Schools are amongst the most sensitive public areas and can still end up being a breeding ground for the most common infections. Top stakeholders of the industry speak to Rashmi Karanjekar about some of the prevalent issues and their solutions…
After a long summer break, the kids in the Middle East are back to school. Besides being anxious about the regular and recurring issues about the right uniform, homework, studies, ideal lunches, parents also have deeper concerns regarding sending their kids back to school, one of which is the child’s health. Indoor air quality, the cleanliness of the campus, and the best practices followed by schools’ cleaning departments determine what kind of hygiene environment the kids are exposed to.
Global Essentials Initiative Survey 2018, conducted by Essity - a leading global hygiene and health company - outlining the importance of hand cleanliness, states that schools and preschools can easily become playgrounds for infections. In fact, kids miss 242 million school days globally every year due to diarrhea and other infection-led ailments. However, interventions to raise hygiene standards can prevent many infections and improve both children’s health and school participation. By keeping hands clean in pre-schools and schools, absence rates amongst children can – depending on initial hygiene standard – be reduced up to 54 per cent. Essity, under its professional hygiene global brand Tork, provides hygiene solutions like Smart-One toilet tissue, multi-fold hand towel dispenser, foam/liquid soap, sanitizer, Xpress napkins (for cafeteria and common areas) to various schools in the UAE region. The company follows stern eco-friendly practices and has already achieved certifications like EU Ecolabel, Swan Label, FSC Label for its products.
In addition to following the best practices, the school cleaning and maintenance department also has to manage washroom utilities while keeping an eye on their misuse and work towards avoiding any minor accidents led by the spillage of soap or water – depending upon the different agegroups the space caters to. While talking about their product offerings, Khalid AbuSharia, Sales Manager (Middle East & India), Essity Professional Hygiene, says, “The product range we offer to schools focuses on addressing the over-use challenge. For instance, our dispenser regulates students’ consumption with the one-at-a-time dispensing feature. This would directly reduce the yearly tissue consumption, thus decreasing the institutes’ operations cost. Besides, being a place that is tasked with shaping the minds of future generations, schools should address this principle of ‘use what you need’.”
“Another challenge in schools is blocked pipes due to kids playing with toilet paper and throwing it into the WC. Our Tork SmartOne toilet paper concept comes with a dispenser that is fully concealed and allows the user take one sheet at a time,” adds AbuSharia.
EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) indicates that students typically spend about 940 hours in school per year. A CDC report states that, 14 million school days were missed by students due to allergies and asthma. Fatigue, headaches, dizziness, coughing, and eye, nose and throat irritation are symptoms of poor air quality in learning environments. T. R. Ganesh, General Manager, Blueair Middle East, explains, “Improving indoor air quality not only creates a healthier learning environment – it also has a positive impact on student attention spans, and academic performance. To promote better air quality, conducting a quality check by hiring a qualified professional for both indoor and outdoor air quality is advised. Adequate air ventilation, undergoing regular inspection and maintenance, and replacing the filters on a routine basis along with a comprehensive cleaning programme should be in place to ensure good air quality at the school premises. It is also imperative to identify and eliminate sources of moisture that promote mould and mildew which will reduce the spread of infectious illness, as well as the triggers for asthma and allergies.”
A similar healthy environment in the school’s outdoors area is also of utmost importance. Recently, as part of its preparations for the new academic year, Abu Dhabi Waste Management Center (Tadweer) ran a cleaning and preventive pest control drive across all public schools in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. As part of the move, Tadweer surveyed school premises for potential breeding sites of the most common pests, such as mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches, ants and rodents, and treated them with pesticides in line with the highest health, safety and environmental standards.
“Tadweer offers best-in-class pest control services that contribute to maintaining a healthy learning environment across all schools in the emirate. We are committed to using safe pesticides and environment-friendly methods to protect the health of students and employees,” avers Dr. Salem Al Kaabi, Acting General Manager of Tadweer.
Morever, Tadweer also provides schools with waste container cleaning services. Under this service, containers are washed on a weekly basis to prevent odour and accumulation of microorganisms that could impact public health. “All chemicals used in the cleaning process are safe for human exposure, environmentally-friendly, and approved by the Emirates Authority for Standardization & Methodology. (ESMA). The washing process is carried out using specialised equipment and vehicles to avoid any impact on the ground water. Likewise, cleaning agents and sanitizers apply high pressured water jets on pre-set washing cycles,” says Dr. Al Kaabi.
The company also provides an awareness programme on proper waste disposal, waste segregation, waste reduction and recycling. “We also provide pest control awareness, which focuses mainly on physical prevention of pests, use of non-pesticide methods and eco-friendly approaches,” adds Dr. Al Kaabi. “We advise school teachers and staff to focus on our awareness-based recommendations that include zero-waste accumulation and water stagnation, and structural proofing of buildings to prevent pest breeding and access to and around school premises. In addition, we conduct awareness campaigns and visits to schools in collaboration with pest control service providers, and distribute brochures and leaflets that offer necessary tips.”
Foremost part of the school’s overall management are the facility management services, which also includes security. School premises are occupied by children aged between 3 ½ years to 18 years old, hence it is of paramount importance to provide a safe environment at all times. Cofely Besix Facility Management (CBFM) currently offers integrated facilities management services to a total of 11 private schools and a nursery in the UAE. The company provides various hard and soft FM services, including HSE, energy monitoring, pool cleaning, and play equipment and ground maintenance.
Speaking on the best practices followed when it comes to facility management in schools Keith Elmer, Deputy Operations Manager of The Emirate of Abu Dhabi, CBFM says, “We provide child protection training to all our staff and contractors working on the school campuses. They are trained to strictly operate within the local UAE authority guidelines, and to follow all KPIs in order to maintain the school’s premises and cause no disruption to the school curriculum.” The company also employs female technicians so that they can move around the school hours. We believe in investing in staff so that they provide good management and take ownership of their work, including the equipment. It is important to maintain high standards in all the services we offer, and to regularly communicate with all the stake holders involved,” concludes Elmer.
Schools are the most important part of a child's formative years and are expected to provide an ideal environment. An environment that facilitates the child's overall mental, physical and spiritual growth which goes beyond just having the right teaching staff, the top notch class curriculum or character building extra circular activities. On a fundamental level, such institutions must also have the best-in-class cleaning and hygiene practices along with optimally functioning technologies across the entire premises.