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No excuses, work on clean air in schools

It is about health and safety, of children and staff. So check if the ventilation at your school is adequate. 'No money' does not count as a reason to tolerate poor air quality.

Whatever classroom you enter at any school, there is always a window open. That will be quite cool in autumn and winter, but good ventilation is important to prevent corona infections as much as possible. Recirculation of air via a mechanical system is often not sufficient, it is a matter of supplying fresh air. The RIVM website reports that contamination can also take place via virus particles that can travel a greater distance in the small droplets (aerosols). 'For example, in rooms where there is little or no ventilation and/or where many people are together, especially for a longer period of time.' This is of course especially the case in education.

The quality of the indoor climate can be assessed with a CO2 meter. If it turns red, the motto is: leave the classroom, open the window and, for example, halve the group. That doesn't always happen everywhere, everyone who visits a school building knows.

Risks and measures

Clear standards for the so-called air exchange rate can be found in the Building Decree. The limit value for school buildings built before 2012 is a maximum of 1200 CO2 parts per million. A stricter standard applies to newer buildings: 950 ppm CO2. The same numbers are also found in the Working Conditions catalogs for primary and secondary education. Experts also think that schools would do well to be a little stricter with an absolute upper limit of 800 ppm.

School boards must comply with the Working Conditions Catalogs on the basis of the collective labor agreement. In addition, the Working Conditions Act states that every employer must map out the risks to the health and safety of employees arising from work and take measures based on this: this involves the so-called risk inventory & evaluation (RI&E). This also applies to the advice and measures related to Covid-19. The personnel section has the right to consent to the implementation of the RI&E and the necessary measures. In primary and secondary education, the entire mr has the right to consent to measures in the field of safety, health and welfare policy. The mr can insist on an investigation by experts. And if that investigation has already taken place, the mr can, on the basis of the right to information, ask for the results and any recommendations.

Penalties

As a representative advisory body you should therefore check how things are going at your school, advises Marcel Koning, policy advisor for employee participation at de Algemene Onderwijsbond. “As teaching staff, you are also partly responsible for the safety/health of students. If the standards are structurally exceeded, a room should no longer be used,” he says. In his opinion, making excuses and asking for a postponement are no good. “Having no money is no excuse when it comes to the health and safety of staff and students.”

'If the standards are structurally exceeded, a room should no longer be used'

In the business community, inspectors deal with this very differently, says Koning. “There is case law about a company that did not have the office furniture in order for the employees. Then it was stated: that must be in order in six months, otherwise sanctions will follow. Still nothing happened because: 'there was no money'. Then the judge finally stated; no money is no reason. In the extreme case, the consequence would be that the company had to close, was his conclusion. You should not be an 'unhealthy' company.”

'Having no money is no excuse when it comes to the health and safety of staff and students'

Mobilize

It is conceivable that the SZW Inspectorate (formerly the Labor Inspectorate) will also follow this line at schools. In practice, however, the SZW inspectors hardly attend schools as long as there is no mention of the mr or the union. What to do if the indoor climate at school does not meet the standards? Ring the bell as staff and mr, advises the AOb. Inform, involve and mobilize your colleagues, and also parents/pupils: it is also about their health, or that of their children. Of course first go to the school management, if necessary then to the board. If it all leads to nothing, you can call in the union.

If the mr wants to report to the inspectorate, that online. Koning: “An employer must adhere to the Working Conditions Act! He or she may be far away in a board office, but no one is allowed to work in an unhealthy and harmful indoor climate.” And, he adds: it has been known for 2 years that a CO15 concentration that is too high is bad for health and learning performance. “Corona has demonstrably increased the urgency to tackle this. So sit on top of that, as parents and staff in the mr. This is the moment.”

If that meter goes red in your room: refuse to work there or cut the group in half. But do something.

Sustainability

Of course it seems logical to include any ventilation problem in, for example, a planned and more extensive sustainability operation. Just as of course, that is even more expensive. “That will often be a driver's answer: the problem has their attention and will be taken on board. But you have to get to work now and ensure that the ventilation is in order. This may be a temporary solution, but it is necessary. In construction, a carpenter certainly does not stand on scaffolding that is not properly put together. This is about health and safety, you can't put off taking care of it for the long haul. If that meter goes red in your room: refuse to work there or cut the group in half. But do something.”

More information about ventilation standards and what you as a staff member or representative can find in these brochures for the basic education and the mbo and higher education of the AOb. Want to know what you can do yourself? Go to this article.

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