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Guidance launched to ensure safe return to schools

Creating a hand-washing schedule, staggering break times and extending timetables into the evening are among measures schools could introduce to manage the risk of coronavirus infection, according to the chartered body for safety and health professionals.

Some schools in England have remained open for the children of keyworkers throughout the pandemic. Now, as many more children in primary school year groups get set to return to classrooms from next week, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has published a guide to help education bosses with what to consider when reopening premises.

IOSH says that while there should be standard operating procedures and checklists issued nationally, some decisions will need to be made at a local level to suit different settings.

The IOSH guidance is intended to assist with this and is based on information first published by the World Health Organization (WHO). It is aimed at protecting teachers and other school staff, children, parents or carers, communities and society at large.

It says that plans to reopen should take account of the local situation, the school’s ability to maintain control measures, behavioural aspects, hygiene practices and physical distancing.

Fiona Riley, Chair of IOSH’s Education Group, said: “As with any place of employment, no premises should reopen until the health and safety risks of all building occupants – in this case children, teachers and other staff – can be controlled successfully.

“The first step in this is to conduct thorough risk assessments to identify those risks and to then put in place robust control measures. This risk-controlled approach should be based on strong leadership, worker involvement and sound health and safety advice.

“Of course, schools will face many risks which are unique in comparison to other workplaces, including having potentially large number of young people on site. Our guidance has been designed to help them manage this process and prevent transmission of the virus.”

The measures that schools can take to manage the risks include:

  • hygiene and environmental cleaning, such as hand-washing schedules, increasing the frequency of cleaning sports facilities and changing rooms and developing policies around wearing masks;
  • physical distancing, achieved by increasing spaces between desks, staggering break times, and expanding the school timetable to possibly include evening classes;
  • and screening and managing sick students and staff by enforcing the ‘stay at home if unwell’ policy, checking body temperatures on entry to the building, and waiving the need for a GP note to excuse absences when there is community transmission of Covid-19.

The guidance also advises strong levels of communication with children and their parents and says that schools should continually measure the effectiveness of their measures.

It is the latest in a raft of resources that IOSH has produced working with other bodies like the WHO. It is part of its Returning Safely suite, which was recently published in response to the growing number of businesses planning to reopen following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, it has provided support to its 48,000-plus members around the world and the organisations they work for.

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Notes for editors:

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is the world’s leading chartered professional body for people responsible for safety and health in the workplace. We have more than 47,000 members in over 130 countries.

We act as a champion, adviser, advocate and trainer for safety and health professionals working in organisations of all sizes. Our focus is to support our members in their efforts to create workplaces that are safer, healthier and more sustainable.

Our shared objective is a world where work is safe and healthy for every working person, every day. Through our 2017-2022 strategy, WORK 2022 – shaping the future of safety and health, we will seek to enhance the occupational safety and health profession, build strategic collaborative partnerships across industry and strengthen our influence globally through impactful research and development.


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