Cleaning and COVID-19—More Than Just Tidying Up
Sanitizing surfaces is a necessary component of controlling the hazards associated with COVID-19 in schools. Increasing the frequency of cleaning and identifying surfaces that must be sanitized should be included as controls in the school hazard assessment.
When teachers take on cleaning and sanitization tasks in the school, they first need to consider if the work is safe for any worker in the school to complete. Safely using cleaning products and chemicals at work requires that the following conditions be met:
• Training. There is a requirement for the employer to provide training to workers on the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) for the use of most chemical products. This training includes safe use, handling, storage and labelling of chemicals used at the school. Sanitizing workspaces and classrooms for COVID-19 requires additional knowledge of appropriate cleaning products and how long the products must have contact with each high-touch surface to ensure that it is sanitized.
• Personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE is required when handling the product and cleaning with it. Common PPE includes gloves, safety goggles and face masks (different from nonmedical cloth face masks).
• Access to safety data sheets (SDSs). SDSs inform workers about the chemical composition and hazards of the product, as well as how to safely use, handle and store the product. First aid and other requirements are also found on the SDS. This should be accessible to all workers in the building.
• Designated first aiders at the school. Work sites require workers trained in Standard First Aid and Emergency First Aid. It is especially important to know who these people are when chemicals are being handled in the school.
If training and PPE are required but not provided, use of the cleaning product or chemical is unsafe, and a worker can refuse to do the work assigned. Refusing unsafe work does not mean not showing up to work. A teacher may be required to complete other duties while another worker is assigned to the task or until the unsafe condition is resolved.
If training and PPE are available, the work may be safe for any worker in the school. However, cleaning is outside of the scope of teachers’ practice. If a teacher is directed to clean, this directive should be in writing. Teachers have the professional obligation to protest a teaching assignment that is not appropriate to their knowledge and training. Teachers need to be aware that they can protest being assigned to clean. A teacher who protests an assignment may still have to complete the assignment as directed but must provide a letter of protest to the school. This serves as a written record documenting that the teacher protested an assignment outside of the teacher’s scope and practice.