Published in the October 2014 NJEA Review
by Frances Gilmore
Do you suspect the presence of mold in your workplace? Have you come across exposed wiring or other hazards? Carefully documenting such concerns can lead to an effective response.
Meticulous documentation and reporting of health and safety hazards and incidents is essential to success with health and safety problems.
In 2012 the Health and Safety Committee (HSC) of the Pine Hill Education Association carefully documented an array of specific problems and desired solutions. They won a groundbreaking resolution: “All projects in the district that could affect the health and safety of employees or students must be shown to the Health and Safety Committee before beginning, and contractors and subcontractors must be identified.” The latter provision allowed NJEA staff to vet the contractors. The superintendent signed off on the resolution, and has been cooperative in getting problems fixed.
In the same year, the Lindenwold Education Association—after carefully collecting records of years of unaddressed or insufficiently addressed requests for repair—won a massive repair of building leaks from the roof and plumbing as well as from underground water sources.
In 2009, the Pinelands Education Association brought careful documentation associating member symptoms with an improperly vented sewage digester. They won restoration of more than 16 sick days to three staff members, and employees were referred to an occupational physician at the occupational health clinic at UMDNJ in Piscataway.
The same strategy can work in your local association when you have symptoms that seem to be associated with your work area; you observe mold, exposed wiring, or other hazards; or there is an accident or incident such as a flood, spill, fire, explosion or violence.
When you discover such a problem, you should document the condition or event and discuss it with your local association president and your UniServ field representative. The local association in turn can be most effective if it has an HSC to document symptoms, hazards and events, discover historic problems, formulate proposed solutions and bring them to administration.
Value of a Health and Safety Committee
Steps for health and safety committees
While good documentation is the key to success, the HSC can work to ensure an orderly process and informed members. It can carefully document problems and serve as an efficient channel between members and administration. The HSC can play a key role instigating quick responses to health and safety problems and incidents following these steps:
The collective bargaining agreement can provide a framework for an HSC with negotiated provisions for:
To understand which state and federal agencies have responsibility for which hazards, visit the website, www.state.nj.us/health/healthyschools, which links to state and federal agencies and advocacy groups. It provides a wealth of online resources for parents, students, staff, architects, contractors and anyone concerned with school health and safety.
The NJEA Health and Safety Manual contains the following forms, among others, that can be used as templates for local associations to develop their own documents:
NJEA Sample Survey Forms
NJEA School Health and Safety Checklists
The manual also has sample request letters for NJOSH 300 Log of Injuries and Illnesses, NJOSH 301 Incident Reports, Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health (PEOSH) inspection records and the school’s Right to Know Survey.