We have seen a lot of public areas such as gyms, parks, malls, etc being closed to adhere to the basic principles of social distancing to contain the virus. When it comes to residential and commercial buildings, earlier what were considered as the backof- house areas, are now being sanitized and disinfected more regularly than common areas. All over the world, cleaning companies are shifting their methodologies to suit the current need for disinfection. They are introducing the protocols for sanitization and disinfection in their routines rather than sticking to normal cleaning.
“There has not been much activity since the lockdown, i.e., end of March. Prior to this, when people were still in their offices, there was a lot of disinfection going on. There was an increased vigilance in terms of touchpoints and an increase in the cleaning of touchpoints. Now that we are in lockdown, a lot of companies and organizations are planning for measures to be taken when they reopen. Their focus has now changed from how to clean to how to control the spread of this or another virus that may come along in the future in a different way. Organizations out there are focusing on misting, fogging, etc. All this will probably take place in the first 1-2 weeks after the government lifts restrictions,” says Tommy Taylor, Director, T.Taylor Solutions, UK.
Cleaning and disinfecting a quarantined building
The UAE is in the second stage of fighting this pandemic. The initial 3 weeks of lockdown have been completed successfully and now buildings and businesses have slowly started to reopen to the general public. During this time, whenever a case is reported in the building, Dubai Municipality lays down a certain criteria to disinfect the entire building rather than follow the routine cleaning regimes, which would have cost the unexperienced cleaners to be exposed to the virus. Needless to say, the most challenging facilities to be cleaned right now are hospitals and accommodations of COVID-19 positive people.
The Dubai Municipality dedicated certain specialized companies with approved equipment to achieve the disinfection. The cleaning procedure, which adheres to the norms, involves wiping critical areas such as reception, door knobs, etc. This is followed by spraying the corners and inaccessible areas, which might have been missed while wiping. Finally, the fumigation process follows for the entire building including corridors, garbage rooms, stairs, lifts and apartments where the suspected cases were residing. Apart from this, special onus is placed on the PPE. Only trained cleaners with proper full PPE (including masks, gloves, respirators, shoe covers, etc) are to be deployed for disinfection. Special emphasis is also laid on the disposal of the same for infection control.
Further, all the residents of the building are to stay indoors for five hours after disinfection for the chemicals to take effect. “Initially, things were a lot different. People were using the old methods of disinfection known to them and the staff were not equipped with proper PPE. But, as the awareness of COVID-19 is spreading, the disinfection methods are improving linearly,” says Jean Paul, Regional Head of Dubai South, Deyaar. He also added that once the disinfection of a building is completed, the PPE is immediately disposed of, the staff are instructed to take immediately take a shower, and the equipment is wiped off by sanitizing chemicals to keep them safe.
How facilities are working to prevent contamination
Initial Saudi - a leading Saudi- Arabia-based building services and management company - implements a stringent personnel hygiene program for its clients. “We remind all the staff and employees to wash their hands, the type of equipment they have to use and the protocols for using these equipment, how the work surfaces have to be cleaned and sanitized on a daily basis. The most important thing is that we are constantly educating the occupants of residential buildings and checking their symptoms before they enter the facility, ” says Riyaz Sanadi, Division Manager, Duraclean Div, Initial Saudi Arabia Group. Besides this, a continuous disinfection and decontamination of the areas is a constant.
Deyaar, too, is taking strong measures to prevent contamination in their properties - both commercial and residential. In commercial buildings, they are opening up with 30% strength as per government regulations. Even for this limited capacity, the company ensures that it checks the symptoms of everyone entering their building premises (including guests). They also insist that all their staff and guests carry their own appropriate PPE. The elevators are marked with social distancing signages, which ensure that people are standing at a recommended distance from each other. The offices inside Deyaar buildings have also been informed that they are to allow guests at given time frames only. This is to ensure that 30% occupancy is maintained at all times. Even inside an office, they need to use disinfection services from a specialized company. If there is any case of people falling sick in these offices, they are required to ask the said employee to work from home.
