1 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis A Report by the Toronto Parent Network based on a review of the Toronto District School Board s Health and Safety Inspection Reports April 2006
2 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 1 Excerpts from the Education Act of Ontario. PART 1 MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING (3) The Minister is responsible for the administration of the Act and the regulations and of such other Acts and the regulations thereunder as may be assigned to the Minister by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. Duties of boards: 170. (1) Every board shall, repair property PART VI BOARDS Duties and Powers 8. keep the school buildings and premises in proper repair and in proper sanitary condition, provide suitable furniture and equipment and keep it in proper repair, and protect the property of the board;
3 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 2 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis The Toronto Parent Network reviewed the Toronto District School Board s annual Health & Safety inspection reports for over 400 of the Board s schools with particular attention to the issues that would most affect our children s health, safety and learning. Of the schools reviewed, 405 listed infractions serious enough to be noted. From this review we found that: 14% (56 of 405) of the schools we reviewed reported exposed asbestos, 32% (130 of 405) of the schools we reviewed reported signs of mould, 10 % (42 of 405) of the schools we reviewed reported vermin, 88% (358 of 405) of the schools we reviewed required non-routine building maintenance, 20% (79 of 405) of our schools reported poor air quality or heating concerns, 50% (201 of 405) of the schools we reviewed reported signs of ceiling tile loss, At least 90% of the schools we reviewed cited Fire and/or Electrical Code violations, and At least 90% of our high schools reported lack of properly operating eyewash stations in classrooms. A striking revelation is the rate of repeat incidences in the above categories. The health, safety and learning of our children are the joint responsibility of the Provincial Government and its Ministries and affiliated agencies, the Toronto District School Board, the Unions within the Board, and parents. This Report is the proverbial canary in the coal mine the Toronto Parent Network s position has been that it is time to pay due attention to the environment in which our children live and learn, and we call upon all responsible parties to act immediately on our recommendations.
4 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 3 Introduction The standard of care to be exercised by school authorities in providing for the supervision and protection of students for whom they are responsible is that of the careful or prudent parent. (Myers vs. Peel County Board of Education, 1981). The Toronto District School Board acts as the employer at 553 schools across the City of Toronto (451 Elementary and 102 Secondary). Our schools serve a total of 265,000 students ranging in age from 3 years to 18 years. Some TDSB schools have on-site day care centres and many have Parenting and Family Literacy Centres, both of which welcome children as young as infants. Each year the Toronto Parent Network conducts a full-scale review of the Occupational Health and Safety Inspection Reports of the TDSB s Elementary and Secondary schools. The Health and Safety Reports are produced by a team comprised of members of TDSB management, the teacher unions and CUPE 4400 as required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. This team of union and Board representatives examines each school on an annual basis in order to determine the health and safety issues that would affect employees. The principal is required to sign off on the inspection and a copy remains in the school office. Some infractions are identified as requiring a local solution and others are to be dealt with by the TDSB Facilities Department. TPN has analyzed and recorded the most recent inspection reports of 405 of the 553 TDSB schools. Putting the Report Together Compiling the data for the Health and Safety Report 2006 was done in much the same way as for the 2005 Report. The rule of thumb was that in order to make the list, a school had to be cited in at least one of six categories (asbestos, ceiling tiles, air quality/heating, general maintenance, mould, and vermin). We took the list of 471 schools from last year and worked through the reports and cited schools on the chart for this year in order to provide an easy method of comparing individual school results. This year, there are 72 schools that were not listed last year. These 72 reports were not cited last year because either: 1) we did not receive a copy of the report; or, 2) the school was not cited in any of the six categories last year and therefore was not included in the list. Similarly, there are some 54 schools that were not cited this year that were cited last year because either: 1) we did not receive a copy of the report this year; or, 2) the school was not cited in any of the six categories this year so it remains blank. This year, we focused heavily on repeat infractions that are hazardous to the health of our students. The Report again quantifies the hazards that require special and immediate attention as they impact on the well being of both TDSB students. Health prevention again is a key initiative outlined in this year s Report. The Health and Safety Report 2006 reiterates TPN s 2005 recommendations to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labour. TPN believes that school boards throughout Ontario are doing their best to track and solve health and safety infractions but the funding formula seriously restricts their ability to be effective. TPN believes that the provincial government is primarily responsible for setting and maintaining a health and safety standard through proper
