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Table of Contents   
ORIGINAL ARTICLE  
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 580-585
Potential safety risks in schools: Ensuring the safety of our precious ones


1 Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Malaysia
2 Department of Community Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Universiti Putra (UPM), 43400 Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia

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Date of Web Publication21-Aug-2017
 

   Abstract 

The school has become an inextricable part of the modern society throughout the world and especially in Malaysia. During the weekdays, schools are typically a hive of activities where the adults (teachers and other workers) and children (students) interact with each other daily. Schools often maintain a low-risk level of safety and health. Schools have potential variety of risk and hazards (physical and social) that can negatively affect the wellbeing and health of the people. The Malaysian Department of Safety and Health (DOSH) have issued the Hazard Identification, Risk Assessment and Risk Control (HIRARC) for identifying the risk elements during usual and special operations and to predict the likelihood and severity in workplaces. This study was carried out to identify all the factors and hazards that may cause harm to occupant of a selected school in the state of Selangor, Malaysia. An assessment was carried out to consider the chances of that harm befalling anyone in the circumstances of a particular case and the possible severity of the outcome to enable school administrators to plan, introduce, and monitor preventive measures to ensure that the risks are adequately controlled at all times. The HIRARC assessment on the selected school identified that physical hazard has the highest frequency, followed by ergonomic, biological, chemical, and psychosocial hazards. The kitchen, science laboratory, and toilet are the areas that have higher potential for accident to happen. Although in terms of risk, most of the hazards are categorized under medium followed by low risk, but none of hazards are categorized under the high-risk group. There is a critical need to ensure that the school environment is constantly kept safe and healthy to ensure that the process of lifelong building of knowledge and practices can be sustained for the future of the nation.

Keywords: Children, HIRARC, Malaysia, School,

How to cite this article:
Sambasivam S S, Karuppiah K, Subramaniam K, Praveena SM, Abidin EZ. Potential safety risks in schools: Ensuring the safety of our precious ones. Ann Trop Med Public Health 2017;10:580-5

How to cite this URL:
Sambasivam S S, Karuppiah K, Subramaniam K, Praveena SM, Abidin EZ. Potential safety risks in schools: Ensuring the safety of our precious ones. Ann Trop Med Public Health [serial online] 2017 [cited 2019 May 23];10:580-5. Available from: http://www.atmph.org/text.asp?2017/10/3/580/213179

   Introduction Top


In the developing world, education is the mechanism for economic mobility. School has become an inextricable part of the modern society throughout the world and especially in Malaysia.[1] Parents send their children to schools with the noble aspirations that their children will have a better financial security and future compared to them.[2] The schooling period is very important for the development of the child's personality and emotional, social, and cognitive abilities. Developed nations have long acknowledged that a good foundation early in life is the stepping stone in ensuring world-class societies of the future.[3] Schools are highly significant to young people's developing knowledge and practices that they will take into adulthood.[4]

The daily interaction of the noble work of teaching and the equally important act of learning have to always take place in a safe and secure environment.[5] In the last few years, the aspect of safety has been growing in importance in the social context where there has been a growing concern for the prevention of potential dangerous situation for people. The education sector needs a guaranteed safety requirement on a constant basis. A lot of different groups of people spend a majority of their time in schools. These include teachers, administrators, students (children), and other support staff. Schools are often classified as low-risk level facilities. Despite this, schools have potential variety of risk and hazards (physical and social) that can negatively affect the wellbeing and health of the people due to the high occupancy of the school during learning hours and a variety of activities that are always going on in the school for a specific period of time. The need for a quick alertness when any dangerous situation arises in schools mandates the need to take preventative measures to ensure that there are no lasting regrets later.[6],[7]

To systematically analyze the risks in occupational safety and health, it is absolutely necessary to have a form of safety management system in place. A policy where there is the identification and evaluation of major hazards is required in order to implement the steps necessary for identifying the risk elements during a typical or special operation and to predict the likelihood and severity of the outcome. The safety management system involves choosing risk analysis methods and their outcome in terms of frequency of occurrence and extent of consequences.[6],[8]

