Put simply, proper facility cleaning is vital. We’re often advised on the importance of keeping our own homes clean, and when talking about public settings with multiple residents or visitors or an abundance of foot traffic, that importance is multiplied.
In some ways, though, COVID-19 has changed the language around hygiene and disinfecting. Now, we’re hearing about “hotspots” and “touchpoints” in a way that we arguably never have before. This terminology may have crept onto the radar for, say janitorial services, but as a wider industry and particular for those not well-versed in cleaning and maintenance policies, these words had likely not been used or heard that much on a day-to-day basis until relatively recently.
Stepping up the response
While these things may by now seem obvious in the context of 2020, Brian Sansoni suggests basic cleanliness and hygiene may have been somewhat lacking before the pandemic, or at least under-appreciated. “It was taken for granted, certainly in North America,” says Sansoni, a senior VP at the American Cleaning Institute (ACI). “You’d think and you’d hope that any business is paying attention to that but clearly what COVID-19 has proven is the essential nature of hygiene, cleaning, and disinfecting to public health and infection control. It’s now front and centre.
Back in March, when the full effects of COVID-19 were just starting to become apparent, he notes that surveys showed some relatively basic knowledge was lacking among the general public, as significant percentages of respondents weren’t using disinfectants to full effect. “Many people didn’t realize that you need the surface to air dry,” he explains. Once a disinfectant spray or other cleaner is used, pretty much the worst thing you can do in terms of killing germs and viruses is to wipe it up straight away. Sansoni notes the ACI and its ally the Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association (CCSPA) have been trying to emphasize basic messages like that. “That’s one area where there’s more education needed.”
Applying the germ multiplier effect felt in public, multi-touch environments makes that even more important. Public restrooms are often a key focus but the likes of light switches, handrails, keyboards, telephones, shared desks and appliances, touch screens, faucets and sinks are all hives of potential exposure.
“Those hotspots, pre-pandemic, you might not have ever thought about cleaning and disinfecting so thoroughly,” Sansoni acknowledges. Now, though, progress is being made with focusing on those areas and highlighting the risks inherent in not paying enough attention. He cites regularly cleaning elevator buttons as another example of key actions that are happening more now compared to before.
Communication is crucial
When it comes to inspiring confidence in facility residents, workers, and visitors, the importance of clear communication must not be underestimated. That is, in part, why ISSA’s GBAC STAR facility accreditation program has had so much success over the last six months; facility operators want to convey the message that it’s safe to return, that there’s nothing to fear.
The chances are that, unless they’re a stranger to the typical 9-5 job and are used to being in the office until late in the evening, many workers have rarely, if ever, encountered their employers’ janitorial teams. Most regular facility cleaning is done outside of what we may call “normal” office hours for various reasons including limiting the disruption of a business’ working day. This may not have been an issue before, notes Sansoni, but now, people want to know what’s up.
“What facilities – no matter what type of facility – have found themselves needing to do is to showcase how seriously they’re enacting enhanced cleaning and disinfecting hygiene protocols,” he says. “It’s really about communicating what you’re doing or what you will do. You need to reassure your employees that their health and safety is paramount, to be able to reinforce that.”
In terms of the effect on the cleaning and maintenance industry in general, it’s perhaps most apt to think of COVID-19 as the flashlight being shone into the gloom. For possibly the first time in a long while, we can really see clearly. Cleaning and disinfecting have always been important and specialist services, of course, know what they’re doing.
For the general public and non-experts, though, it may be a case of re-education. Sansoni notes that the ACI has seen a slip in handwashing with soap and hot water in recent months – this basic measure should be “the gold standard,” as he calls it. The pandemic has certainly seen a reinforcement of the importance of getting the basics right, and a stepping up of standards, particularly at a professional level. The hope is that beyond COVID-19, whenever that stage may come, we don’t take our eyes off the ball.
Sansoni adds that COVID-19 has also been an unexpected opportunity to ensure adequate training and nous is there. Not every company or facility manager can afford to employ a janitorial crew or contract a cleaning company. For those doing it in-house instead, proper education has never been more important and the raft of online resources made available in recent months is perhaps the best proof of that.
Avoiding the “twindemic”
Right now, we’re coming into the regular cold and flu season and, again, that flashlight is shining. With businesses, facility managers, and public health and government officials all preaching the importance of cleaning and infection control, hygiene messages and practices are being reinforced like never before and Sansoni hopes that will help stem the onset of any “twindemic” of influenza and coronavirus. With vigilance and diligence, we may see lower cold and flu rates than in years past.
Another thing that might help that, and infection control in general beyond COVID-19 and 2020, is technological shifts. Sansoni notes a trend that has been gathering pace this year is an increasing move to touchless technology – hand soap machines that dispense in response to movement rather than touch, as one example. That has existed before this year but could well become a renewed focus for facility managers and cleaners, reducing opportunities for germ and virus transfer.
Overall, though, the message is that common sense goes a long way towards instilling and ingraining bolstered hygiene practices. Keep up the improvements that have been shown over recent months, maintain the messaging and communication, keep the flashlight burning bright, and we’re on the way to a cleaner world.