5 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 4 funding that is relevant to children and their health and safety. They have so far refused to take this step and leave boards to fight a losing a battle to keep schools safe and clean. As with the 2005 Report, the aim of the 2006 Report is to outline the most serious risk factors and specify the most critical environments within the TDSB system that pose to be very dangerous. We acknowledge that some money has flowed to school boards to deal with the capital repair backlog. This report is not dealing with capital repair funding and building reconstruction. The mandate of the report is to provide the board, the ministry and the parents in our communities with a realistic picture of the state of disrepair that plagues Toronto schools as a result of years of financial neglect in the areas of care taking and maintenance. This is the fifth edition of the TPN Health and Safety Report. After five years of producing this groundbreaking report, TPN has just one question. Given the overwhelming documented evidence of degradation and substandard conditions for our children and the workable, realistic solutions proposed by TPN in these reports, why have Premier McGuinty and former Education Minister Kennedy refused to help students? What We Found Because we do not always get every report for every school, and because we do not always get the same school reports year after year, there are small gaps in the data it is not always possible to report on the same schools each year. In order to overcome this, we have chosen to focus on those schools that are cited in one of the six infraction categories. As a result, only the most serious infractions are included in our sample. Since we see this year over 400 schools with serious infractions, we know very little has changed from last year. In comparing the 2006 findings to previous years, we continue to see overwhelming evidence of the continued, steady decline of maintenance to our schools. Year after year the same issues are cited: asbestos, mould, vermin, rotting windows, peeling plaster, falling ceiling tiles, broken doors, dirty bathrooms and more. This long-term state of decline and ongoing disrepair of our school buildings and the persistence of unhealthy learning conditions inside of our schools is most alarming. Despite continued claims by the Liberal Government that they are committed to improving our schools, very little if anything has changed when it comes to the health and safety aspects of the school buildings and playgrounds. However, our schools aren t just falling apart physically. The schools are becoming more and more dangerous with too few caretakers to maintain the most basic standards. Some schools have become places of high risk for fire, germ contamination and toxic air. Fire and Electrical Code violations put our children at risk in almost every school analyzed: broken, burned out or hidden fire exit signs; broken or blocked exit doors and outdated extinguishers are common across the system. There are serious public health concerns: schools without adequate hand wash signage; lack of soap or running water; broken toilets, sinks and hand dryers. Poor ventilation exposes our children to a myriad of germs and chemicals on a daily basis. Because these infractions are not being dealt with our children continue to live in these same deplorable conditions year after year. Many of our children don t know any other daily school experience. The message sent by Premier
6 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 5 McGuinty and Minister Kennedy is clear they want the public to see improved test scores in the newspaper but not what children and youth live with inside their school buildings. Infraction Categories In previous reports, we divided the health and safety infractions into four main categories Asbestos, Vermin, Mould, Heating Problems and Air Quality, Missing/Damaged Ceiling Tiles and Building Maintenance. Again this year, the frequency of infractions with regard to fire and electrical code violations remain alarmingly high. Eyewash stations also continue to be a problem in our high school science labs, shop rooms and dark rooms. The individual schools are listed in the Appendix and include the health and safety infractions for each school. TPN is considering adding a number of other categories for next year s report. Children are more susceptible to environmental pollutants than adults As is the case with prescription drugs and over the counter medication, the dose response relationship in a child s body is more pronounced than in a mature adult. Environmental pollutants such as chemicals, heavy metals, particulates, bacteria and fungi can cause reactions in children much sooner than in adults. Children s body mass, immature nervous system and immature immune system all contribute to higher susceptibility. A classic and documented example is lead exposure. Nervous system injury in a child exposed to lead is higher than in adults. Because a child s blood-brain barrier is not as well developed as that of an adult, a child will sustain brain damage while the adult exposed to the same amount of lead may have only peripheral nerve damage. Mould and chemical off-gassing exposure have the same affect. Permissible Exposure Limits for chemicals created for healthy adult factory workers in an 8-hour workday are not suitable for school environments with school age kids and day care pre-schoolers. The Occupational Health and Safety inspections are based on adult standards and regulations from the Ministry of Labour. These standards do not take into account exposure limits for children s body mass. The infractions listed below are considered unacceptable for adults and therefore have even graver implications for the health and well being of children. Recommendations at the end of the document are therefore provided that deal with health and safety standards and regulations for children.
