School Safety News – October 2009


H1N1 Mitigation Update — Be Careful with Hand Sanitizers

Schools are cautioned to establish guidelines in the storage, distribution, and use of hand sanitizers

Hand sanitizers in schools pose little-known risks for students.

By WILIAM J. SMITH
Managing Director, AmericanSchoolSafety.com, LLC

We recently received an email from the parent of a kindergarten student who reported that her child was hospitalized due to the effects of alcohol intoxication after ingesting a small quantity of liquid hand sanitizer distributed at her school.

While at first skeptical of the report, we verified the claim; determined that other similar incidents had occurred; and subsequently reviewed news articles from media as well as medical authorities in two mid-western states.

To heighten our concerns about this subject even further, reports have surfaced of some students in high schools intentionally squirting hand sanitizer gel from school supplied dispensers into soda cans or water bottles or by refilling their own empty hand sanitizer squeeze bottle containers with vodka in an effort to ‘get high’.

Hand sanitizer dispensers have become a commonplace fixtures within hospitals, nursing homes and medical offices during the past 20 years; where usage of the product allows for quick and effective cleansing that kills many bacteria and virus germs on contact.

The Center for Disease Control has published guidelines for educators, parents and health providers (www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu) to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus and other influenzas. The CDC recommends school-based instruction be implemented for hand hygiene that includes instruction on frequent hand washing with soap and water as well as the use of hand sanitizers as a preventive measure in our schools. These gel products generally contain a minimum of 60 percent Isopropyl or Ethyl alcohol although some non-alcohol based sanitizers are available, which reportedly are less effective in killing the H1N1 bacteria.

Since there are well documented and potential dangers associated with the unsupervised use and ineffective monitoring of hand sanitizers in schools, we suggest the following measures…”

Given that the predominant active ingredient in most hand sanitizers is alcohol and therefore classified as a flammable material by OSHA; schools must be careful to observe and comply with these laws and regulations as well as State and Local Fire Safety standards for the safe handling, storage, and use of these products at their facilities. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are available from various manufacturer’s of these products and generally available online. Importantly, a Spill Plan must also be considered to address accidental or incidental discharge of the gel, especially near and around automated dispensers in hallways or cafeterias to mitigate the potential for slips and falls.

We believe that educators need to be mindful that any product introduced to the school environment be carefully vetted for any potential adverse usage or consequential effects.

Since there are well documented and potential dangers associated with the unsupervised use and ineffective monitoring of hand sanitizers in schools, we suggest the following measures be implemented to address this issue:

  • Establish standards of care and use of hand sanitizers with School District’s Medical Director, using specific ‘best practices’ from State, County or local health departments. Include emergency contact numbers of all medical first responders and the local Poison control hotline.
  • Insure adherence to all Fire Safety Standards with local, County or State Fire officials in the storage of bulk quantities of these products, especially at schools.
  • Adhere to applicable OSHA codes concerning use of these products and, in particular, address same within each school’s site based Spill Plan.
  • Download specifically used hand sanitizer brand product MSDS sheets. Post at each site within the school’s MSDS binder.
  • Provide leadership in development of lesson plans that include specific adopted protocol for the use of hand sanitizers in your schools as approved by the Board of Education, Administration and prevailing medical authority.
  • Discourage intentional abuse of hand sanitizers by monitoring use and limiting access in non-supervised areas or classrooms.

Please contact us if you have other suggestions or practical applications that may be useful to our members and schools in reducing exposures to the H1N1 flu and other viruses by emailing us at: info@americanschoolsafety.com.

AmericanSchoolSafety.com will continue to provide useful recommendations that should diminish safety and security vulnerabilities as they are implemented, but this result cannot be assured; we cannot guarantee that a safety or security incident in your institution could not occur.

For additional information contact American School Safety: 866-531-6560 or click here to contact us today.

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