Hazard Identification, Risk Assessment and Risk Control (HIRARC) is a set of guidelines that has been adopted by the Department of Safety and Health (DOSH), Malaysia, meant to be adapted by organizations. The HIRARC model is made up a series of comprehensive phases for the purpose of identification of hazards, assessment of risk, and the determination of control measures for the implementation of safety and health elements in the operations (as shown in [Figure 1]).[8],[9] It has to be noted that the HIRARC models are widely used by private organizations and companies. Schools, however, do not have a system such as HIRARC currently.
Figure 1: Flowchart of HIRARC process (source: [9])

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Hazard identification was developed as a process to identify all the probable situations or areas in the workplace where people might get exposed to disease, injury, or illnesses. Risk assessment is the process undertaken to determine the likelihood that people may be exposed to disease, injury, or illnesses in the workplace that may come about from any of the situation identified during the hazard identification process. Risk control is the process undertaken to identify all practicable measures for reducing or even eliminating the likelihood of disease, injury, or illnesses in the workplace, to implement those measures or steps, and to continually review them to ensure their effectiveness.[10],[11]&& Risk assessment is to determine which hazards are more serious than others so that people in charge can start dealing with those ones first. To assess the risk associated with hazards, people in charge have to identify and then ask questions about the severity of the possible injury and the probability that it could happen.[8],[9]

An important factor of risk assessment is the identification of existing hazards, evaluating the probability or chance of occurrence, and recommending relevant controls.[8],[9] [Figure 2] shows the interventions that can be implemented according to the respective risk ratings.
Figure 2: HIRARC control pyramid (Source:[9])

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The safety solutions have to be reviewed regularly to make sure that they are effective and to check that the controls do not introduce new hazards. It has to be noted that the school physical facilities, including school grounds and buildings, could pose safety problems to the occupants.[5] To prevent potential dangerous situations in schools, safety conditions should be considered in all the aspects including the school physical environment (building, playgrounds, equipments, and surroundings) and the social environment (quality of relationships).[6],[7]

Objective

This study was carried out to identify all the factors and hazards that may cause harm to occupant of a selected school in the state of Selangor, Malaysia. An assessment was carried out to consider the chances of that harm befalling anyone in the circumstances of a particular case and the possible severity of the outcome to enable school administrators to plan, introduce, and monitor preventive measures to ensure that the risks are adequately controlled at all times.


   Subjects and Methods Top


The HIRARC assessment is carried out by first identifying main location or work activity of the selected school. In total, 10 areas were chosen to conduct the HIRARC assessment. The chosen areas were the kitchen, canteen, science laboratory, computer lab, library, pedestrian road, store room, and the toilet. Consultations or discussions with employer representatives, which include teachers, and worker representatives, such as cleaner and canteen workers, were then carried out. After that, the process of identifying hazards, risk assessment, and preparation of risk control was performed. The implementation of control measures will depend on the school management and a review of HIRARC will be done periodically when necessary.


   Results Top


As shown in [Figure 3], the physical hazard recorded the highest frequency of 56% followed by ergonomic (21%), biological (12%), chemical (8%), and psychosocial (3%).
Figure 3: Categories of hazards and its frequency

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As shown in [Figure 4], the location which has the highest potential of accidents are kitchen with 24%, followed by lab science (17%), toilet (14%), computer laboratory (13%), and canteen and library (11%), and lastly pedestrian road and store room both with a value of 5%.
Figure 4: Concerned school area and their frequency of hazards

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As shown in [Figure 5], the value of medium risk is the highest with a frequency of 46 or 53%, and second highest value is low risk with a frequency of 41 or percentage of 47%. None of the hazards at the school were rated as high risk, and high risk does not contribute to the accidents in the school.
Figure 5: Categories of risk and their frequency

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   Discussion Top


In the developed world, it is now being accepted that in order to have a completely safe school, it is a necessity to deal with not only possible anthropogenic dangers (such as fires, accidents, or criminal attacks) and natural dangers (earthquakes), but also other types of geo-hydrologic processes (e.g., floods, landslides, eruptions, and tsunamis) that can be problematic in terms of victims, injuries, or psychological consequences (causing shocks or discourages the victims in the future).[12]

As shown in [Figure 3],[Figure 4],[Figure 5], the highest values of hazards recorded attributed to physical hazards, followed by ergonomic, biological, chemical, and psychosocial hazards. The physical hazard had the highest value due to many factors. The main factor was that there were many vehicles moving around within the school area, especially at the time when children started and finished their school hours. Besides, the school areas also contributed to accidents: for example, construction materials lying around which are not properly seal and the uneven or slippery floor surfaces that could result in an accident. There were a lot of sharp objects or part of it existing within the school premises. These included laboratory apparatus, window, cooking apparatus, and sharp edges, such as table and sports utilities. The school physical facilities have to be maintained in good working order at all time by the school and its governing body.[5] This will be further explored in the recommendation section.