7 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 6 Exposed Asbestos Basement Fan Room: hole found in asbestos riser pipe to humidifier tank in supply air system. TDSB Health and Safety Inspection Report, February Auditorium asbestos water damaged wall plaster falling in large amounts and paint peeling. TDSB Health and Safety Inspection Report, December Asbestos mainly affects the lungs and the membrane that surrounds the lungs. Breathing lower levels of asbestos may result in changes called plaques in the pleural membranes and can lead to a thickening of the pleural membrane that may restrict breathing. The World Health Organization has determined that asbestos is a human carcinogen. Cancer from asbestos does not develop immediately, but shows up after a number of years. Studies also suggest that breathing asbestos can increase chances of getting cancer in other parts of the body (stomach, intestines, esophagus, pancreas, and kidneys). Recent articles in the Globe and Mail have reported cases of adults diagnosed with mesothelioma, a painful cancer whose only known cause is contact with asbestos. These cases are alarming as the adults suffering from this cancer never worked with or near asbestos but their parents did. It is believed that, as children, these people were exposed to dust brought home on their parents clothing. If only trace amounts of asbestos dust inhaled by a child can cause cancer, this only serves to underscore its killing power. There are a number of types of asbestos that may appear in our schools. Spray-on asbestos is used on steel beams for fire prevention. This asbestos can deteriorate and fall on to ceiling tiles below the beams. If a tile breaks or falls off the ceiling, the asbestos on that tile can become airborne. Asbestos is also used with mud packing on plumbing. If the packing is damaged by a leaky roof, leaky pipe itself, or it tears millions of fibers can be released into the air which can be distributed over the building through the ventilation system. Regular maintenance of roofs, pipes and windows would prevent this from occurring. Damaged asbestos material on pipes, ceilings, and in ducts pose the greatest risk. For this reason we felt it prudent to include all cited incidents of exposed asbestos regardless of the location as once it is airborne, it is potentially dangerous to everyone. We found exposed asbestos in 14% (56 of 405) of the schools we reviewed. Mould Boys Gym Change Room: mould in showers. TDSB Health and Safety Inspection Report, December Second Floor Fan Rm: main supply duct is covered in black mould. TDSB Health and Safety Inspection Report, October Wet building materials and contaminated air conditioning systems can become breeding grounds for bacteria and fungi (mould).
