The fight for the workplace

As lockdown is phased out, cleaning professionals move up to the frontline in the battle against COVID-19, explains SafeGroup Strategic Business Director, Chris MacDonald.

Businesses and organisations need cleaning professionals like never before. As the nation takes small steps out of lockdown, hygiene and infection control in the workplace has become a major priority.

During lockdown, the government and health experts have focused on social distancing. While people were being kept in their homes, there was less concern about the cleanliness of their kitchen sinks, worktops or home- working computers.

As we are let back into the workplace, all that must change. Infection control through effective environmental hygiene standards must come to the fore. The cleaning industry will be expected to step up and do its bit to help the nation out of the COVID-19 crisis.

At SafeGroup, we have been extremely busy throughout the lockdown. As an emergency soft FM specialist, biohazard cleaning is part of our everyday work, and we have been supporting many customers with COVID-19 decontamination.

In some cases, an employee or a client had been diagnosed with the virus. In others, the customer has wanted to be able to demonstrate that the COVID-19 risk had been minimised. London Stansted Airport is one example of this.

A new pandemic phase

As the lockdown ends, we are entering a new phase, providing employers with an infection control service that provides long-term protection against COVID-19 – either delivered directly to customers or through FM and cleaning partners.

In the workplace or on worksites, social distancing and hand hygiene, together, are not adequate. Nor, we would argue, is regular cleaning with standard disinfectants.

That is because these measures will not effectively counter the risk of person to surface to person transmission of the virus. Two scientific studies, one published in the USA and the other in the UK, have identified how long COVID-19 can remain active on a range of surfaces.

For plastic and stainless steel, this numbers three to seven days. For glass it is up to four days, and two days on wood. In environments ranging from care homes to schools, modern offices and shops, that is a big concern.

What is needed, we thought, is a process that prepares an environment for the return of workers and customers and provides long-term protection against COVID-19. Our response has been to develop a three-stage cleaning and decontamination programme, which we call ‘Back to Business Clean and Safe’.

76 | SPECIALIST CLEANING Shield against the virus

Step one is to carry out a conventional deep clean. This is something the CIPD and other business organisations have expressly recommended as part of any Coronavirus workplace recovery strategy, but we go some distance beyond that measure.

Our step two is to treat and protect surfaces with an advanced broad-spectrum microbial disinfectant. Tests have proven it to be greater than 99.99% effective against COVID-19, plus bacteria and mould. It also remains active on surfaces for up to 30 days.

The product is applied using electrostatic spray equipment that maximises product coverage and surface bonding, a process shown to be far more effective than fogging. This long-lasting microbial barrier system, which is also non- toxic and food safe, is the technical shield that helps prevent surface to person transmission. It allows protection to be maintained through repeated treatment cycles for as long as is necessary.

Step three is testing. We have developed a testing regime with an international laboratory that allows us to take samples from multiple sites and show that there is no COVID-19 present.

This final step reflects the fact that any Coronavirus protection service needs to do two things: it needs to be technically robust, and it also needs to provide the reassurance that customers need.

For business survival, fear of the virus is as important as the risk itself. The pandemic has not just heightened anxiety about workplace hygiene, it is likely to reframe it at a completely new level. Employers must provide staff with evidence-based peace of mind to gain their long-term trust. Schools need to reassure parents that their pupils will be safe – and that they will not return home with the virus along with their homework. Teachers and their unions, already clearly anxious about school reopening, must be convinced that classrooms are as safe as possible.

High street retailers will only encourage more customers to return if they can convince them all has been done to eradicate the virus.

Peace of mind and trust

The pandemic has hit the care industry hard. Care home owners are faced with empty beds, and relatives of potential new residents are highly anxious about the safety of their establishments.

Employers have a duty of care for their employees, and the pandemic has raised the stakes on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. If businesses want the happy,

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