board members feel obligated to
demonstrate responsiveness to their
Media. Reporters may seek to assess
whether the situation is newsworthy.
They are typically interested in getting
quick access to credible information,
usually under deadline.
District administration. Risk managers
and maintenance directors are most frequently tasked with resolving IEQ issues.
They must balance the concerns of all
stakeholders and address issues such as
workers’ compensation claims, litigation,
insurance claims and tightening budgets.
A school district will often engage an IH
to tackle the technical aspects of environmental contaminants. However, when
starting an investigation, it is often most
beneficial for IHs to establish the parameters surrounding occupant factors first.
Determining the pool of concerned occupants and stakeholders, the history of past
problems and how they were handled, the
degree of outrage, as well as the nature of
symptoms and concerns help clarify how
an issue should be engaged. Will it involve a quick site visit with one or two
individuals, or a more involved process of
communication and investigation? Defining the role of the IH is imperative. Issues
are often more effectively resolved when
the IH serves not only as technical expert,
but as lead communicator and manager
of the resolution process.
The Power of Communication
In resolving IEQ issues in schools, the IH’s
ability to connect with stakeholders is
often more powerful than technical
prowess. Understanding situations from
the occupants’ perspective is key. Frequently, occupants’ concerns regarding
IEQ are fueled by alarmist information
from the Internet or other media outlets.
Combined with limited access to data
about their environment, an incomplete
understanding of IEQ issues can lead
stakeholders to speculation and worst-case assumptions. Over time, these concerns spread among occupants. If they
aren’t addressed quickly, concerns can
turn into outrage and lead to an adversar-ial relationship between the IH and district administration, which further hinders
prospects for resolution.
Just as a good sampling plan is key to
developing useful data, a communication
plan is essential for establishing an effective working relationship with stakeholders. Focus on the following objectives
during initial communications:
Show action. Demonstrate a genuine desire to learn about and help resolve
stakeholder concerns. Establish your
competence and credibility by focusing
not only on personal capability and experience, but by supporting your reasoning and data with authoritative sources.
Listen. Encourage stakeholders to express their concerns, observations and
ideas. Remember to consider not only
the likely causes of symptoms from a
technical perspective, but also the potential causes believed by occupants.
Provide sound information. Educate
stakeholders on the issues. Provide accurate histories and promote transparency
of data. Help stakeholders verify the information and conclusions you provide.
Establish cooperation. Work to get
buy-in on an investigation and remediation pathway. If stakeholders don’t accept the process up front, they won’t
accept your conclusions and solutions.
Everyone involved should share in the
problem and in the solution.
Keep constant contact. Good faith and
agreed-upon pathways begin to fade
upon the conclusion of a meeting. Maintain connections by keeping everyone in
the loop. Frequently restate the action
plans you’ve established and the
progress you’re making. Follow through
on commitments in a timely manner.
Often, successful resolution of IEQ issues depends more on the IH’s ability to
educate stakeholders on environmental
health than on the specific issues at the
Tackle the Issues
While communication is often the make-or-break issue, IEQ investigations still
rely upon technical knowledge and data.
Fortunately, the technical aspects of IEQ
issues in schools are usually uncomplicated and rarely involve significant hazards. Identifying solutions, however, can
Investigators should have knowledge
of approaches that address a variety of
commonly encountered issues in schools.