Millions of Canadians are still wondering when — or if — they will be returning to the office. While the situation is certainly not as bad as it is in the U.S., many employers throughout North America are heeding studies that indicate large numbers of office workers — as many as 75 per cent, according to one IBM Institute for Business Value study — would prefer to continue working remotely.
While employers may listen to these calls, at least for now, most predictions are that later this year and, indeed, next year, more employers will want to see at least most of their staff back in the office at their desks.
A changed landscape
Whenever they do return, workers may possibly find the following changes:
- Building users required to get a temperature and symptom check as soon as they walk into the workplace
- Desks at least six feet apart with many enclosed by see-through plastic shields
- New carpet designs outlining where to stand and where not to stand
- Common area seating eliminated
- Face coverings always required
- Sanitizing stations installed throughout the facility
These are just some of the changes that may occur. Many others may be implemented based on each facility’s needs and the people using those locations.
For facility managers in charge of these facilities’ day-to-day operations, there is one more change necessary: how they hire a cleaning contractor.
This former cleaning contractor, remembers when contractors were selected primarily based on their “low” charges. Over the years, that hiring policy is slowly being buried. And, due to COVID-19, the last nails in the coffin of the “hire the low bidder” policy have been hammered.
Today, according to Mike Sawchuk, a Canadian cleaning and product distribution consultant, that has been replaced by the following:
Proof of insurance
Most midsized or larger cleaning contractors have some form of general liability insurance protecting managers should the cleaning worker break something or someone is harmed due to their actions. However, having this insurance, and an adequate amount of it, is now a must.
“Facility managers should [also] require that their property be listed as ‘co-insured.’ This provides further protection should it be proven COVID-19 was introduced into a facility by a cleaning worker, either directly, or by through their work,” says Sawchuk.
When it comes to health, we know that “looks clean” does not mean anything. The term “cleaning,” we must always remember, essentially means removing visible soils. It’s those soils that we do not see — typically pathogens that can harm human health — that are the ones we are most concerned about.
Typically, a quality assurance program includes the use of ATP rapid monitors, which detect if organic materials are on a surface and in what amounts. They generally do this in about 15 seconds. A high reading is an alarm bell, indicating the surfaces need cleaning or more effective cleaning.
As part of an effective quality assurance program, says Sawchuk. “ATP readings should be taken on a variety of high-touch surfaces to establish benchmarks. Then tested regularly, to make sure ATP readings are below those benchmarks and that the cleaning performed is effective, producing healthy and safe conditions.”
We already mentioned that an office worker will likely be required to have temperature and health checks upon entering the workplace, and the same applies to a worker and a cleaning contractor.
“A cleaning contractor must have similar programs for each of their staff before they begin their shifts,” Sawchuk advises. “They should be tested regularly, with test results documented and available to building managers. Further, workers should be asked about their health and [about] the health of those in their families. This information must be logged and available to facility managers.”
Never has removing visible soil and disinfecting — eliminating pathogens that typically cannot be seen on a surface — become so necessary.
In Canada, managers must make sure their cleaning contractors are using disinfectants proven to be effective against the pathogens that cause the coronavirus. For those products manufactured and marketed in the U.S., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides a list, known as the N-List, which lists all disinfectants proven effective. A new N-List tool makes this investigation faster and easier for everyone in North America.
However, in Canada, all disinfectants must have a drug identification number (DIN) provided by Health Canada. Cross-referencing the DIN, managers can determine if the disinfectant used in the facility is effective against the coronavirus.
Along with selecting the right disinfectants, facility managers must make sure their cleaning workers are using the most effective cleaning technologies available that both remove soils and eliminate pathogens. This is essential. In professional cleaning, for the disinfectant to work properly, the surface area must be cleaned first, then the surface can be disinfected. This also follows guidelines developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
While different cleaning technologies have been introduced to help stop the spread of coronavirus by disinfecting surfaces, there is some misinformation about some systems we must address. For instance, UV lights and electrostatic sprayers do not clean surfaces first. They just apply the disinfectant. This calls into question the long-term effectiveness of these tools when it comes to slowing the spread of coronavirus.
“This is why I advise facility managers to select contractors that use technologies that both remove soils and can kill pathogens from surfaces,” says Drew Bunn, Director of Sales for Kaivac, manufacturers of cleaning equipment designed to prevent the spread of infection.
One option is the use of what ISSA calls “spray and vac” cleaning, often referred to as no-touch cleaning. These systems pressure wash surfaces to remove soils. “More advanced machines take cleaning and disinfecting to the next step and vacuum up moisture, soils, and pathogens,” adds Bunn.
Further, Bunn says at least one system uses an N-List disinfectant. “This allows it to clean and disinfect surfaces in one step, eliminating the pathogens that cause the virus, in one step.”
Most of us are waiting for the vaccines to become more available, believing that will put this dark cloud behind us. Of course, the vaccines will help dramatically. But so much will never be the same, including how facilities are cleaned. When it comes to cleaning, recognizing that things have changed is the first step in creating a healthier future.
“And we may need to make changes several times,” adds Sawchuk. “Facility managers and cleaning professionals need to realize other pandemics and threats to health may occur in the future.”
Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org