8 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 7 Roof leaks, foundations cracks, plumbing leaks, appliance overflows, condensation as well as high relative humidity can introduce unwanted excessive moisture into a building. Cellulose building materials such as insulation, wood building products, carpeting, drywall, wallpaper, fabrics, dust, etc. will support mould growth if the conditions are right. If you water it it will grow. Any water event must be properly cleaned up within 24 hours to avoid mould growth. This is not possible in many schools due to low staffing levels. There are mould species that are non-toxic and there are mould species that are extremely toxic. Some moulds cause allergic reactions including hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic rhinitus and asthma. Certain moulds produce toxins (mycotoxins) as a by-product of living. Mould spores that have become non-viable (dead) due to the fact that they have dried out or have been killed by bleach or a biocide retain their mycotoxins. Dead mould spores when inhaled will cause the same health issues and allergic reactions as living mould spores. Reactions can include: sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, shortness of breath, dizziness, lethargy, fever, digestive problems, joint problems, lung damage, ocular disease, deafness, cancer, even death. Children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are particularly susceptible to these contaminants. Some common indoor moulds in water damaged buildings are: Stachybotrys sp. - Considerable recent media attention has been focused on the fungi Stachybotrys chartum due to infant deaths in Cleveland from pulmonary hemosiderosis which may be associated with contamination of residences with these fungi. Stachybotrys thrives on water damaged cellulose rich materials such as sheet rock, paper, ceiling tiles, cellulose containing insulation backing and wallpaper. The presence of this fungus in buildings is significant because of the mold s ability to produce mycotoxins, which are extremely toxic, such as Satratoxin H. Exposure to these toxins can occur through inhalation, ingestion or dermal exposure. Symptoms include dermatitis, cough, rhinitis, nose bleeds, a burning sensation in the mouth and nasal passage, cold and flu symptoms, headache, general malaise, and fever. Inhalation of conidia may also induce pathological changes (pneumomycotoxicoses). Stachybotrys, has been found growing in the Ontario school system. Penicillium sp. - A wide number of organisms belong to this genus. Often found in aerosol samples. It is commonly found in carpet, wallpaper, and in interior fiberglass duct insulation. Penicillium is reported to be allergenic (skin) and it may cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis and allergic alveolitis in susceptible individuals. It can cause other infections such as keratitis, penicilliosis, and otomycosis. Some species can produce mycotoxins including Ochratoxin which is damaging to the kidneys and liver and is also a suspected carcinogen; there is also evidence that impairs the immune system. Citrinin can cause renal damage, vasodilatation, and bronchial constriction. Gliotoxin is an immunosuppressive toxin and Patulin is believed to cause hemorrhaging in the brain and lungs and is usually associated with apple and grape spoilage. It can also cause extrinsic asthma.
9 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 8 Aspergillus versicolor. This fungus can be found in template climates air and house dust. This fungus can indicate signs of moisture problems in buildings and can be found in water damaged buildings materials. This species produces the mycotoxin, sterigmatocystin, which is toxic and carcinogenic. The fungus has a characteristic musty, earthy odor, often connected with moldy buildings and is the cause of eye, nose, and throat irritation. Everyone, from public health officials, building scientists to physicians agree that indoor mould is dangerous and must be cleaned up. No inspection, disinfection or removal should be done in occupied buildings. Disinfection with a mild bleach solution destroys only surface mould. Mould spores can be easily aerosolized from the area of infestation to non-affected areas. Improper inspection and/or removal of building materials suspected of mould growth can spread mould spores by the billions. Spread and/or settled spores can cause growth in other areas as well as dramatically increase the risk of mould spore inhalation or ingestion. Therefore removal of porous infected materials should be done with the same precautions and procedures as asbestos removal. All water sources/leaks must be fixed and adequate ventilation provided to keep humidity levels low enough to prevent future mould growth. Regardless of its location as, like asbestos, mould can travel through the air. It is prudent to say that you don t have to be sitting beside the mould in order to possibly breathe in the spores. We found signs of mould in 32% (130 of 405) of the schools we reviewed. Vermin (including rodents, raccoons, roaches, birds, ants) Outside Portable bugs coming in through heating vents in ceiling. TDSB Health and Safety Inspection Report, October Rm 02: Mice droppings falling from ceiling on to floor. TDSB Health and Safety Inspection Report, December Many vertebrate animals expose humans to dangerous pathogens that have public health significance. Mice are considered among the most troublesome vermin. Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a respiratory illness associated with breathing air contaminated with rodent urine and feces contaminated with Hantavirus particles. Symptoms include fever and aching large muscles in all cases and abdominal pain in about half of the cases. Coughing, shortness of breath, dizziness, and chills may also occur. Dermatitis caused by the bites of mites has been associated with mouse infestations. This uncomfortable skin irritation is frequently blamed on other causes (heat rash, allergies, fleas, and the like). Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis (Meningitis) is a virus infection of mice that may be transmitted to children through contaminated food or dust. Leptospirosis (or Weil's disease) is spread from mouse urine into water or food, entering humans through mucous membranes or minute cuts and abrasions of the skin. The disease may cause mild aches, pains, and fever. More serious cases can result in high fever, jaundice, aseptic meningitis, acute kidney failure and internal bleeding.
