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Cleaning up COVID


Shaun Doak, CEO of REACT Specialist Cleaning, looks at the impact of the pandemic on our industry.


COVID-19 has gripped the world in a way not seen since the early 20th century. We’ve dealt with epidemics before; SARS, MERS and Ebola come to mind, however none of these have evolved into the global pandemic we’re currently facing.


For those of us in the cleaning industry, it has created both opportunities and threats, the severity of which depends on which sector your primary focus is on. For office cleaners across the country, it has sadly meant laying off or furloughing workers, as business dried up whilst the country was in lockdown. Contrast this with the essential sectors that kept going; such as food processing, logistics and of course the health sector, where cleaning regimes have either been maintained, as a minimum, or intensified.


One area that has seen unprecedented demand, especially during the early stages of the outbreak, is deep cleaning and decontamination as organisations sought to mitigate the risks of infection for people working in, or visiting, their premises.


As a specialist cleaning, hygiene and decontamination business, REACT experienced almost overwhelming demand in early March, whilst aiming to respond to callouts within four hours. Utilising our experienced resources, as well as training new operators, we were able to effectively scale and manage the rapidly expanding workload.


Whilst demand in the commercial sector cooled as lockdown restrictions began to take hold, we saw new and varied requirements throughout the country, from judiciary transport to a military airbase, as everyone understood the necessity for a safe working environment.


As an industry, I don’t remember any occasion where we have seen such an influx of new entrants to the cleaning business. Whilst of course new competition is always a positive sign, an unwelcome part of this demand has


80 | SPECIALIST CLEANING


been the rush of inexperienced and unqualified firms looking to make a fast buck. We have seen people and organisations from outside the cleaning industry – such as recruitment agencies, mechanical and electrical contractors and even data centre manufacturers, alongside one-man bands – offering their cleaning services using basic domestic equipment purchased off the internet, with no training or expertise.


Whilst I applaud anyone pivoting their services and skills, as a specialist in the space, it concerns me. In this situation, when as an industry we will be under the microscope, the risks of attempting specialist work without the correct knowledge, skills and experience is dangerous. Not just to the health of the operators but to the people that subsequently visit or use the property in the belief it has been professionally decontaminated.


On many occasions I have seen workers wearing inappropriate PPE and Ghostbusters-style backpacks, spraying indiscriminately. When speaking with customers that were initially persuaded by one of these new entrants, we have learnt there has been little or no wipe down or cleaning of surfaces prior to misting or fogging areas, and certainly no testing to verify the decontamination has been effective. About one in every 10 jobs we have completed during COVID has been to carry out a secondary decontamination following a clean by another operator that left the customer with no confidence.


Sadly, the way we hear about these issues is when it goes wrong. I would highly endorse the establishment and promotion of a standard for this specialised work, working with an industry body to support all those going back to their normal working lives. An example of this could be to ensure a process of ATP testing prior to cleaning, wiping down all surfaces before disinfecting and then testing again to ensure its effectiveness. This is an approach we already


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