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How contractors, Philly school district can stop botching repairs

The Philadelphia school district can protect its students by holding contractors to account for failing to follow federal safety rules.

At Philadelphia schools, major construction jobs and environmental cleanups occur during the school year without proper oversight, putting children at risk.

Here are some simple precautions that the School District of Philadelphia can take to better protect students and avoid the kinds of mistakes outlined in the accompanying story, "Botched Jobs."

•Hold contractors to account if they fail to follow City of Philadelphia and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) control measures that require them to control and collect dust during brick work. Grinding out mortar can send up dust containing silica, which can cause serious lung diseases when inhaled.

•Make certain painters are certified and trained on federal Environmental Protection Agency rules for lead-paint remediation in schools. The EPA's Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule, for instance, requires that no dust or debris be left behind after the job is done.

•School district maintenance managers and supervisors in its Office of Environmental Management and Services (OEMS) should work together to craft health-and-safety plans for environmental cleanups, including lead-paint repairs.

•The district should assign an environmental expert to be on-site to monitor the work during all construction jobs. This person should make certain repairs follow workplace and environmental safety rules. For example, making sure generators used during construction are not put near windows or air intake vents.

•The Philly Healthy Schools Initiative has also come up with ways to make district schools safer and healthier for children. Some of its ideas can be found at its website.

— Barbara Laker