IOSH has published new practical guidance for schools to return safely after the COVID-19 outbreak.
Creating a hand-washing schedule, staggering break times and extending timetables into the evening are among the measures the institute is suggesting schools introduce to manage the risk of coronavirus infection.
Though some schools in England have remained open for the children of keyworkers throughout the pandemic, from today many more children in primary school year groups are returning to classrooms.
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.
Returning safely to schools sets out what to consider when deciding to reopen schools, how to take into account the local situation, and understanding the school setting and ability to maintain COVID-19 prevention and control measures.
The guidance, which draws on good practice advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), also reminds education chiefs to consider behavioural aspects, and recommends a raft of measures including 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.
Other measures such as physical distancing, achieved by increasing spaces between desks, staggering break times, and expanding the school timetable to possibly include evening classes are outlined, as well as 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.
It also advises strong levels of communication with children and their parents and offers advice on monitoring school safety after re-opening to measure the effectiveness of the measures.
'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,' commented Fiona Riley, chair of IOSH’s Education Group. 'The first step in this is to conduct thorough risk assessments to identify those risks and to then put in place robust control measures,' she added. '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 new guidance 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.