The second highest hazard recorded was the ergonomic hazard as many work activities in the school were performed repetitively: for example, the repeatedly lifting objects such as reams of papers, books, and heavy files from their vehicles to the classrooms by teachers. Other than that, taking these aforementioned objects at higher location (classrooms on the higher floors) could probably cause back problems. Some of the books were located at top of the book shelves that were too high for the students. This could potentially cause neck pain when the students were reaching for the books. The design of the chair or stools was also categorized under ergonomic hazard since the design of stools in the laboratory did not have backrest to support the lumbar region and upper back of body which can potentially initiate the lower back pain.

Biological hazard was the third highest type of hazards. Majority of these types of hazards came from the canteen area due to the preparation of food from the raw food items. There were possibilities of bacterial infection due to poor hygienic practice. Flies, cockroaches, mice, and other insects were found especially in dirty and messy area. Previous studies have already shown that dangerous animals such as snakes have been found in other school yards and fields areas before.[13] As such natural biological hazards should not be overlooked in schools.

The next hazard is the chemical hazard, which was ranked fourth. The physical areas of concern for chemical hazards include the canteen, kitchen, and the science laboratory. The cleaning process which was undertaken daily in the canteen exposed the canteen workers, teachers, and students who ate there daily to chemicals such as detergents through contact with humans skin and possibly also through inhalation.

The last type of hazard contributor was psychosocial hazard which was slightly difficult to access. In this assessment, the areas included were the kitchen, canteen, and science laboratory. The psychosocial hazard issues identified were cooking in hot conditions, the need for queueing a long time, and cluttered workplaces. There have numerous reported cases of other types of psychosocial hazards affecting other schools in Malaysia since the 1980s. The incidences of mass hysteria have been reportedly increasing as well. In April of 2016, a school in Kelantan reported a serious case of mass hysteria that has taken a long time to calm down. This case has made the news worldwide as well.[14]

In terms of locations or areas with the highest number of hazards, the top three locations were the kitchen, science laboratory, and toilet. The kitchen has the highest number of hazards as the kitchen workers were exposed to various types of hazards such as hot working conditions, lifting heavy objects, contact with chemicals (detergents), contact with slippery surfaces, using sharp tools and objects, and biological threat. The science laboratory exposed the teacher and students to hazards such as chemicals reagents during experiments. Despite this, physical hazards are still the main hazards which could possibly contribute to accidents followed by ergonomic, biological, chemical, and lastly psychosocial hazards.

The toilet recorded the third highest number of hazards due to the physical, biological, and ergonomic factors. The physical factors include slippery surface, tripping at the entry door, and hitting the sharp edges of a broken door. The biological hazards include formation of mold and bacteria which could probably cause respiratory problems for humans. Ergonomic issues also existed, such as poor lighting, sinks which were slightly high for the children, and poor ventilation inside the toilet.

A risk can be categorized into three components, namely low, medium, and high. Medium risk hazards recorded the highest frequency, followed by low risk and high risk. Medium risk is a type of risk which requires a planned approach to controlling the hazards and applies a temporary measure if required. Actions taken must be documented on the risk assessment form including data for completion. Low risk is a risk which is acceptable and further reduction may not be necessary. On the other hand, high risk requires immediate action to control the hazards as detailed in the hierarchy of control which are elimination, substitution, isolation, engineering, administrative, and personal protective equipment. Students spend their time in schools for at least 6 hours or more; thus, school-based interventions are expected to reach many children quickly where by school settings harbor powerful social networks, improving the circulation of key trends and messages that needs to be get across even though it concerns the safety and health of the school itself.[15]