10 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 9 There are also some dangerous diseases attributed to birds. Because of this, it is important to keep rooftops and air and heating equipment bird free. Psittacosis (Parrot Fever) is a bacterial disease that affects more than 100 species of wild and domestic birds. In humans, Psittacosis signs and symptoms include: cough, chest pains, fever, chills, headache and muscle pain. Humans can contract the infection through even brief contact with bird feces or the dust that can be present with accumulates bird feces. This dust, which can remain infected for several months, may become airborne and can be inhaled. Treatment includes antibiotics. Cryptococcosis is a fungal disease transmitted to humans when they inhale organisms found in bird droppings, especially from pigeons. Playing, working or being near places where birds gather can put children at risk. The dried droppings from birds can become stirred up, creating an airborne dust that you can inhale. While most people are asymptomatic after contracting Cryptococcosis, some people notice: confusion, dizziness, headaches and sleepiness. Another disease transmitted by birds is Histoplasmosis. Histoplasmosis grows in the soil and material contaminated with bat and bird droppings. Spores become airborne when contaminated soil is disturbed. Breathing the spores causes the infection. While usually asymptomatic, Histoplasmosis can be severe and cause TB-like symptoms that require treatment with anti-fungal medication. There were numerous incidents of birds nesting in various parts of the schools and feces accumulating in playgrounds around the schools. We found vermin in 10% (42 of 405) of the schools we reviewed. Building Maintenance East Side Entrance Stairs: this area has broken and cracking cement stairs badly in need of repair trip hazard, fall hazard. TDSB Health and Safety Inspection Report, April Room 6: window falls down like a guillotine. TDSB Health and Safety Inspection Report, September Building maintenance is an ongoing, and in many schools, critical problem. Leaky roofs that do not get fixed continue to cause rotting and mould in ceilings, windows and on walls. Keeping up with regular maintenance is essential to keeping our schools safe and our children free from harm. Some of the maintenance issues we regularly encountered include: cracked/broken/leaky/rotting windows, loose railings on stairways, broken/cracked/crumbling concrete steps, falling and crumbling brick, holes in walls/ceilings/floors, leaky roofs, broken or missing radiator covers, cracked and heaving playground asphalt, broken doors that don t open/close properly, peeling paint and broken chairs/desks. We found 88% (358 of 405) of the schools we reviewed required building maintenance. Some of these infractions may be dealt with through capital repair money but the high number of infractions indicates that this may take years and the money may not be available for all projects. Those that are considered maintenance work are not being dealt with at all.
11 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 10 Safe Schools In June 2000, the previous Conservative Government passed the Safe Schools Act 2000 which they claimed was to help ensure that students would learn in safe and respectful environments. Boards were required to develop codes of conduct for their schools. According to the Education Act, the purposes of the codes of conduct were: 1. To ensure that all members of the school community, especially people in positions of authority, are treated with respect and dignity. 2. To promote responsible citizenship by encouraging appropriate participation in the civic life of the school community. 3. To maintain an environment where conflict and difference can be addressed in a manner characterized by respect and civility. 4. To encourage the use of non violent means to resolve conflict. 5. To promote the safety of people in the schools. 6. To discourage the use of alcohol and illegal drugs. Recently, the current Liberal Government announced a number of initiatives flowing from the Safe Schools Task Force designed to keep schools safe. Security measures and codes of conduct are fine things, but if doors are broken, or don t lock properly, or lights are out in hallways and stairwells, or there are very few adults supervising the premises, it can be hard to keep our schools safe. Site: rooms without Public Address make lockdowns an issue. TDSB Health and Safety Inspection Report, June 2005.
