Janitor's Closet and Classroom Material Safety
Chemical hazards expose people to dangerous substances which can increase the risk of illness. Chemical hazards can be serious threats for children. Children are more likely to suffer from adverse health effects due to environmental exposure.
• Children weigh less than adults. As a result, when children and adults ingest or inhale the same amount of chemicals, children receive a greater dose than adults.
• Children's developing bodies can be particularly sensitive to toxic exposure during certain critical growth stages, especially when children are exposed to chemicals known to cause developmental effects.
Chemicals found in schools include art and craft supplies, cleaning supplies, pesticides, paint, paint supplies, etc. Every chemical used in a school should have an accompanying Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that describes chemical properties, potential hazards, storage, disposal, protective equipment and spill handling procedures. Teachers and staff using any chemical product should carefully read and abide by all instructions provided.
When choosing products to use in your school or Early Care and Education Center, it is important to consider the safest products available. Many companies are developing new, effective products that contain less hazardous chemicals and are safer. Green Seal and EcoLogo are non-profit companies that research and certify products that are biodegradable and environmentally friendly. These sites can help to verify whether the products you use are safe, healthy and effective. For companies that are striving for greener chemistry, visit EPA’s Design for the Environment website.
Use this checklist to see how well you are doing at preventing poisonings in your classroom.
Teach Good Handwashing Habits
The number one way to keep germs from spreading is to teach good handwashing. Use plain soap and water for handwashing before eating, after using the bathroom, after recess, and anytime they get dirty. Antibacterial soap isn't recommended. Use plain fragrance-free soap.
When there is no access to a sink, as on a field trip, alcohol-based (at least 60% alcohol, dye-free and fragrance-free) hand sanitizer or alcohol-based sanitizer wipes can be used. Hand sanitizers are not a substitute for handwashing. They are not effective when hands are dirty or greasy.
Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting
Know the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. Use the right product for the task:
• CLEANING removes dirt and most germs. Use soap and water. Choose green cleaners certified by a third party such as Green Seal or EPA’s Safer Choice. In the classroom, cleaning is the focus.
• SANITIZING reduces germs to safe levels, for example in food service environments. Food code regulations have specific requirements for sanitizers in the cafeteria and kitchen.
• DISINFECTING kills most germs, depending on the type of chemical, and only when used as directed on the label.
In schools, custodial staff use disinfectants and sanitizers regularly only in high-risk areas – clinics, bathrooms, cafeterias, kitchens, drinking fountains, sink and door handles, and athletic facilities; preferably, when students are not present. Overuse does not provide any additional protection and can expose students and staff to harmful chemicals.
Students should never use disinfectants. Disinfectant wipes shouldn't be used to clean hands. This includes Clorox® wipes.
More information on classroom safety when using cleaning products can be found at the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
Pesticides play an important role in food supply protection and disease control, but they can also be harmful to human health. All pesticides have some level of toxicity, and pose some risk to infants and children. The risk depends on the toxicity of the pesticide ingredients and how much of the pesticide a child is exposed to. One way to minimize exposure to pesticides is to take an approach called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is a pest control strategy that uses a combination of methods to prevent and eliminate pests in the most effective and least hazardous manner. More information about pest management can be found on our web page.
Arts and crafts supplies can contain toxic ingredients that, when used or stored in a play area, create a risk to the health and well-being of children. Eco-Healthy Child Care has some great tips for keeping children safe and healthy during craft time.