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Covid-19 pandemic outbreak: managing workplace hygiene during the widespread crisis

From WHO declaring coronavirus as a global pandemic to the US declaring a national emergency, the world is in a great turbulence with more than 130 countries severely affected. The confirmed cases of coronavirus have surpassed 175,000, 77,658 of whom have recovered and the total casualties are reported to have reached 6,706 (source: data released by John Hopkins University).

Schools, colleges, gyms and tourist sites being shut down and people are strictly advised to stay at home. Employers are rolling out mandatory work from home policy. But, some companies are unable to make such conveniences available to their employees, the reason being the nature of the services they offer or the kind of job that is too difficult to manage from home. In the latter case, maintenance of hygiene is one of the pressing workplace issues that employers are bound to face.

According to the health and safety advisories by World Health Organization (WHO) & Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the only antidote of deadly coronavirus is to maintain a high-level of cleanliness and hygiene in surrounding areas. Besides respiratory transmission, coronavirus also spreads through contracting viruses from the objects and surfaces touched/used by coronavirus patients.

And, workplaces, of course, are at higher risk than others for exposure to the coronavirus and the disease COVID-19. In a typical office/workplace, there are hundreds of hiding spots for viruses and bacteria such as biometrics, crevices in a keyboard, elevator buttons, handles, washrooms, sinks and the list of commonly touch-areas continues.

Here’s how businesses can protect their workplaces and therefore, employees from the coronavirus spread.

• Instead of dry, opt for damp dusting:

Damp dusting of surfaces is one of the preferred methods during the pandemic as it does not generate the movement of dust, which happens to be the case in sweeping or dry dusting. Use a micro-fiber cloth and dampen it with a cleaning solution that is effective in killing the virus. Please note that the cloth is rinsed clean and recharged with a cleaning solution/ a chlorine-based disinfectant liquid cleaner before using to clean another section of the area. If required, use a non-abrasive scouring pad to remove the stubborn dust particles, bacterias and viruses.

As an extra measure, it is advised to color-code the cleaning cloths to distinguish the cloth used for areas such as workstations, handrails, doorknobs, landlines, etc from those used for highly contaminated areas such toilets, floors, slabs, sink, etc. Ensure that your housekeeping staff is aware of these color codes and work accordingly to avoid any kind of cross-contamination of cleaning cloths.

• Schedule routine environmental cleaning

While your housekeeping staff must be regularly cleaning all nooks and corners of the office, it’s important to opt for specialist cleaning teams for routine environmental cleaning during the global pandemic. Common touchpoints include every possible surface that people frequently touch such as work desks, tables, chairs, landlines, desktops/laptops, keys, elevator buttons, toilet seats, faucets, etc.

The environmental cleaning, which should be performed at least 4 times a day, should be a 3-step process; cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing. All organic material and soil must be removed by a cleaning product before the application of disinfectants. Using a correct disinfectant is extremely important to prevent the spread of the virus. Presently, no disinfectant in the market promises to kill NCoV-19, but yes, there are some disinfectants which kill 95% of all microbes, virus and bacteria. Do note that the virus is only estimated to be able to survive outside of a human or animal for a few hours maximum.

As coronavirus is highly contagious, wearing disposable gloves during the cleaning is strongly recommended. The gloves should be immediately discarded after every use. Open windows or arrange for proper ventilation of the rooms/areas where the disinfectants are being applied.

• Emphasize on hand hygiene

Amongst all, it’s the hand hygiene (handwashing) that could effectively prevent the viral spread. Encourage employees to frequently wash their hands every hour with soap and water. Ensure that your office/facility has access to improved water sources that shall meet water quality needs for handwashing and environmental cleaning. This does not necessarily have to be treated as per drinking water standards, but yes, it shouldn’t contain high levels of inorganic compounds.

Ask employees to sanitize their hands only if soap or water is not available. For this, employers should place hand rubs and no-touch dustbins in every meeting room, at every workstation. They should install auto-hand sanitizer dispensers on all the floors, entry/exit points, cafeteria and any other section that witnesses the major footfall or assembly. The auto dispensers will require no touch and therefore, minimizing the risks of person-to-object viral transmission.

Some additional measures:

• Sanitization of cleaning systems and equipment

The disinfection and sanitization of cleaning systems and equipment is also important to curb the viral spread of COVID-19. From cleaning cloths to floor polishers, all the machines and containers should be cleaned daily and well. Set up a dedicated store/closet where all equipment is stored and inspected before use.

• Install physical barriers to prevent the spread

In the essential services companies, the employer should install physical barriers such as clear plastic sneeze guards wherever possible. Though wearing masks at high-risk exposure places is highly recommended, sneeze guards provides added protection.

• Ensure proper ventilation for healthy workplace environment

Employers should also ensure that their workplace has high-efficiency air-filters and ventilation systems put in place. Proper ventilation, filtration and humidity reduces the rapid spread of pathogens as deadly as coronavirus. In a recent release, WHO advises all to take airborne precautions against coronavirus, indicating that it can survive in air for hours. Instead of recirculating the existing air trapped by shutting windows and doors, allow the outdoor air to come in. So, increase the ventilation rates in your office.

Coronavirus is spreading all over the world like wildfire. Corporates can do their share of responsibility by making their offices safe and healthy for all employees. For this, organizational support, adequate and trained staff, supporting infrastructure and stringent policies are necessary. The HRs should closely work with Facility Management teams to keep the workplace hygienic and protected from COVID-19.

COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.

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