Before welcoming workers back to your facility, consider how changes in how you clean and disinfect the space can limit the spread of COVID-19 and alleviate workers’ anxieties about returning.
Workers want reassurance that their company can provide a clean, safe environment. While no effort is 100-percent foolproof, companies can start by establishing a sanitary baseline before workers return and instituting protocols for regular deep cleanings after that. Below are considerations for a company’s HR, risk, real estate, and other teams to partner together on. And whether your role touches this topic or not, it’s good to be aware of public health recommendations. Share this guide with your teams.
Assess Risks: US businesses, for example, are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) General Duty Clause to provide a workplace free from “recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” Perform a risk assessment to classify and minimize risk exposures to protect workers. High-exposure industries like healthcare, transportation, retail, and warehouse distribution, where workers face greater exposure or space restrictions that make physical distancing challenging, will require additional precautions. Refer to OSHA’s COVID-19 Control and Prevention Guidelines for tips.
Determine What to Clean: Beyond the usual areas, think about often-untouched spaces that exhibit new risk exposure like workstations. It’s still uncertain whether or for how long coronavirus germs linger on surfaces and if they’re transferable. It’s safer, however, to boost your cleaning efforts. (See “Involve Workers” in the section below.)
Consider Sanitation Stations: Look to install portable handwashing stations, where possible, throughout the facility and with a minimum of 30 days’ worth of supplies. Often on rolling wheels, such stations feature refillable water basins that can make them a good option in the workplace. As an alternative, provide hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
Handle Waste Properly: Evaluate and reconsider waste management practices to ensure the safe disposal of cleaning supplies and other waste. Provide no-touch trash cans, where possible.
Consider Engineering and Building Maintenance Needs: Replace HVAC air filters and ensure new ones are high-efficiency-rated. Increase ventilation rates. Regularly inspect, maintain, and replace equipment as needed.
Examine Cleaning Contracts: Many companies contract with an outside vendor for cleaning services or have the function included in their lease agreements. Consider any new disinfection protocols for deeper/more frequent cleanings – especially of common surfaces (restroom, cafeteria, workstations, shared tools). Get a firm handle on what services your current cleaning supplier delivers and prepare to adjust to higher levels of risk control – or even contract with a service provider specializing in a higher-level of sanitation. Consider whether any enhanced efforts will become long-lasting.
Set a Cadence for Cleaning and Disinfecting: Based on your organization’s risk factors, determine how often and to what degree you need to clean and disinfect your workplace. If you have shifts of workers, consider dedicating time between shifts (e.g., 1 hour), so a cleaning crew can sanitize and prepare for the next set of workers.
Know How to Clean Properly: The Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) website includes a quick guide to proper cleaning methods, including what to do when a sick worker vacates a space. Cleaning chemicals should be Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-labeled. Workers should follow manufacturers’ instructions on cleaning and disinfectant supplies (e.g., concentration, application, contact time, etc.). OSHA also suggests avoiding compressed air or water sprays to clean surfaces that are potentially contaminated as such techniques may aerosolize infectious material.
Disinfect High-traffic Areas: Kitchens, bathrooms, and surfaces like doorknobs and light switches are highly susceptible to germ-spread, so pay extra attention to those areas.
Address Shared Workstations: Offer disposable plastic covers for shared keyboards or disposable mats to protect a desk’s surface and clean between shifts.
Involve Workers: Let workers know where cleaning supplies are stored, so that they can clean their personal spaces (e.g., use disinfectant wipes on phones and computers). Consider instituting “clean desk” policies, where workers remove personal items from their workstations (e.g., picture frames and stacks of paper), so service professionals can address areas that may not have been cleaned professionally in the past.
Address Worker Meals/Snacks: If lockers are no longer available to staff due to facility modifications, consider additional refrigerators or shelving to accommodate workers’ food storage bags. Temporarily close self-service food stations (e.g., coffeemakers, microwaves, snack stations, vending machines, and buffets with shared serving tools).
Rethink Food Services/Cafeterias: The act of sanitizing food prep workstations is already a part of daily operations, but it’s critical to be even more vigilant. Also, monitor the health of workers who handle and serve food (e.g., check temperatures upon workers’ arrivals and throughout shifts, or require masks).
Deliver Frequent Communication: Make sure all workers know how the business will maintain a clean workspace. Enlist multiple communications types to ensure messages reach all audiences. Options include direct emails, internal websites or newsletters, and cascading messages through people-leaders to share with their teams. Let workers know what you are doing before their return to the workplace and share any new approaches you’re taking. Where appropriate, highlight ways your company was already set up to minimize germ-spread (e.g., contactless soap dispensers and toilets) and how you’ve bolstered cleaning protocols.
Install Signage: Consider installing physical signs throughout the workspace as extra reminders about personal and workplace cleaning practices. The CDC’s website features free resources, including fact sheets and posters like this on how to Stop the Spread of Germs.
Provide Worker Health and Safety Training: Educate workers on prevention techniques based on CDC recommendations and OSHA’s Prevent Worker Exposure to Coronavirus Alert (e.g., frequent hand washing and avoid touching one’s face) or how to put on personal protective equipment. Provide training to alleviate workers’ concerns about workplace safety, too, including sanitation practices, as well as workforce care (flexible hours, encouragement to stay home when not well), etc. If workers can access cleaners and disinfectants, educate them to follow manufacturers’ product labels regarding use, hazards, and waste management. Enlist multiple training options as people like to learn differently. Options include educational videos like this on how to stay safe at work, small group demonstrations while maintaining social distancing, and the delivery of printed or electronic tutorials, such as OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.
Consistency is key. You can’t maintain a healthy workforce and safe workspace if only some workers follow the rules. Monitor conditions and make improvements. The company that performs regular compliance audits and remains agile in its approach to a return to the workplace will give workers assurance that their employer is doing all it can to keep them safe.
Workers will be more likely to return the workplace – and keep coming back – when they know their employer is taking sanitation and cleaning seriously. Seeing advanced preparation, routine monitoring, and actions to remedy practices that fall out of compliance go a long way toward reducing anxiety and giving workers the ability to complete tasks and lend their skills to achieving positive business outcomes.
Also, know the staffing suppliers that AGS partners with are equally committed to worker and workplace safety. Beyond following safety checklists and ensuring compliance with federal protocols, for example, our recruiting partners are aware of a client’s responsibilities related to safety and can serve as another component to a company’s overall advisory team.
We hope you found this guide helpful and use it to address your company’s unique set of conditions. Reach out to your Program Executive if you need further help. We’ll all in this together!
Note: This article is forward-looking, assuming health and government agencies will eventually lift stay-at-home mandates. Be sure to follow their guidelines as you plan.
This update contains general information only, and AGS is not rendering legal advice. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult qualified legal counsel. AGS shall not be responsible for any loss whatsoever sustained by any person or company who relies on this update. Inclusion of any hyperlink or explanatory notes/summary do not imply any endorsement, investigation, verification, or monitoring by AGS of any information in any hyperlinked site.