Maintaining Buildings & Grounds

Sustainable School Safety Compliance

A well-managed facilities program is much more than just keeping sites in operational order and up to par with compliance tasks like drills and inspections. Think of something as important and multi-faceted as hazard communications. To be done right, a district’s HazCom program has to include: the written plan, which must be reviewed annually; the identification of all chemicals and potential hazards hidden in every cabinet and corner of every building; having access to corresponding and current Safety Data Sheets (SDSs); completion of various inspections; ensuring chemical containers are properly labeled; providing employee awareness and training; maintaining supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff; and effective communication to make sure staff are aware of the proper use, dangers and impacts of chemicals and hazards.

With chemicals being used in classrooms, cooktops, labs, lounges and janitorial closets, it can be nearly impossible to manage this portion of a program effectively using the typical manual processes districts employ and remain “on task”, much less in compliance.

An effective facilities program is a key component to a complete safety compliance program. It should be comprehensive, scalable, sustainable and tracked, so no matter how many buildings are in a district, how many miles exist between sites, or how many staff members are tasked with managing risk and safety compliance, administrators will know compliance requirements are being met across the district.

While there is not one defining model to mirror when establishing a complete and sustainable safety risk program, there are categories that definitely need to be addressed and included in order to ensure program effectiveness and success. These categories include communications, training and awareness, written plans, process workflow and resources.

Sounds great, but the staff tasked with managing safety and compliance programs in most districts are already inundated with work required to keep the schools and their operations running each day — much less be in compliance. With limited budgets and busy staff, districts can be challenged to the find time or resources to develop and implement a comprehensive process that is maintained and sustained.

Following is how two K-12 organizations addressed and successfully implemented a sustainable and simple-to-use complete safety compliance program in their very different service communities.

Staying on Top of Compliance District-Wide

Kings Local School District in southwestern Ohio consists of 700,000 square feet of property spilt among eight buildings. One headache for the operations and maintenance of these buildings involves ensuring that all daily requirements — whether planned or resulting from regulatory or administration requests — are completed. There is already a long list of items that schools are required to be compliant with by law. It is important to the success of any program that everyone is on the same page, following the correct procedures, taking the necessary steps to accomplish the required tasks, and has a process to address non-conforming issues that impact school safety.

This spring, the Ohio governor signed a new safety and security protocol that changed, and in many cases, increased the number of drills schools must complete annually. Added to the number of existing drills were two safety/emergency drills plus a theoretical crisis drill. On top of all other planned responsibilities that occur in the spring, this legislation required two additional school-wide drills, giving administration just two months to complete the additional work.

Kings Local uses an online program — EmployeeSafe Suite by PublicSchoolWORKS — that includes pre-written tasks, written programs, forms, checklists and other required documents to easily launch and maintain the program. The system was set up with defined times for completion, and then automatically notifies the appropriate staff to complete their drills and/or training to ensure completion. By using this system, administrators aren’t tying up valuable time bird-dogging people to track work. If there is a nonconformance found during an inspection, a work order is submitted through the system to make sure the necessary corrective action takes place. Since the system does the recordkeeping, when the principal or task owner marks the task as completed, or the person completes their training, appropriate administration knows the details and has a time and date stamped record of it.

By using the system’s compliance task manager, the district’s central office was able to establish a schedule to complete tasks related to not only safety drills, but to meet requirements such as handling buildings with asbestos in them, conducting playground inspections, or safety inspections for exit signs, emergency lights, fire extinguishers, fume hoods, bleachers and more. The requirements and documentation needed to actually perform each inspection is included in the system, and task owners are provided with what is needed to complete each task. The records for completion of tasks and training is managed, tracked and maintained online. For Kings Local administrators, ensuring the completion of any requirements takes minimal effort with their automated system.

Continuity is a major concern for the health and sustainability of a district’s safety compliance program. Last year, Kings Local lost more than half of its central leadership, as well as principals for two schools, due to retirements and job changes. Yet nothing slipped through the cracks during the transition since Kings Local was using an online system. Names were simply updated and the automation of the system ensured all were notified to complete requirements related to their role in the district. Critical knowledge no longer leaves with the employee, regardless of tenure or expertise.

Maintaining Continuity Across Space and Time

ONC BOCES, Otsego Northern Catskills Board of Cooperative Educational Services, in central New York, serves 19 component districts across a 1,661-square-mile region. Despite the vast coverage area, there is a sole safety risk officer supporting 12 districts participating in their Safety Risk program. The geographic footprint of the service area alone made consistent and sustainable safety risk offerings a challenge. It was the pending retirement of a 20-year tenured safety risk officer that challenged ONC BOCES. They needed to capture the employee’s extensive knowledge of safety risk that had been utilized to support the districts, so that her successor could carry on the BOCES’ safety risk program seamlessly.

The ONC BOCES districts relied on the safety risk officer to help each district understand and comply with the many federal and state regulations — from staff training, to updating blood borne pathogens exposure plans, to renewing first aid certifications for nurses and staff. Further, the safety risk officer provided expert guidance on all of the typical facility-related requirements like asbestos management plans, handling underground fuel storage, conducting inspections and more. Since most of these tasks are cyclical on a quarterly, annual or biannual basis, the retiring officer had the knowledgebase down to an art, making it very routine to update or revise items with their participating districts. But that knowledge needed to be captured quickly to continue effective support to the districts.

Like Kings Local, ONC BOCES implemented a comprehensive, online safety management system that could manage the completion of the many compliance and training requirements, and automatically alert its new Safety Resource Officer when a deadline is approaching, ensuring that nothing falls through the cracks. The new system made it easy to keep track of all the training deadlines, drills, inspections, and other actions that need to be completed within ONC BOCES and for participating school districts. Instead of spending valuable time recording and keeping up with the many compliance task and training requirements, the new safety risk officer has more time to support the districts and create more targeted and effective corrective actions based on any trends seen — making the safety risk officer a more strategic technical assistance tool for the component districts.

Sustainability For Success

While schools are about education, they also have many business functions and responsibilities. And just like any business, their leaders are pulled in many directions, always in need of more resources, and vulnerable to staff changes. Each of these can impact sustainability. The ability to maintain intellectual capital, meet competing needs, and maintain efficiency, all while sustaining processes, procedures and programs is critical.

To improve success rates of maintained safety risk programs, technology that houses all the needed content including training, written programs, forms and tasks, and enables the district to automate, manage and sustain requirements is valuable. This is important at all times, but even more so during times of transition. Regardless of the tools used to accomplish this, implementing sustainable procedures that require only minor tweaks when changes arise will help schools remain in compliance while allowing its leaders to spend more time focusing on the things that improve the classroom.

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

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