As far as residential buildings are concerned, Deyaar again has a set of in depth measures in place. For example, if there are any deliveries happening in Deyaar residential buildings, they have to be sanitized before they are let in. The number of guests allowed in a particular apartment at a given time has been restricted. Large gatherings are no longer allowed in the buildings. The tenants have been advised not to use the common areas after 10:30 p.m as they are to be disinfected daily. The swimming pools and gym areas have been shut, being common areas for the spread of the virus.
Be it a commercial or residential building, the focus of cleaning has definitely changed. For instance, earlier staircases of buildings were cleaned on a quarterly basis. Today, when gyms are shut down, people prefer to exercise on these staircases. Hence, they need to be cleaned more often. Not only this, each cleaning activity is to be followed by thorough disinfection.
Is the division of areas as high, medium and low risk obsolete?
Classifying areas as high, medium and low risk in controlling COVID-19. For instance, door knobs and handles stand more chances of being contaminated with COVID-19 is important than back-of-house as they are frequently touched by people. The focus of cleaning and disinfection, hence, should be more in these high risk areas, although the others cannot be neglected either.
Key factors to be considered in training
Training in itself is a key factor to combat the spread of COVID-19. If you don’t train your staff, it doesn’t matter if you give them the world’s best disinfectants. If they don’t know how to use it properly, there’s always going to be a problem. Cleaning companies must focus their efforts on people management (what they do and how they do it) as much as they focus on the cleaning operation itself.
The first step is to get the right equipment and chemicals. The second is to ensure that ground workers understand what they are using, how it works and how they can put their resources to the most efficient use.
Health and safety in handling chemicals and in preventing contamination
The training in handling of chemicals is essential. Wherever possible, cleaning companies should use chemicals that don’t need to be diluted. This saves time and ensures health and safety of those handling the chemicals on ground. Where the usage of such chemicals is not possible, companies must assign dedicated trained people for dilution of chemicals who know exactly how to handle these chemicals and where to use them.
Infact, before you choose any chemicals, you should test its effect on your staff. Be it fogging, misting or any other technique, it can have a detrimental effect on the staff if not used properly.
Steps to be taken for health and safety of staff
• Constantly educate staff members about the concepts of social distancing, proper hygiene and to recognize the symptoms of COVID-19.
• Implement policies for worker protection.
• Train cleaners before sending them to disinfect a building.
• Provide proper PPE and educate them about its usage and safe disposal.
• Take feedback.
Choosing the right equipment to chemicals
• Look for a renowned brand.
• Check if the products have right certifications.
• Don’t experiment with brands of equipment or chemicals you have not been associated with before.
Using new technologies
Several alternative cleaning methods have been explored and are being used in the market. For instance, Nanotechnology (or self cleaning), Steam Cleaning or using UltraViolet C light. While cleaning companies stick to trusted brands, they must also analyze how effective these new technologies can prove to be for their facilities. For instance, UV cleaning can’t be really implemented in high traffic areas. In the same way, before you implement any of these technologies in your facility, ask yourself some basic questions:
• Will you be able to isolate the area?
• What is the location?
• How long can you access that location?
• How much is the footfall of that location?
• Is it possible to train the staff in these new technologies considering the time constraints the current pandemic is posing?
• Are they safe to be used by your staff members?
The biggest challenges in cleaning during COVID-19
The biggest challenge in cleaning buildings during COVID-19 is that they are not able to work at full capacity. Work-from-home might be an alternative for the rest of the industries, it doesn’t really work in the cleaning and hygiene sector. Another is the shortage of materials and chemicals.
Another big challenge is the lack of long-term planning. Cleaning is a labor intensive industry and a large number of people are dependent on a long term plan or project for their job security. With the uncertainty in the current economy, long term planning is really not possible. It is difficult to predict what is going to happen in the near future.
However, no matter how big the challenges, there is plenty of opportunity as well. With new and innovative solutions, the world is not far from breaking the chain of COVID-19.