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Prioritising hygiene measures in educational settings

 

By Cameron Mehrabanpour, Head of Estates and Facilities at Heriot-Watt University Dubai

 

Filed under
Infection Control
 
September 4, 2023
 
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Prioritising hygiene measures in educational settings
 

A culture of safety and health is present within all organisations, including academic institutions. The institutions have a responsibility to provide a secure environment for the students and employees and a greater duty to instill safety values in them. While upholding sound safety practices is crucial for injury prevention, life preservation, and business advancement, a favourable safety and health culture can also cultivate students' and employees’ competencies, consciousness, and professionalism within an academic institution. Implementing this safeguarding approach helps improve the institution's reputation, which ultimately benefits students as they prepare for their professional careers.

Establishing a robust safety and health culture within an organisation focuses on nurturing an environment where safety considerations become an instinctive part of employees' mindset. This ensures a perpetual state of alertness against potential risks in their surroundings. With the beginning of new academic sessions, educational institutions require thorough planning and implementation of comprehensive hygiene preparations. As schools, colleges, and universities prepare to welcome back students, faculty, and staff, prioritising health and safety through effective hygiene measures remains important. This involves navigating a range of potential risks that require careful consideration. The primary risks include the continued threat of infectious diseases, such as COVID-19 variants, which could lead to outbreaks among students and staff. Balancing the need for physical presence with the risk of transmission poses a significant challenge. Additionally, ensuring consistent compliance with hygiene measures, including mask-wearing and hand hygiene, might be a concern. Maintaining proper ventilation in indoor spaces to reduce airborne transmission is vital but can be complex. The mental health and well-being of students after prolonged closures are crucial, as they might face challenges adjusting to the new normal. Lastly, potential disruptions due to sudden changes in health guidelines or new waves of infections require institutions to have robust contingency plans in place. Addressing these risks through a well-structured strategy and continuous monitoring will be essential for a successful and safe reopening of educational establishments.

The UAE's commitment to excellence extends to its educational sector, demanding a comprehensive approach to hygiene that aligns with its high standards. A well-structured hygiene policy and guidelines like the DHA Health Facility Guidelines 2019 laid the foundation for effective preparations. A comprehensive structure has been established to govern the functioning of all educational institutions across the nation. This framework aims to attain the utmost level of awareness and vigilance by circulating guidelines, prerequisites, and preventive actions that all educational establishments within the UAE are mandated to adhere to. The objective is to ensure a secure, wholesome, and conducive learning environment while educational institutions continue their operations post the Covid-19 pandemic.

There are some key hygiene preparations that educational institutions in the UAE should undertake as they embark on the journey of reopening. Educational institutions should collaborate with health experts to formulate guidelines that encompass various scenarios, from regular operations to potential outbreaks. This policy should cover areas like hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, sanitation practices, cleaning protocols, and personal protective equipment (PPE) usage. A clear and detailed strategy ensures consistency and clarity in implementation. For instance, Heriot-Watt University Dubai attained WELL™ health certification, the world's first international building certification that focuses exclusively on human health and wellness. This indicates that the campus is prepared and confirms its ability to handle situations such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

Giving priority to frequent cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces, like doorknobs, handrails, and shared equipment, is crucial. It's essential to utilise disinfectants approved by the government that adheres to recommended cleaning procedures to ensure the effectiveness of these actions. Simple yet highly effective, hand hygiene stands as one of the most potent methods to curb infection spread. Educational institutions must ensure that there are ample handwashing stations accessible across the campus. 

Educational institutions must take proper measures to ensure safe dining experiences. Implementing physical distancing in dining areas and alternating mealtimes can minimise crowding. The emphasis should be on providing pre-packaged meals to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Regular sanitisation of dining surfaces and utensils remains crucial. Educational institutions have a unique opportunity to educate their community about hygiene practices. Regular campaigns, workshops, and seminars can help reinforce proper hygiene behaviours. Visual aids, videos, and informational brochures can effectively communicate essential information to students, staff, and facilities management teams. Considering uncertainties, institutions should remain flexible and be prepared to adapt their hygiene preparations based on the evolving situation. A well-thought-out contingency plan should be in place to address potential outbreaks. This includes criteria for temporary closure, remote learning strategies, and communication plans.

As educational institutions navigate the path to the new sessions, prioritising hygiene preparations is crucial for the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff. The lessons learned from the challenges of the past provide valuable insights into how to effectively manage hygiene in educational settings. With a collective effort from all stakeholders, educational institutions can successfully function while ensuring the well-being of their community.