12 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 11 Fire and Electrical Code Violations The following rooms have fire exit signs that do not indicate one s location or give direction as to where fire exit doors are located: 200, 201, PCI, Board Rm, 202, 204, 211, 213, 207, 205, 217, 221, 226, 224, 223, 222, 220, 219, 218, 214, 206, 112, 109, 104, 103, 216, 225, 103. TDSB Health and Safety Inspection Report, December Rm 337: desk at back of class has water leaking inside by electrical cable. TDSB Health and Safety Inspection Report, April Every day our children go into schools with broken fire exit doors, missing or broken fire exit signs, improperly stored chemicals, frayed and exposed wires, daisy chained power bars and extension cords used for permanent wiring. They are regularly exposed to shock and fire hazards regardless of what school they go to. Of the schools reviewed, we conservatively estimate that 90% cited Fire and/or Electrical Code violations. Missing and Broken Eyewash Stations Rms 32, 34, 218, boiler room, lower boiler room, 4 - chemistry, 2 biology, 17 art/dark room, 13, 15: no eyewash stations present. Five of these are repeats (including the chemistry, biology and dark/art rooms) from 2005! TDSB Health and Safety Inspection Report, August Through our review it also became clear that few of our schools elementary and secondary had properly operating eyewash stations in areas where chemicals were in use. While fire and electrical hazards pose a tremendous risk to our children and can be found throughout most schools, missing/broken eyewash stations are a danger to the caretaker. The exception to this is when the eyewash stations are missing from science labs, chemistry labs, art rooms, dark rooms and shops where our children conduct experiments and engage in artistic/tech activities requiring use of chemicals. The lack of eyewash stations, mainly in the secondary schools was shocking. Outdated classrooms where chemistry labs are conducted do not have eyewash stations and the TDSB has never installed them. Darkrooms and art rooms where certain paints and chemicals are in use by the students either do not have eyewash stations or they are broken. Children working in shop classes also are at risk of serious or permanent eye damage without access to eyewash stations. Of the high schools reviewed, we conservatively estimate that 90% lack proper eyewash stations in classrooms where students work.
13 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 12 Broken or Missing Ceiling Tiles Boys washroom by Rm 311: water stained ceiling tile. 19 separate instances of missing, falling, stained or broken tiles were cited in one school. TDSB Health and Safety Inspection Report, August While missing ceiling tiles are a relatively simple maintenance issue, they are potentially very dangerous for fire safety reasons (loss of fire barrier) and potential asbestos exposure (see Asbestos section in this report for details of asbestos in ceilings). We found 50% (201 of 405) of the schools we reviewed showed signs of ceiling tile loss. Heating and Air Quality Air Handling Units all filters are completely clogged servicing req. TDSB Health and Safety Inspection Report, May Classrooms heating vents are filthy (return). TDSB Health and Safety Inspection Report, October When you can t breathe, nothing else matters is the slogan for the Lung Association and this helps highlight the importance of indoor air quality. According to the Lung Associations website, we now spend on average between % of our time indoors. However, the indoor air can be more polluted than the outdoor air if the building is not properly maintained. Our research has shown that this is true in some of our schools. Improperly stored chemicals and paints; kilns, laminators and darkrooms which are improperly vented, or not vented at all; moulds, fungi and asbestos particles; scents, dust, chalk dust, bleaches and other harsh cleaning products combined with oversized classes of students and poor ventilation all contribute to a polluted school environment. This year we chose to cite air quality infractions only when they were noted explicitly in the Health and Safety Inspection Reports. We did not cite anecdotal infractions of air quality (e.g. chalk dust, silica dust, dark room odours,, chemical odours in science labs, sawdust, chemical odours emanating from improperly vented storage cabinets, concerns over improperly vented rooms with laminating and copying machines and persistent occurring odours in washrooms). As a result, the overall number of infractions recorded for this Report are lower than Again this year we read of numerous examples of rugs so dirty that they pose a health hazard, and classrooms so filled with dust and other allergens that employees had to take allergy medication to function. This is of particular concern to anyone suffering from allergies and asthma, as too many allergens in the air can provoke an asthma attack any time. Furthermore, moulds can also adversely affect the health of non-allergic individuals. Prolonged exposure to mould in buildings may result in development of allergies, or Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis, which can result in permanent lung damage. A mycotoxic mould, Stachybotrys, has
14 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 13 been found growing in the Ontario school system. Inhalation of the spores containing the mycotoxins can produce cold and flu symptoms, sore throats, diarrhea, headaches, fatigue, and general malaise. In a document about portable air cleaning devices from the Citizens for a Safe Learning Environment, a Nova Scotia group, state: Research has suggested that schools tend to have poor indoor air quality (IAQ) for several reasons, including a concentration of classroom materials (such as art and science supplies), tight budgets that reduce maintenance, and because of high occupant density (approximately four times as many people as office buildings). There is much pollution-generating activity amongst these people, and often there are non-existent, outdated or poorly maintained mechanical ventilation systems. We found 20% of our schools (79 of 405) reported poor air quality or heating concerns. Note: TPN has lobbied the TDSB for several years to allow the Toronto Fire Services and Toronto Public Health into our schools for annual inspections. School buildings still are not inspected by Toronto Fire Services or Toronto Public Health.
