A school’s Health and Safety committee is an excellent opportunity for you to get involved in assuring a healthy school for the children in your community. If your state does not have a Health and Safety Committee law (such as is in place in New York), note that many schools, including private schools, are receptive to one being established.
How Health & Safety Committees Work (in New York State)
Health and Safety Committees are advisory to the local board of education and are appointed by the local board from a list of individuals nominated by their constituency groups. There is no size limit, but representatives of parents, bargaining units, staff and district officials must be appointed. As part of the full monitoring system created in the law, the committees are the “monitors” of school health and safety.
- Participate in the annual visual inspection of the school. (The regulations also provide a waiver of liability for committee members.)
- Consult on the school’s health and safety rating that assesses all major building systems and the effectiveness of the building maintenance plan. Among a wide variety of requirements, the maintenance plan must provide for the least toxic integrated pest management (IPM) and procedures to promote acceptable indoor air quality (IAQ).
- Participate in resolving health and safety complaints, including reviewing written responses to complainants.
- Monitor safety during school construction. The district must give the Committee an opportunity to conduct a “walk-through” inspection in the post-construction period to confirm the area is ready for re-use.
Recommended Actions for the Committee:
- Invite others to attend committee meetings, such as parents, teachers, etc. Committees are subject to the NY Open Meetings Act and are therefore public.
- Be familiar with what the school is required to do and how the committee should be involved.
- Specifically, every five years, schools are required by the law to prepare “five-year capital facilities plans” and conduct “building condition surveys” and “annual inspections.” Ask to see the plan and the result of the surveys and inspections. They are public documents that can be used by the committees to guide them in understanding and prioritizing health and safety issues.
- The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created “Tools for Schools,” a self-help kit that provides an easy, low-cost approach (including a manual and checklists) to finding and solving school indoor air quality problems. To order a copy, call the EPA at 202/512-2250, or ask your nearest American Lung Association for information about which schools are using the voluntary guidance document.
- Conduct a school “walk-through” and “health survey.” The best way to learn about school facilities is to participate in a school “walk-through.”