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School operations

Environmental Hygiene

Policy

The purpose of this policy is to prevent illnesses and injuries by identifying, assessing and controlling environmental hygiene risks associated with exposure to contaminants in schools (for example, mould, dust, radiation, gases and fumes).

Summary

  • The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act 2004 (Vic) requires the Department to provide or maintain systems of work and a working environment that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risk to health, including in relation to environmental hygiene.
  • The principal and/or their delegate (as the local management representative) must manage the risks associated with environmental hygiene in the workplace by reducing exposure to contaminants (e.g. mould, dust, radiation, gases and fumes).
  • Under the OHS Act 2004, employees while at work must take reasonable care for their own health and safety and the safety of others who may be affected by their actions or omissions.
  • Central and regional offices provide a range of supports and services to assist principals and employees to be safe and well, including access to the OHS Advisory Service and local OHS regional officers, who can provide free advice on environmental hygiene management.
  • The Environmental Hygiene Procedure must be followed and sets out the practical step-by-step instructions for implementing this policy.
  • This policy forms part of the Department’s OHS Management System, see OHS Management System (OHSMS) — Employee Health, Safety and Wellbeing for further information.

Details

The principal and/or their delegate, in consultation with the Health and Safety Representative (HSR) and employees, must ensure that:

  • all potential contaminants in the school are identified and entered in the ‘Hazard Description’ column of the OHS Risk Register or equivalent
  • all means of exposure are considered (for example, inhalation, ingestion, absorption or injection) when identifying potential contaminants (e.g. inhaling mould spores)
  • risks of exposure to contaminants are assessed:
    • to accurately determine the level of risk, specific workplace monitoring may need to be considered and the services of an occupational hygienist may be required — the OHS Advisory Service can provide advice
  • where specific hazards have been identified from exposure to contaminants, controls are to be implemented and reviewed, and recorded in the OHS Risk Register or equivalent:
    • high risk work involving contaminants, such as the cleaning of mould, may require safe work procedures to be developed using the Safe Work Procedure Template — the OHS Advisory Service can provide advice

In some scenarios, there may be advice provided to the principal or their delegate by the OHS Advisory Service, central or regional offices to implement monitoring of contaminants. The school will be supported to implement section 2 of the environmental hygiene procedure. As the local management representative, the principal or their delegate must ensure that:

  • monitoring is organised so that it is specific to the contaminant and route of exposure
  • personal monitoring rather than static monitoring is conducted to define potential exposure
  • monitoring is conducted and analysed by a competent person 
  • the assessment results of the monitoring are clearly communicated to employees, their representatives (HSR) and health and safety committees (if relevant to the school)
  • the results of monitoring are displayed on the workplace OHS notice boards (see OHS Consultation and Communication Policy)
  • recommendations (if available) are implemented (so far as reasonably practicable)

Definitions

Competent person 
A person with suitable qualifications and experience to conduct the required work for example, an occupational hygienist.

Contaminants
Airborne substances and other work environment hazards including dust, lighting, radiation, gases, vapours, mould and fumes.

Mould
A type of fungi that lives on plant and animal matter. It grows best in damp and poorly ventilated conditions, and reproduces by making spores which can be a health hazard for humans. Airborne mould spores are commonly found in both indoor and outdoor environments. When they land on damp spots they can begin to grow and spread. There is no practical way to eliminate all mould indoors. The way to control indoor mould growth is to control the source of moisture.

Mould can trigger nasal congestion, sneezing, cough, wheeze, respiratory infections and worsen asthma and allergic conditions. People with weakened immune systems — allergies, severe asthma, chronic, obstructive or allergic lung diseases are more susceptible to these symptoms and other serious health effects.

Occupational hygienist
Utilises the teachings of both science and engineering in order to identify and understand hazards in the workplace and the risk to the health and safety of employers and employees. It is their role to identify potential risks from exposure to biological, chemical, psychosocial, physical and ergonomic hazards within the workplace and the course of work-related duties.

Hazards are anticipated based on precedent in certain industries or environments where it can be foreseen that there may be danger to those exposed. From here, the occupational hygienist would then review the workplace or environment and recognise and evaluate whether there is a presence of a threat.

Occupational hygienists are trained in hazard management and risk assessment and apply the hierarchy of control approach when recommending control measures to prevent ill health.

Personal monitoring
The method used to determine an employee's exposure to workplace contaminants. In this method the air sample is collected within the breathing zone of the employee. The breathing zone is defined as being within a 30cm radius of the employee's nose and mouth. The sampler is usually attached to the collar of an employee's shirt as high up as possible. Personal samples ensure as far as possible that the air sampled best represents the air inhaled by the employee.

Static monitoring
Involves the sampler fixed to an employee's workstation or source of contaminant. Static monitoring is ideal for monitoring effectiveness of control measures within a particular work area.

Relevant legislation

Department policy on identifying and controlling hygiene risks (such as mould, dust or fumes) in schools

Reviewed 28 January 2021

Policy last updated

15 June 2020

Scope

  • Schools
  • School councils

Contact

OHS Advisory Service

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