As the world slowly reopens the doors of commerce, we all have a responsibility to prioritize the health of our local communities—both inside and outside of the workplace. By understanding the best first-line-of-defense initiatives, we all can help decrease the risk of infection.
This article outlines the best risk-management strategies related to hand hygiene, surface cleaning, daily cleaning practices, and sustainable cleaning for various types of workplace facilities.
Without a doubt, proper hand hygiene serves as the most effective way to protect yourself and promote public health. When reopening after a lockdown period, every organization should prioritize hand hygiene compliance as part of a rigorous health security initiative.
To understand hand hygiene, we must first understand the science behind soap.
Soap has unique polar and nonpolar chemical properties. When soap is applied to a contaminated surface, its nonpolar properties cling to the dirt and grease harboring germs such as the coronavirus. Scrubbing your hands helps the soap break apart and loosen the dirt from skin.
When you rinse your hands after scrubbing, the polar properties of the soap attach to the water. This allows you to wash dirt, bacteria, and viruses down the drain.
In other words, handwashing serves as the best way to remove bacteria and viruses from your skin. Infection prevention and disease control thoroughly depend on consistent hand hygiene practice.
To decrease health risk, you should prioritize improving the hand hygiene adherence rate in your facility. Simply touching a doorknob with dirty hands can cause bacteria to spread to 60 percent of a facility within hours.
While all employees should maintain good hand hygiene, health care facilities should especially prioritize handwashing. If you are a health care worker or a custodian in a health care facility, proper hand hygiene is critical to control the risk of spreading disease.
In addition to washing your hands, consider using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. These sanitizers can eliminate any lingering bacteria or viruses.
First and foremost, facility managers should create an infection prevention plan to improve their hand hygiene compliance rate. Lockdowns are the perfect time to create a new cohesive handwashing policy in your institution.
Consider the individuals who use your facility and what products you already have in place. Do you work for a school with young children? Or do you manage an office environment with employees? Do you have hand sanitizing dispensers installed throughout your facility?
Asking these questions will determine where you have gaps that you can fill to improve hygiene practices.
Secondly, as a proactive measure, train everyone in your facility on hand hygiene best practices. Demonstrate how to clean easy-to-miss areas, such as between fingers and under fingernails. Emphasize the importance of scrubbing hands with soap for at least twenty seconds before rinsing. While proper handwashing may seem obvious to some, many still get this process wrong.
Education undeniably plays a vital role in hand hygiene adherence. Additionally, every organization should make handwashing as convenient as possible. Each sink should always have soap available. Facility managers should plan to refill these dispensers regularly so employees have no excuse for dirty hands.
In addition, health care facilities should collect hand hygiene compliance data to learn where they can improve. By installing effective internal controls, such as electronic hand hygiene monitoring systems, organizations can gain a better understanding of their compliance rates. In turn, health care professionals can use this information to determine whether they need a hand hygiene intervention to instill accountability within their organization.
As we have already established, soap plays the most integral role in infection prevention. Foam soap should be available at each sink. As part of their cleaning schedule, custodians should refill soap dispensers regularly—ideally daily. Restroom facilities should never, ever risk running out of soap.
In addition, provide hand-drying solutions that reduce the spread of germs. Studies have shown air dryers can actually increase bacteria on the skin. However, drying hands with disposable paper towels can reduce bacteria on the skin by up to 77 percent.
While paper towels may seem wasteful, facility managers can still balance cleanliness and sustainability by using biodegradable paper products.
All institutions should also consider providing alcohol-based hand sanitizer throughout their facilities. By installing hand sanitizer dispensers in high-traffic areas, organizations can significantly reduce the spread of germs via high-touch surfaces.
Hand sanitizer should have an alcohol content of 60–95 percent. According to the CDC, alcohol effectively kills germs. However, hand sanitizer does not substitute for an aggressive handwashing protocol.
Lastly, consider installing signage emphasizing the importance of handwashing and personal hygiene in your facility. Signs can serve as a helpful reminder of how these proactive measures contribute to public health.
Besides maintaining proper hand hygiene, organizations can create routine cleaning and disinfecting programs to disinfect surfaces. Below, we outline steps that housekeeping and custodial staff can take to increase their health and safety preparedness and protect local communities.
By participating in a cleaning program, teachers can help reduce the spread of germs in their classrooms and play an important role in protecting public health.
Facility managers can provide cleaning kits to assist teachers in disinfecting various high-touch objects, such as desks, in the classroom. These kits should include appropriate cleaning equipment and cleaning products as well as a detailed list of instructions. These instructions should include how to use cleaners and disinfectants effectively and detail which objects require regular disinfection.
Teachers can also play a vital role in educating their students on proper handwashing procedures. They should train students how to wash their hands properly and remind them to do so regularly.
When selecting cleaners and disinfectants, facility managers should ideally aim for products that are effective and sustainable. Some commercial cleaning products can harm cleaning staff and negatively affect indoor air quality. If used improperly, these products can intensify asthma, irritate skin, and cause headaches.
To minimize health and safety risk, be sure to follow the instructions on the label of any cleaning product that you use. Additionally, always wear appropriate protective equipment when cleaning.
To help further reduce the environmental impact of your cleaning, consider looking for products that the Environmental Protection Agency or Green Seal have certified as sustainable.
