Establishing and Maintaining a SAFE Workplace During a Pandemic

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Introduction

Seemingly overnight, the entire world has changed. A global pandemic has swept the globe, making most of our daily routines vastly different than they were just a few months ago. For many of us, this fact has had the largest impact in our professional lives. For some it meant working from home and adapting to technologies designed to make team communication more accessible. For others it meant that their jobs as they previously existed are gone.  As the world transitions from a full-blown quarantine in most cases to “business as usual”, there are many significant changes that need to occur in the workplace. The biggest concern in most facilities is protecting employees and customers alike from contracting and spreading the illness. As most businesses re-open their doors, they have to take a close look at how people are positioned and how to continue their tasks in a new reality where human contact is highly discouraged. Below are some ideas and best practices for preparing your facility for this new reality.

 

Thorough Cleaning

First and foremost, we need to assure that the buildings people are returning to are clean and free of potentially dangerous particles. This starts with a thorough cleaning of EVERY surface that could be touched by people in the course of the work day. The main focal points should be door knobs and handles, elevator panels and controls, light switches, phones, touchscreens, faucets and sinks, computer keyboards, desktops, tools and any other non-porous surface that is regularly touched. It is vital that the cleaning professional protects themselves in this process, not only to avoid contracting illness but also to protect against the harsh chemicals needed to fully clean and disinfect the area. Gloves and quality face protection, ideally an N95 mask and/or face shield, are the minimum PPE required to assure the safety of the user. You should also consider a protective coverall for the initial cleaning.

The cleaning solution used will be mostly determined by the surface in question. If the area sees heavy soils and greasy or oily conditions, you will want a heavy duty degreaser such as PowerHOUSE Cleaner Degreaser. For areas with lighter soil loads a quality general purpose cleaner like Platoon GP will work just fine. No matter what chemical you choose make sure to read the label for mixing instructions and possible safety concerns. After removing any large debris from the surface, apply the properly mixed chemical liberally to the target area using a microfiber cloth, sponge, spray bottle or sprayer and allow to sit wet for at least five minutes. This dwell time allows the chemical to penetrate the soils and requires less effort to clear the surface. When the dwell time has passed it is time to agitate the surface with a microfiber cloth, hand pad, medium brush or cleaning sponge and to rinse the surface clean with clean water. When using a no-touch cleaning system such as the EDIC CR2 you can also spray the surface down, relying on water pressure to remove remaining soils and to rinse the surface. Allow the surface to dry, or use an air mover to speed up the process where possible.

 

Effective Disinfection

Once the surface is completely dry it is ready for disinfection. It is critical that the disinfectant used is an EPA registered product that appears on the CDC’s “List N” of approved products. Applying the product is very similar to cleaning, however the dwell time is dependent on the product being used. Although there is a wide range of dwell times between disinfectants, the average required time for the product to perform up to its’ kill claim is between eight and ten minutes. Some products may take longer, while some disinfectants such as Diversey Oxivir 1 Disinfectant Wipes report a dwell time of just one minute. After the dwell time has been met it is important to wipe the surface clean as well as rinsing it with clean water. This last step is important not only to assure that all foreign materials are removed from the surface but also to prevent skin irritation for anyone who comes into prolonged contact with the surface. It is also important to note that disinfectants should not be used on surfaces that will come into contact with food or food preparation tools. All food service surfaces should be sanitized with a food grade sanitizer such as Betco’s Sanibet.

Now that your contact points are clean and disinfected it is time to bring in the people and to keep these surfaces safe throughout the workday. The frequency and intensity of the daily cleaning and disinfection needs to be greatly increased. It is also a good idea to look into improving the ventilation throughout the facility to keep the air as fresh possible.

 

Social Distancing and Spacing

Since the best defense against infection in a pandemic is social distancing, the workplace will need to be reconfigured to place each employee at least six feet apart, even if physical barriers are present. The sharing of tools and other supplies should be highly discouraged, and these items should be cleaned and disinfected at least once a day. Confined shared spaces such as breakrooms and meeting rooms should not be used if at all possible. Some ways to achieve this is to stagger breaks, stagger shifts and to avoid large work gatherings or events. Companies should also consider having employees who can effectively work from home to do so until the Pandemic is under control. Work related travel should also be discouraged.

There are several products that can be used to create space between employees, customers and visitors that should be installed in areas that are likely to accumulate a crowd. Personal Spacing Discs can be placed on floors where lines are likely to form that indicate places to stand that are at least six feet from one another. Safety Barriers should be placed in front of service counters, drive thru windows and other contact points where employees will be communicating in person. The use of Stanchions, Mobile Dividers and Info Signs can also help to discourage people from coming in possible infection range.

 

Personal Safety Precautions

The most controversial, but possibly the most important precaution is to have all employees, customers and guests wear face coverings while in public spaces when contact with other people is likely. It is important to communicate that these masks are not designed to protect the wearer but the people and surfaces around them. Most information indicates that viruses are spread by respiratory droplets leaving the body through talking, coughing or sneezing. Securely wearing a face mask or face shield prevents the spread of early, undiscovered or asymptomatic illness.

Although the use of liquid, foaming or gel hand sanitizer is encouraged, the best defense is still thorough and frequent hand washing and avoiding touching the head or face. Everyone in the facility should wash their hands with warm water and hand soap for at least twenty seconds after touching waste receptacles, handling animals, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, using the restroom, before and after preparing and eating food, or following any situation where the hands could have come into contact with potentially harmful particles.

 

Consistent and Frequent Monitoring

Once the facility is properly cleaned and disinfected and the workspace is properly configured for social distancing it is crucial to monitor employees to ensure that your precautions are indeed working, and to prevent illness that was contracted outside of the facility from coming in. For larger organizations it is highly recommended that a check-in area is established at every entrance to the building where each employee, customer or visitor is checked for symptoms. The people working these areas should be protected by the proper PPE items as well as portable barriers to greatly reduce the chance of coming in direct contact with an infected individual.

The quickest and easiest way to rule out symptoms is to check the person’s temperature by using a no-touch thermometer in conjunction with a barrier with a small opening to scan each forehead through. Each person should also be asked if they have traveled recently and experienced any of the symptoms believed to be associated with the pandemic such as chills, severe cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, nausea, severe headaches, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, diarrhea or the recent loss of taste or smell. Anyone with a recorded fever or who reports any of the symptoms should be sent home or to a medical facility for testing. Anything those people have touched or come into contact with should be immediately disinfected.

All employees who feel sick should be encouraged to stay home. There should also be a well-communicated protocol for dealing with people who report experiencing any of the symptoms while at work. These people should be quickly separated from other people in the building and sent to urgent care for testing. A thorough cleaning and disinfection of anything that person has come in contact with should immediately follow.

 

Conclusion

There are many unknowns when dealing with a pandemic. When you are responsible for the well-being of others there is no precaution too great. Many people will feel that an organization is over-reacting or even infringing on their personal rights by employing the precautions previously mentioned, however in well-populated areas the dangers of a large-scale outbreak are significantly increased if one case of the illness enters the facility. The safety of each person in the building as well as their families is at risk. Not only can an outbreak entirely shut down a facility, but can also risk the lives of those who are at risk for complications of the illness.

Visit https://www.cdc.gov/ for more detailed information on this pandemic and other illness related concerns.