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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.

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. For more information:

Cleaning for Health

"Custodians are the first line of defense of public health in our schools," according to school custodian and 2009 C.L.E.A.N. Award winner Pat Nicholson. By cleaning for health, not for appearance, custodians can have a big impact on student and staff health and stduent achievement.

Occupational Safety and Health

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

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 page contains information about how NEA is working for safe schools.
  • 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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