Recommendation

During the weekdays, children spend a substantial amount of time in schools. Hence, it is essential that the safety and health conditions in schools are suitable for children and adults alike.[16] Due to the government's budget which has to be spread across thousands of schools, one suggestion is that the school administrators and management could carry out fundraising in order to maintain school buildings and grounds. Government should ensure, by means of inspection control, that requirements set by legislation are dealt with by the administrators and that they are in place.[5]

Since a lot of the hazards exist within the school area, the recommended control measures are based on the risk rating given in the HIRARC form. Top priority will be given to the highest risk rating. For the hazard of potentially being hit or struck by vehicles, the control should be done to ensure the safety of students coming and leaving after the school sessions. One practical solution is to ensure that the speed limit inside the school area is restricted to 25 km/h. It is suggested to install speed humps at strategic areas to ensure that all the vehicles moving in and out are driving at a low speed of 25 km/h.

When there are construction or renovation works ongoing in the schools, everybody in the school should be properly notified and signage should be installed inside the school. The work area should be isolated from students using barrier tapes to ensure that children do not play in the work areas. The electric wires running on the floor should be properly insulated with plastic pipes or even just by putting silo tape to ensure that it is not freely moving and causes the risk of tripping or electrocuted. All jobs involving manual handling should always be supervised. In the kitchen, the use of assisting tools such as trolleys to help lifting heavy loads is recommended. All food, cooking utensils, kitchen wares should be relocated to a higher place so that it is easier to reach for the kitchen workers when carrying out cooking works. The same should be applied to the libraries as well, which should relocate all books at lower reaching shelves which are easily reachable by the children. The design of the chairs or stools in the science laboratory can cause back pain if the students were seated for long continuous period of time. Thus, it is recommended that the stools are substituted with stools or chairs that have backrest support. Sharp objects are another big issue since it can cause small injuries and even large injuries. All sharp objects should be handled with proper care such as knives, spoons, and forks. Tables which have sharp edges should be smoothened to avoid risk of hitting any untoward incidences.

The Malaysian government has to prioritize improvements that are beneficial to the people in its aspirations to attain developed nation status in just a few years' time. The efforts being carried out currently probably need a re-focus and possible revision to ensure that the physical school environments are always safe and healthy for the young ones.[3] In order for the children to develop normally and optimally, going forward, it is crucial for the government to ensure that the design of schools must serve as a place or platform for children of all ages to develop and hone their skills where the design of the schools should help children to achieve their maximum potential in the future.[3] Ensuring a safe and healthy environment for the children and adults alike in schools is a complex task requiring high attention from all stakeholders involved as a safe and healthy environment is critical in influencing the academic outcomes and the integral education and development of students. Furthermore, if these students study daily in a space in good physical condition, in a healthy environment where respect toward all the physical and social aspects are the basis of any activity, the development of the preventive culture will eventually be favored.[6]


   Conclusion Top


The HIRARC assessment on the selected school identified that physical hazard is the highest followed by ergonomic, biological, chemical, and psychosocial hazard. The kitchen, science laboratory, and toilet are the areas which have higher potential for accident to happen. Although in terms of risk, a majority of the hazards are categorized under medium followed by low risk, none of hazards are categorized under the high-risk group. There is a critical need to ensure that the school environment is constantly kept safe and healthy to ensure that the process of lifelong building of knowledge and practices can be sustained for the future of the nation.

Acknowledgments

The authors are thankful to the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Universiti Putra Malaysia, for their support and guidance in preparing this article. The contents of this article are solely the responsibility of the authors.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

 
   References Top

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Bernama. Snakes Look for Shade in Open Premises Such as Schools and Parks During Hot Weather. 2016. Available from: http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v8/ge/newsgeneral.php?id=1238350.  Back to cited text no. 13
    
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Arnold J, Bruce-Low S, Henderson S, Davies J. Mapping and evaluation of physical activity interventions for school-aged children. Public Health 2016.  Back to cited text no. 15
    
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Van Kann DHH, Kremers SPJ, De Vries NK, De Vries SI, Jansen MWJ. The effect of a school-centered multicomponent intervention on daily physical activity and sedentary behavior in primary school children: The Active Living study. Prev Med 2016;89:64-9.  Back to cited text no. 16
    

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Correspondence Address:
Karmegam Karuppiah
Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), 43400 Serdang, Selangor
Malaysia
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ATMPH.ATMPH_81_17

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