Social media and the markets are abuzz with back to school campaigns. You can literally feel the excitement in the air. There is so much happening but we couldn’t stop wondering what schools are doing at this point?
Do they make as much preparations for school reopening as children and parents do? Or more? Are they as excited as the students are? Are they cleaning, disinfecting and preparing their facilities for the safety of their students and staff?
We spoke to Mr. Santosh Hadinaru, Head of Health and Safety at GEMS Education. Santosh took us through the preparations and infection control procedures followed at one of the most popular school chains - GEMS Education.
Tell us about the infection control measures taken to ensure that the students and return to school are safe.
At GEMS Education, work to ensure a hygienic environment in each school starts long before the cleaning teams arrive on our premises. Our staff accommodation and vehicles are professionally cleaned and disinfected on a continuous basis, with social distancing practices and health monitoring in place. There are also ongoing COVID-19 awareness campaigns and training for our teams.
On arrival in schools, our vaccinated cleaning teams continue to adhere to social distancing protocols and deliver industry best-practice cleaning regimes, often working in ‘micro-bubbles’. Each of these ‘micro-bubbles’ consists of a limited number of cleaning staff who have an area-specific set of equipment and materials, which helps to prevent cross-infection, and which aligns with the assigned school bubbles.
Cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces is carried out throughout the school day, with increased attention to washrooms and high-traffic areas. The cleaning chemicals used in GEMS schools are approved by the local regulatory bodies (both for cleaning and disinfection) and are also best-in-industry products that are used globally. In a school environment, selection of products also involves reviews to make sure the products do not trigger asthma or allergies in children.
All cleaning equipment used is colour coded and purchased from a preferred supplier network. To maintain school hygiene, we have a rigorous cleaning and disinfection programme, not only for the school, but also for our own tools and equipment, so that our cleaning tools are kept clean and sanitised and we can therefore produce the best possible cleaning results and maintain the highest hygiene levels in schools.
How do you reinforce the importance of hand hygiene among your staff and students?
Both outside the workplace and in the workplace, hand hygiene is a focal point for us, and we
continuously provide in-person training, professional training videos, visual reminders and fun, practical application and demonstration. Our cleaning teams, for example, really engaged with a hand wash training unit we secured on loan, which reviewed their hand wash movements and sequences to assess the effectiveness of their hand wash procedures.
What goes into the making of a clean, safe and healthy school?
Responsibility lies with everybody – not just the cleaning teams. That’s why we provide hygiene and safety awareness sessions, campaigns and drives, together with knowledge sharing and continuous education on this important topic.
What are the challenges you face in maintaining school hygiene and cleanliness? How do you overcome these challenges?
Schools are dynamic environments, with class rotations, class scheduling changes and events, which mean cleaning schedules and deployment plans also need to be dynamic and adjusted as necessary to support school operations. High footfall in canteens and washrooms during break periods requires effective scheduling and management of cleaning resources, with staff deployed to the right places at the right times.
Also, those schools with outdoor corridors and large outdoor play areas present challenges in terms of upkeep given the UAE’s climate. We need to ensure these are always in top condition regardless of hazards such as sandstorms, so we monitor weather forecasts and implement emergency preparedness plans and deploy additional resources as necessary.
How have you seen school hygiene and safety evolve in the past few years?
Disinfection with antiviral products was already in place across GEMS schools before the pandemic and it continues to play an important role in ensuring a safe and hygienic environment for students and staff today.
From a hygiene perspective, we have seen that the local authority guidelines released during the pandemic, which require more stringent cleaning and infection control in schools, have helped set a baseline for cleaning and hygiene controls across other schools generally.
Which cleaning technologies do you implement in order to maintain the highest levels of hygiene and safety?
With cleaning and disinfection being of critical importance in the school environment, staying at the forefront of new technology in this field is just as important. We therefore continuously review cleaning and disinfection technologies, machinery, processes and products to ensure the most suitable solutions are in place. Particular care is taken around product selection and activities undertaken.
Our FM partner, Infracare, follows the BICSc guidelines and colour coding system within schools, to reduce the risk of cross-infection between cleaning areas, and we use municipality-approved disinfectants with proven antiviral properties, adhering to the most relevant contact times after cleaning. Disinfection is carried out using traditional spray application methods, with particular focus on all high-touch surfaces, and these are further reinforced with the use of fogging machines when appropriate.
What does a routine cleaning schedule at GEMS look like?
We have a comprehensive cleaning schedule in place, developed for each school, which comprises maintenance cleaning during school hours and deep cleaning during evenings and weekends. During school holidays, a dedicated floor-wise cleaning programme is set in motion that takes into consideration renovation works and facility upgrades, and therefore the associated cleaning works required after their completion.
Daily maintenance cleaning regimes are developed specifically for each school and in conjunction with the school management team, taking into consideration class rotations, evening and out-of-hours use of facilities for sports and community clubs, events and special occasions, on top of the day-to-day operations. The school environment is dynamic, and our experienced cleaning teams are adept at adjusting schedules quickly to keep up with the demands of the school, supported through additional resources as and when required.
With GEMS operating across multiple emirates in the UAE, the cleaning operation and schedules for each school are also developed in consideration of the local governing regulations to ensure full compliance. Beyond self-auditing and school auditing, there are also many external agents such as school education, health bodies and municipalities conducting frequent and thorough inspections.
How are you planning the students’ return to school in terms of hygiene and cleaning?
Hygiene preparations and planning in each school starts long before the cleaning teams arrive on our premises. We are getting our staff accommodation and vehicles professionally cleaned and disinfected, with social distancing practices and health monitoring in place. We are also training our teams in terms of COVID-19 awareness.
Our cleaning teams adhere to social distancing protocols and deliver industry best-practice cleaning regimes, often working in small groups called ‘micro-bubbles’. Each ‘micro-bubble’ consists of a limited number of cleaning staff who are assigned an area-specific set of equipment and materials. This helps us prevent cross-infection.
High-touch surfaces are cleaned and disinfected throughout the school day, with increased attention to washrooms and high-traffic areas. We colour code all our cleaning equipment and to maintain school hygiene, we have a rigorous cleaning and disinfection programme so that our cleaning tools are kept clean and sanitised and we can therefore produce the best possible cleaning results and maintain the highest hygiene levels in schools.