Tips to Make a Facility Safer

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Beth A. Swagman, Director of Safe Church Ministry, wrote an article with tips to make churches and facilities safer in her book Preventing Child Abuse: Creating a Safe Place.

Facility Changes for the Protection of Youth

 Bathrooms:

  • Bathrooms with 2-3 stalls are preferable over single-stall bathrooms because of the option of leaving the door slightly ajar and still maintaining privacy.
  • Classrooms or activity rooms for the youngest children should be in closest proximity to the bathrooms.
  • A single commode bathroom within a nursery is advisable so that volunteers don’t need to take children out for toileting.  The door of a bathroom located in the nursery should be fitted with the top to swing open.  Toileting is supervised when open; privacy is maintained when the top is closed.
  • A changing table for infants should be inside the nursery.  This makes supervision simple and requests for assistance easily met.
  • Multiple-stall bathrooms located near the nursery can be fitted with a bar that prevents the door from closing completely or a rubber stop used to keep the door slightly ajar. 
  • Always consider local fire and safety codes – the bathroom door located on a fire-rated corridor may or may not be propped open depending on the code in that location.

Classrooms:

  • All classrooms doors should be fitted with a safety-glass insert so that the activity can be monitored without disrupting the class.  The lower edge of the glass should be even with the door handle. The glass insert should not be covered or fitted with a curtain when minors are using the room.  This is true even when audio/visual equipment is being used and room-darkening is preferred.
  • When safety-glass inserts are used, it may not allow for a complete view of the room.  In that case, place concave mirrors in a corner of the room to allow for a complete view of the classroom.
  • Classrooms should be designed so that the volunteer is fully visible from the safety-glass insert.  Also, storage units should not obstruct the view of the room from the glass insert; nor should they create pockets or crannies that hide activity or people.
  • Classrooms should not be fitted with locks unless security is a concern.  In that case, classrooms should be locked when not in use. 
  • Classrooms that are locked should be fitted with lever handles and a lock set that allows young children to manipulate the lock and the door handle.
  • Classrooms should be grouped together; a classroom off by itself should be monitored or led by two leaders.
  • Follow local fire and safety codes that specify whether the classroom door should swing out and whether room capacity requires one door or two.

Nursery:

  • A safety-glass insert should be installed in the door and concave mirror used if need be.
  • A roll-up may be installed between the counter top and the bulkhead or ceiling.
  • A two-way mirror can be placed in the nursery so that parents can observe the children without the children knowing the parents are there.
  • A door with swing-open top makes handy access for parents and attendants.  The bottom half can remain closed for the protection of the children while the top half is open for parents to drop off children and pick them up.
  • When more than one nursery room is needed, it is ideal if they can be located next to each other and share facilities.  A two-way mirror can be installed between the two rooms; or, a glass window can be installed between the two rooms.  Similarly, a walkie-talkie or intercom system can be set up to assist attendants in a time of crisis.
  • Periodically, the toys, games, and equipment should be cleaned and checked for safety. 
  • Stock a first aid kit in the nursery room; post basic first aid tips; and make first aid training available for all volunteers and staff working with youth.
  • A telephone or paging system could be set up in the nursery to call for emergency assistance.

 Staff and Volunteer Offices:

  • The office doors should be fitted with a safety-glass insert.  The insert should not be obstructed.
  • Place the furniture in the office so that the staff or volunteer faces the door.  The staff or volunteer should be visible at all times from the insert.
  • The office should be fitted with chairs rather than couches.
  • If the organization has several offices, group them together.  Offices should not have egress to the outside; exiting to a common area is preferred.  Offices should not be located in the basement or down isolated corridors.

Storage Closets and Maintenance Rooms- Implement one or more of the following: 

  • Closet doors and doors into maintenance rooms remain locked when church programs are in session.
  • Doors should be fitted with a lock set that allows young children to manipulate the lock and the door handle from within.
  • If building regulations permit, fit the doors with a safety-glass insert.
  • Convert to swipe cards to unlock these rooms.  Swipe cards are easier to track and harder to copy.  Keep a list of who has a swipe card.

Exits:

  • Limit the number of open access points to the building during program hours.  Limit access from the outside to doors that are closest to the classrooms or where the youngest children meet.
  • Fit doors to the outside with bar locks that allow for easy opening from the inside while locked to outside traffic.
  • Lock exits near restrooms and classrooms during program times. They, too, should be fitted with a bar lock for easy egress.
  • Exits that are not primarily used for access to or egress from the building should remain locked at all times and fitted with a bar lock for ease of exiting from within - especially if the door is used as a fire exit or used in case of emergencies.

Disabilities:

In addition to fire and safety codes and building regulations, non-profit organizations must also follow state or provincial statutes that govern the use of facilities by persons with a disability. 

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