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Education | Occupational Health & Safety

How to evaluate your school’s COVID-19 safety program

30 Sep 2020, by Amy Sarcevic

Infection avoidance, liability avoidance, and government compliance. As a school governor, it is easy to think that you have your COVID-19 risk management plan down pat.

However, safely increasing occupancy numbers in schools during the pandemic is a deceptively complex task, according to Lt. John Weinstein of the Northern Virginia Community College Police Department, USA.

“A lot of the goals and metrics that comprise risk management strategies are not explicit enough to be effective,” said Lt. Weinstein ahead of the Safety in Action Conference.

“Consider, for instance, your first goal is to avoid reinfections. Is the goal to avoid any reinfection? And, if this goal is considered unattainable, how many reinfections are deemed passable?”

“Consider also that your goal is to isolate ‘at risk’ students. How do you define ‘at risk’? Is it someone who is showing symptoms or someone who may have had contact with someone who has symptoms? If the former, do generic symptoms like fatigue warrant a school closure?”

Alongside infection and liability avoidance, Weinstein identifies ten key goals for schools to consider in their risk management plans. He says there will never be enough funding to achieve all simultaneously, claiming that governors will need to draw up a prioritised funding plan. To achieve this, they will need to develop clearly defined goals, metrics, and a multi-disciplinary leadership approach.

“In the absence of explicit measurement criteria, decision-makers have no basis to allocate funds, apart from their own predilections and the opinions of various stakeholders,” he said.

“Without an explicit set of institution-wide priorities – and a leader who brings the appropriate stakeholders to the table – decision-making will be episodic and poorly optimised.”

Alongside critical safety metrics, schools will also need to balance performance goals such as enhancing the school brand, stimulating enrolment, resuming classroom instructions, and retaining faculty staff.

Weinstein recommends that schools consider the interplay of these factors within their risk management plans.

“It is possible that certain priorities may compete with one another, and so it is vital that the entire set of goals is considered under a common framework,” he said.

Resources available to implement priority goals should also be outlined in full. According to Weinstein they fall into five broad categories: Personnel, Procedures and Plans, Facilities, Equipment and Communications.

“In terms of personnel, emergency management, security, health and safety, maintenance, and cleaning staff, etcetera, must all be factored in with clearly defined roles. As should all of the school’s facilities, including the dispatch centre, meeting rooms, classrooms, emergency operations center and medical facilities,” he said.

“In terms of plans and procedures, factors like access and control to buildings, quarantine rules, class cancellation criteria and follow-up procedures must be accounted for.”

To measure all of these factors in the most objective way possible, Weinstein has devised a 560-cell matrix, measuring ‘output’ (prioritised goals) against ‘inputs’ (assets and resources to achieve them).

He will share details of this approach to COVID-19 risk management in schools at the virtually-held Safety in Action Conference – 26 October 2020, discussing:

  • Assets which are most critical to safety success
  • Cost-effective plans to optimise agency performance
  • A compelling methodology to support budget requests

Lt. Weinstein serves the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Police Department as a district commander, overseeing police operations on three campuses with over 40,000 students. He also is in charge of strategic planning for the police department.

Joining Lt. Weinstein on the virtual stage is Dr. Anna Goode from the University of Queensland’s School of Public Health and Erica Rubric from SafeWork NSW.

Learn more and register. 

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