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Custodial Issues: Safety and Health

Not only must custodians maintain schools' physical facilities, but they are often responsible for school security as well.

At the same time, custodians are exposed to many occupational hazards, from working on ladders and staging to dealing with hazardous chemicals and contagious diseases. In some school districts budget pressures have led to cuts in custodial staff.

These cuts are short-sighted for at least two reasons — they lead to the physical deterioration of facilities, and expose custodians to greater safety risks, as jobs which should be done by at least two people are attempted by custodians working alone.

Below we've assembled some resources that will help custodians and others deal with custodial safety and health concerns.

Building maintenance and indoor air quality

Deferred maintenance in the past can cause problems in the present, problems that custodians and other support staff must contend with.

Among the findings of American School and University (AS&U) magazine's 27th annual M&O (maintenance and operations) cost study: "..decades of deferred maintenance, insufficient building upkeep procedures, and years of siphoning dollars from maintenance budgets have significantly contributed to the current condition of our nation's schools."

 Inadequate maintenance is one of the contributing causes of poor indoor air quality (IAQ), a serious problem in many schools. Occupational safety and health

custodial #2Here are several places to start for information on occupational safety and health issues:

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a good source of information on safety on the job, including in schools.
  • The Material Safety Data Sheet Web page, and the Vermont SIRI Web site have links to hundreds of thousands of MSDs's, both in print and on the Internet.
  • The Red Book -- Exposure to Blood on the Job: What School Employees Need to Know, a booklet from NEA's Health Information Network, contains basic information that every school employee should know about dealing with the hazards of blood-borne diseases, including Hepatitis B and C, and HIV. This will give you information and resources you need to protect yourself and your students from diseases transmitted by blood. It can be downloaded in English  (PDF , 32 pp) and Spanish versions (PDF , 32 pp).

Security of buildings, other staff, and students

Whether or not a school district has its own security staff, custodians bear a large responsibility for building security. Custodians are also often in a position to observe student behavior and spot potential problems settings where there are no teachers. Here are two links for more information:

  • NEA's School Safety issue page contains resources and links to help communities provide a safe and healthy environment for students, both on and off of school grounds.
  • The U.S. Department of Education's Safe and Drug-free Schools Program Web site features publications, funding opportunities, and organizations that can help keep our schools and communities safe.


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