With the coronavirus restriction relaxing and some provincial states of emergency nearing their end, it is expected that soon enough, many people will be returning to work in their offices. However, the pandemic is nowhere near over without a cure or vaccine, which means that safety will have to be in check. Business owners should follow certain safety guidelines in order to protect their workers, as well as any potential collaborators and the general public from the spread of COVID-19.
These best practices apply for everyone – from the owners of a business to the employees that work in their service. Not only is social distancing something that ought to be respected, but cleaning and disinfecting the public settings should also play a great part. Ideally, you should remain in contact with your local health unit, as an attempt to limit the virus spreading even further.
Understanding the Virus
COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets from an infected person coming in contact with someone nearby.
The virus can be spread in several ways. First, you could get it through direct contact with the infected person. Still, you may also get it through indirect contact – when you touch a contaminated surface and then you touch your face. The virus is capable of surviving on different surfaces, but it may also be killed by most chemical and alcohol-based disinfectants and cleaners.
Things Everyone Should Know
When it comes to the spread of the new coronavirus, there are certain things that everyone should know – from the employers calling their people to work to the workers coming back into the office. Here are some of the most important things that you have to keep in mind:
- Surfaces that are often touched by hands are very likely to get contaminated, without the proper care. These surfaces include doorknobs, elevator buttons, handrails, light switches, faucet handles, cabinet handles, tables, elevators, and countertops.
- At this point, we cannot say for certain how long the virus responsible for COVID-19 can live on surfaces. Studies show that it can live for as little as a few hours and as long as a few days – all depending on the type of surface that it falls on. The virus can last longer on wooden furniture, for example, than it does on cardboard boxes.
- Commonly used disinfectants and cleaners are effective against COVID-19, particularly if they have an alcohol base in them.
- If you live in Canada, you should only use the disinfectants that have been given a DIN (Drug Identification Number). This 8-digit number confirms that it has been approved for use by Health Canada.
- Always check the expiration date of a product that you are planning on using, as an expired product might not be as effective at killing the virus on surfaces. You should always follow the instructions of the manufacturer if you wish to get the best results.
- Viruses have a certain dwell time (or contact time), meaning that the disinfectant needs to be visibly wet for a certain amount of time before you wipe the solution off and let it dry. You have to leave that surface undisturbed during that timeframe. In the case of COVID-19, dwell times for some products are upwards of 10 minutes.
Go for Products That Clean and Disinfect
When your workers are doing their job, there won’t be any time for lengthy cleaning processes, such as separately cleaning and disinfecting the environment. You need cleaning products to remove the germs from the surface and disinfectant to kill whatever there is left.
This is why, wherever possible, you might want to use a pre-mixed solution. In most cases, cleaners are used separately from disinfectants – but you might also come across products that give you the best of both worlds. This might save you quite a lot of time.
Reading the instructions provided by the manufacturer is also very important, as it will tell you exactly how you have to prepare the solution, from the gear to the use of the product. Depending on the manufacturer, every product will need a certain time to sit on the surface until the viruses and germs are killed. You should also be very careful about the four Cs of the disinfectants (chemistry, contact time, concentration, and coverage). This will tell you exactly how to use the product.
Make sure that you do not touch the surface for the appropriate amount of time – otherwise, you might just end up collecting the virus before it has the time to die.
Creating a Cleaning Procedure
For the spread of the virus to be contained, work environments should have a clear cleaning procedure. Before and after workers return to the office, here are a few things that should be done to ensure the safety of people working in the establishment.
- The operators of community settings should be responsible for reviewing the cleaning protocol of a certain public space.
- Each time gloves are removed, hands should be washed with soap and water. If that is not possible, hand sanitizer that has an alcohol base should be applied instead.
- When cleaning the area, use damp cleaning methods – for instance, a damp cleaning cloth or a wet mop. Refrain from sweeping or dusting, as this might send the virus droplets straight back into the air.
- The contaminated disposable cleaning item (for example, the cloths or the mop head) should be first placed in a lined garbage bin before you dispose of it. If the cleaning tools that you used are reusable, you may wash them using hot water and regular laundry soap – but make sure that the water is somewhere around 60-90 degrees Celsius. Make sure to clean and disinfect the areas that people touch on a regular basis.
- Shared spaces such as the bathroom or the kitchen have a higher chance of getting contaminated – which is why you should make sure that these places are cleaned more frequently.
- In addition to cleaning on a routine, the areas that are touched more often should also be disinfected more often – ideally, multiple times a day. Obviously, you should also clean the area when it is visibly dirty.
A clear cleaning routine will ensure that there aren’t any “blind spots” and that the spread of the virus is efficiently contained.
Other Practices to Prevent the Virus From Spreading at Work
Proper hygiene and efficient cleaning will help prevent the virus from spreading – but in order to stop it in its tracks and make a safe return to work, some other measures will have to be implemented as well, including:1. Limiting the Number of Employees in the Building
The fewer people in a room, the lower the chances will be of them becoming infected. This is why, if there are any roles within your company that do not necessarily require physical presence, you should consider allowing those employees to work from home. You should only recall those whose physical presence is required to keep the business going.
Rotating office workers with home workers can also be a good strategy to keep everyone safer. Split your workers into two groups – and when one group is working at the office, the others should be working from home and then the other way around. This way, you will keep them safe and prevent any health hazards, all while ensuring you are not crowding the workplace.2. Encouraging Physical Distancing at Work
In order for physical distancing to be encouraged, you might want to do more than tell people to “stand 6 feet apart.” You need to make sure that they can actually do that. If needed, you should rearrange the furniture to ensure that there is limited proximity between employees.3. Limiting Physical Contact and Minimizing Interpersonal Interaction
If the things said in a meeting can easily be said in an email, then you might want to do that instead of calling a large group of people into the same room. Similarly, if the meeting can become a Skype or Zoom meeting, that should also be encouraged.
Avoid any interpersonal interaction as much as possible – and when it cannot be avoided, make sure that everyone has protective gear on them. If your employees are also working with clients, you might want to consider installing glass panels to ensure that contact is limited as much as possible.4. Preventing Sick People from Coming to Work
Some workers might still want to return to work even though they feel ill. Consider that upon coming to work, the health of each person should be monitored (e.g. by having their temperature checked and asking about other symptoms). If a worker seems to be sick, send them home.5. Implementing Appropriate Policies
In conjunction with every other safety measure, you should ensure that appropriate workplace policies are implemented. Aside from guidelines on adjusting to this “new normal,” companies also need to update their travel, work from home, and time-off policies. For example, if the policy of a company previously said that you could only have 20 work-from-home days, you may want to consider extending that period.
By cleaning the infected areas regularly and implementing some safety measures, the spread of the virus should be limited. Bear in mind that for this to work, employers should also learn to control their actions when at the workplace (e.g. wearing a face mask, gloves, and regularly disinfecting their hands). Everyone needs to do their part when it comes to limiting the spread of the virus. Look to official websites to remain up to date with COVID-19 information.