A contaminated surface can host germs for hours and even several days. The period of time depends on several factors. For example, hard surfaces, such as those made of metal or plastic, can sustain germs for much longer than softer surfaces. Additionally, viruses tend to live longer in lower temperatures and lower humidity.
Viruses depend on living hosts for long-term survival. A novel coronavirus, like the one responsible for COVID-19, primarily spreads through water droplets from one living host to another.
When a virus lands on a nonliving surface, it begins to deteriorate very rapidly. Initial studies have shown that the novel coronavirus lives between three to seven days on metal and plastic.
So, yes, germs do die out on their own. However, as a proactive measure, you should regularly disinfect any potentially contaminated surface, such as a doorknob or electronic device. Also, continue to practice social distancing during recommended lockdown periods to prevent spreading the coronavirus to new hosts.
As organizations look to reopen their doors, many facilities are organizing unnecessary deep cleaning initiatives. Despite sounding like a good idea, deep cleaning does not help prevent the spread of germs. If a building has been unoccupied for over seven days, the virus will have deteriorated.
Instead of deep cleaning, facility managers should create a daily cleaning program that emphasizes sustainable cleaning and personal hygiene.
Combined with handwashing, regular environmental cleaning procedures serve as a vital risk-management tool. Workplace germs can spread quickly—especially in close-quarters environments. Because of this, every organization should equip their housekeeping and custodial staff with the cleaning equipment they need.
Consistency is key to an effective environmental cleaning protocol. Create a cleaning procedure to disinfect high-traffic areas daily—if not hourly. This schedule should include cleaning doorknobs, handrails, electronics, desks, and anywhere employees interact regularly. Pay special attention to any hard-to-reach buttons and corners.
Lastly, give extra time and attention to cleaning the bathrooms in your building. These areas often see the highest amount of traffic, so regular cleaning is especially important.
Personal hygiene directly impacts environmental hygiene. If employees enter the workplace sick, they pose a security risk to all of their fellow employees.
Astonishingly, 70 percent of business professionals reported in a survey that they go into the office even when they feel sick. This behavior can harm organizations financially as sickness spreads throughout the office. From a financial standpoint, employee “presenteeism” costs employers $150–250 billion annually.
All organizations should emphasize that employees and students should stay home if they feel unwell. Allow employees to work from home or provide sick leave when possible. From the standpoint of community engagement, providing assurance that employees will not face consequences for taking sick leave goes a long way.
If you discover someone in your building has fallen ill, take the following steps to minimize environmental impact. First, close off any areas where the employee has been for twenty-four hours. Afterward, carefully clean and disinfect using appropriate cleaning products.
Organizations can increase the level of disinfection throughout their buildings by using more than one cleaning product.
First, install hand sanitizer dispensers in high-traffic locations to increase good hand hygiene. As a subtle form of social engineering, these dispensers act as a visual reminder for employees to keep their hands clean.
Secondly, make sure you remove any dirt and grime that can harbor bacteria from all surfaces. Use an appropriate cleaner and follow up with a disinfectant to destroy any remaining germs.
After cleaning, make sure you also disinfect any protective equipment. Disinfecting your gloves and washing reusable cleaning cloths decrease the risk of transferring germs.
Sustainable cleaning minimizes environmental impact, protects local communities, and reduces risk to custodial staff. Organizations should prioritize workplace sustainability and environmental compliance as part of their overall risk-management strategy.
Recycling and waste disposal play an important role in workplace sustainability. To improve workplace sustainability, first conduct a waste audit of your facility. Consider reaching out to a waste compliance officer for expertise in this area. Identify areas where your facility can reduce use of materials and improve waste disposal.
Secondly, focus on recycling to contribute to environmental sustainability and potentially reduce costs. It is often cheaper to participate in recycling programs than it is to send your trash to a landfill. Additionally, by consolidating your waste, you can reduce the number of trash pickups and thereby reduce costs.
If your facility produces hazardous waste, make sure you follow regulations to avoid compliance issues. If at all possible, invest in methods to reduce the amount of waste your organization produces.
You may be tired of hearing this, but we need to emphasize once again the importance of promoting good hand hygiene! No matter how you approach the issue, hand hygiene compliance acts as the most sustainable health-security measure.
Secondly, focus on sustainable cleaning practices and products to minimize environmental impact. Disinfecting with bleach, for example, has limited environmental impact because bleach breaks down quickly during use, primarily into water and salt.
To disinfect surfaces using bleach, follow labels to create a bleach-and-water solution to fully coat the contaminated surface. Then, wait for up to ten minutes. Finally, rinse with water and make sure the surface dries completely.
As a disclaimer, take caution and do not mix bleach with any cleaners or other disinfectants. Mixing chemicals can create toxic gases that can easily lead to hospitalization.
Promoting a culture of wellness and sanitation is not only the right thing to do. It also saves employers money. Create a cohesive risk-management cleaning policy that prioritizes both individual and environmental health.
Prioritize handwashing training and cleaning high-touch areas. Invest in sustainable cleaning products and practices. While this may create up-front costs, these costs are small in comparison to the economic impact of a business that has to close due to lack of preparedness.
The coronavirus pandemic has created new health and safety risks in the world around us. However, we can all take steps in our personal and professional lives to help reduce the risk of infection.
If you need assistance selecting products or creating a cleaning program, contact one of our experts at Spruce Industries. We will always prioritize the safety and welfare of your employees as we navigate these new waters together.