor at CCIG, handles the risk management and insurance needs of commercial childcare and school accounts. Reach him at 720-330-7926 or MorganM@thinkccig.com.
CCIG is a Denver-area insurance brokerage with the full-service capabilities of a national brokerage. We do more than make sure you have the right policy. We help you manage your long-term cost of risk with our risk and claims management expertise and a commitment to service excellence.