15 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 14 Conclusions and Recommendations The steady deterioration of our schools coupled with a shocking amount of Electrical and Fire Code violations occurring in virtually every school has led TPN to develop several recommendations for the Government of Ontario as well as some actions and cautions for parents. Recommendations to the Government of Ontario The Occupational Health and Safety Act looks at the schools from a safety of employee s point of view. This is good, but it is clearly not enough. Our children constitute the majority of individuals in every school, yet they are not protected by the current Health and Safety legislation. We know that there are many health risks that effect children much more severely than adults. Children s bodies cannot tolerate adult toxic levels and they have to be protected with more stringent regulations. Small children, both at play and at work, are much closer to the ground where mouse droppings, bird droppings and other disease-carrying vermin are. In the event of a disaster, lock down or fire, our children become completely dependent on adults to be able to escort them safely out of the building. Some of the infractions we found would make it impossible for both adults and children to have a safe escape from danger in the event of an emergency. Many of the Fire and Electrical Code violations could be avoided if: a) the schools were inspected on a more frequent basis; and, b) the principals and teaching staff had WHMIS and other specific Health and Safety training. According to the Occupation Health and Safety Act the workplace should be inspected at least once a month. In some cases this may not be practical. For example, the workplace may be too large and complex to be inspected fully each month. The TDSB may be such a case, but the government and school board Facilities Departments should establish an inspection schedule that will ensure that at least part of the workplace is inspected each month and the entire workplace is inspected at least once a year. The TDSB is squeaking by with the bare minimum of inspections allowed by current legislation. Our report clearly demonstrates that this is not adequate. TPN also believes that work orders should be filled within a 30-day time period for serious infractions. Schools are very unique work sites. TPN can think of no other work place where the primary occupants are children and the sites are spread to all areas of the city. Children in our schools are not covered by the current Health and Safety legislation. It is imperative that children have legislation protecting them. Older students often engage at school in activities in their shop and science classes that closely mirror and resemble activities an employee would perform at the workplace, yet they do not receive the same protection an employee at the workplace does. TPN has issued four reports prior to this one and last year s report had specific, reasonable recommendations to the Ministry of Education. TPN met with Ministry staff that appeared to take the recommendations seriously but ultimately no action was taken. If our schools continue to crumble, if our caretaker compliment does not increase, if there is not serious funding introduced to bring our schools back up to a safe and acceptable level, it is just a matter of time before there is a terrible tragedy. Any reasonable person would agree that a broken exit door is a tragedy waiting to happen. With the current state of some of our schools, it is not a question of if it is going to happen, but rather when a tragedy will occur from a fire exit that will not open.
