The beginning of September marks the end of summer, the start of fall, and a new academic year. Each school year, kindergarteners all the way up to high school seniors, and their teachers, wake up early and head to class between 175 and 180 days every school year. Thus, facility managers need to get their buildings ready to help keep all of the new and returning students and staff healthy.
Protecting your school’s community against illness leads to a happier, healthier, and even smarter population. Paediatricians, in a CBC health article, warn absences can add up quickly and seriously impact a child for life. Latest statistics in Ontario show, on average, 11% of elementary school kids were chronically absent from school in 2015-16. In some areas of the province, the average absence rate was more than 20%. Attendance matters, and can be easy to miss out on. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), each year 22 million sick days are taken due to the common cold. More than half of students (56%) are absent for up to five days and teachers miss an average of 9.4 days of school per year.
The National Foundation for Sanitation performed a study to see where the most germs in schools could be found. Below are the results, in order of the highest to the lowest count.
- Water fountain in classroom: 2,700,000 CFUs per square-inch.
- Water Fountain Cafeteria: 62,000 CFUs per square-inch
- Plastic Reusable Cafeteria Tray: 33,800 CFUs per square-inch
- Faucet cold: 32,000 CFUs per square-inch
- Faucet hot: 18,000 CFUs per square-inch
- Cafeteria Plate: CFUs per square-inch
- Keyboard: 3,300 CFUs per square-inch
- Toilet Seat: 3,200 CFUs per square-inch
- Student Hand: 1,200 CFUs per square-inch
- Animal Cage: 1,200 CFUs per square-inch
While these reflect many of the common surfaces, they do not include all of them. Door handles, classroom desk surfaces, and athletic equipment are also considered bacteria hot spots according to pediatric specialist, Dr. Harley Rotbart in a recent CNN article.
What Can Your School Do?
Getting students and teachers on board with effective hygiene practices can help lower absenteeism. A study performed in an elementary school saw a 34% decrease in absences after hand hygiene was taught through classroom instruction, a video, and handing out a pamphlet.
Whether or not your school has its own hand hygiene program, teachers should be able to provide instruction on the how and when of hand washing. The CDC recommends everyone to:
- Wet hands under the faucet
- Apply soap and vigorously rub hands together for 20 seconds
- Be sure to wash front and back of hands, between fingers, and under the nails.
- Rinse the soap off of hands
- Dry hands with paper towel or air dryer
- If soap and water are not an option, hand sanitizer can be used. Rub hands together and cover them entirely with the product until it dries.
Knowing how is just as important as knowing when to do it. Everybody should wash their hands before:
- Treating a cut or wound
- Touching trash
- Using the bathroom
- Blowing noses, coughing, or sneezing
- Touching garbage
- Handling a pet, its food, and waste
Schools can also help to promote this healthy habit by installing hand soap and sanitizer dispensers throughout the buildings, along with providing efficient ways to dry hands. Individuals should not be left stranded with unclean or wet hands, as this may cause discomfort and prevent users from good hygiene habits. Making sure these devices are automatic and touch-free will also help to decrease cross-contamination.
Hand hygiene is the easiest and most effective way to keep illnesses and absenteeism at a minimum. Teachers can give the lessons, facilities can provide the necessary resources, and students just have to practice what they have learned. Here’s to a happy, healthy school year!