Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Workplace Safety at School

The 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act, aka "OSHA," is the federal law that protects workers in the workplace. It requires employers to provide working conditions free of hazards and seeks to "assure safe and healthful working conditions for men and women."

OHSA assures an employee’s right to know about any chemical hazards they may be exposed to through the Hazard Communication standard. This standard requires employers to inform and train employees about hazardous chemicals or substances to which they may be at risk for exposure while at work. In addition, to monitor compliance, OSHA inspectors make unannounced on-site checks to ensure workplace safety.

But what about our children in schools? How are they being protected?

Let’s consider that a child’s school is his or her workplace. It’s a place where they spend at least 1/3 or more of their day, day after day – in classrooms, in and around school bus loading zones and on playgrounds or sports fields.  As concern grows over increases in childhood asthma, cancer and other illnesses, researchers are looking at the kinds of chronic, low-level exposures that OSHA would look at. In the school environment, this includes diesel exhaust from idling vehicles, chemicals in cleaning products and pesticides used on school grounds

Because of a child's rapidly developing physiology and natural behavioral patterns, their vulnerability to environmental toxins is greater than that of adults. Yet there is no OSHA – no federal statute or agency – to protect children (or teachers, administrators and staff) from environmental exposures in schools.

It is every child’s right to live and learn in a safe and healthy environment. In the absence of federal oversight, the job of protecting children's health falls to state education departments which are often ill-equipped to handle matters of workplace exposures or pediatric toxicology. Local school boards, facing a myriad of other issues, may be similarly unable to address these exposures.

Thus it falls on parents, teachers, administrators and staff to advocate for the highest levels of environmental quality in their own schools, and to seek ways to mitigate or eliminate toxic exposures. It is for them –  and the children they protect – that we created The ChildSafe School.

- Lana