16 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 15 The Toronto Parent Network therefore repeats its 2005 recommendations to the government, as follows: 1. That the Minister responsible acknowledge the unique work space of the school in Ontario and immediately amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act to set health and safety standards that are appropriate for their primary clientele, namely, children; and that any changes in the Occupational Health and Safety Act are given corresponding reference in the Education Act. We are also calling for more frequent Health and Safety Inspections of schools across the province. 2. That the Minister responsible, as a logistical and financial consideration for the increase of frequency of Health and Safety Inspections, consider mandatory training for Principals and Chief Caretakers which would qualify them to conduct monthly inspections of their schools. 3. That, in the promotion of an atmosphere of overall safety in our schools, the Minister responsible amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act to make Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) training mandatory for Principals and designated teachers in our schools. 4. That the Minister responsible immediately direct capital funding for major maintenance and improvements to schools to repair the buildings so they will meet the Fire Code, the Electrical Code and the standards required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. 5. That the Minister responsible immediately announce a process to develop health and safety standards for children and youth in order to protect and care for their physical well-being within public schools and to embed these standards in the Education Act. Enforcement of these standards could be done in cooperation with Public Health Units and Fire Services. [Given the lack of action over that past year, we recommend that such a process be concluded in time for the next provincial budget so that funding will flow for the 2007/2008 school year.] 6. That the Minister responsible immediately review and revise the section of the funding formula that funds operations and maintenance. This revision should eliminate the artificial designation of maintenance and operations as a non-classroom expenditure. The revision must consider funding operations and maintenance based on the newly created health and safety standards set by the government rather than on a per square foot basis.
17 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 16 Recommendations to Parents If your school appears anywhere on this list, you should contact your principal to determine what has been fixed and what still needs to be dealt with. Suggest that your School Council arrange to receive all health and safety documents from the principal and establish a Health and Safety subcommittee to follow up on outstanding issues. Write to the Minister of and the Minister of Education, Sandra Pupatello and demand that the Occupational Health and Safety Act be revised, a health and safety standard for public schools be developed and that the funding formula be revised to fund the maintenance of these standards (see government recommendations above). Contact your local MPP and insist that the provincial government pay the full cost of maintaining our schools and invest in keeping our schools healthy and safe. Become involved in reporting your school to Toronto Public Health if: issues on the H&S reports are not being addressed toilets are in disrepair or are unclean; bathrooms are unsanitary: dirty sinks, inadequate toilet paper, no soap or drying appliance/materials pests (mice, insects) are spotted you are concerned about air or water quality floors, stairs or landings are unsafe because of garbage, snow (or melted snow), damage snow and ice are not removed to allow safe passage into schools within 24 hours of accumulation eye-wash stations are not working Toronto Public Health s mandate is to investigate all complaints raised by parents. Call: Report your school to the fire safety department when: fire doors/exits are blocked or inoperable emergency lights are not on fire-extinguishers are inoperable stairwells are being used for storage ceiling tiles are missing extension cords are being used as permanent wiring in classrooms (a new electrical outlet costs approximately $12) electrical outlets are broken/taped radiators are broken chemicals/combustibles are unsafely stored burn-marks appear from arcing electricity (yes, this is happening in our schools!) if you have concerns about ongoing health issues for your child
18 Health, Safety and Learning: Schools in Crisis Page 17 The numbers to call for fire safety are: * or 9151(North) * or 9251(East) * or 9351 (South) * or 9451 (West) Insist that the school be inspected and then someone call you back with a report on what has been done. Then write us and let us know. You can use our function on our website at Within some schools, problems cited on reports have been taken care of quickly. However, in many more schools there has been no follow-up to indicate clearly if the problems have been resolved. The Toronto Parent Network is always available to support you and find ways to address the problem. If you believe or learn that your child is suffering due to health and safety conditions at her/his school, please do the following: 1) track symptoms and exposure; 2) talk to other parents in your child s class/school; 3) work with your family physician to address the concern (see below); 4) contact TPN so that we can add you to our database for possible future action. Finally, see medical advice if your child experiences the following symptoms on an ongoing basis: dermatitis, cough, rhinitis, nose bleeds, a burning sensation in the mouth and nasal passage, cold and flu symptoms, headache, general malaise, asthma, eye, nose, and throat irritation, aching large muscles, abdominal pain, coughing, shortness of breath, dizziness, chills, mild aches, pains, and fever.