How to Disinfect a Workplace
Morning teas no more
Workplaces have always been required to meet high hygiene standards. They are places where society spends five out of seven days of the week, sharing spaces like bathrooms, kitchen spaces and desks. Throw in sharing lifts multiple times a day, shaking hands at meetings and hosting communal morning teas, there’s truly no escaping people (and their germs) in the office no matter how hard you try (or sanitize).
Though most office workplaces would have had vigilant cleaning and disinfecting practices in place already, COVID-19 has completely transformed what the word ‘clean’ really means in the workplace. Unfortunately, this transformation has come at a cost. Prior to the pandemic, companies were contracted out to workplaces, where they would visit after hours and undergo a list of cleaning practices. We’re in uncharted territory now, however, and a simple spray of Pine-O-Clean won’t do (nor will wiping the bench with a baby wipe).
The future is unknown right now, but there’s one thing that will remain the same. The benchmark for cleanliness has been raised and it will stay that way for the unforeseeable future. Our expectations of what is an acceptable standard of hygiene have changed. Whether those expectations revert back once COVID-19 has subsided remains to be seen but it’s fair to say that until things return to normal, those communal morning teas will be far and few between.
It’s been made clear what should have already been clear. Workplaces have undergone significant changes over the last six months. Many businesses are still working from home but those that aren’t working remotely have probably never seen their desk so squeaky clean. Finger marks are gone from the computer screen, crumbs are nowhere to be seen in the kitchen and there are sanitizing stations left, right and centre. It’s disinfected – but what steps have been taken to get there? Let’s dissect the disinfection process.
Fail to prepare and prepare to fail
The first step toward achieving exceptional levels of hygiene in the workplace and the removal of pathogens lies in preparation. There are a number of things you can do to ensure whoever is cleaning and disinfecting the workplace is primed and set up to meet high expectations:
Read and Follow the Instructions on the Label
Times have changed, but the importance of reading and following the instructions on a product label haven’t. And while it may be something you were told as a child, this guidance (and somewhat warning) shouldn’t be scoffed at. By reading and following the instructions on the label you’ll ensure safe and effective use of the product. Many products might suggest to:
- Wear skin protection such as gloves and consider eye protection. This will help avoid potential splash hazards
- Ensure adequate ventilation. Avoid cleaning in tight, enclosed spaces and open up doors where possible.
- Use no more than the amount recommended on the label
- Use water at room temperature for dilution (unless stated otherwise on the label)
- Avoid mixing chemical products
- Store and use chemicals out of the reach of children and pets
Make a Plan
Make a rough floor plan with the sizes of each room. This way it will be easier to allocate the appropriate amount of time to each space. Consider which rooms might need more attention. These rooms often include communal areas such as:
- Bathrooms. Where people congregate in smaller enclosed spaces like bathrooms, germs are prevalent. Extra time should be spent cleaning bathrooms due to the period of time many employees are exposed to germs after using the toilet and prior to washing their hands. Focus on toilets, faucets and sinks.
- Kitchens. Employees will often make or prepare their lunch in the kitchen. It’s a sure-fire place to find someone touching their face, licking their fingers or generally, using their hands to deal with food or drinks. Though cleaning after using the kitchen is best practice and common courtesy, they’re still rooms prone to collecting crumbs, finger marks and other germs. When cleaning, focus on tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops and sinks.
- Hot-desking. In workplaces where businesses have been ‘hot-desking’, more vigilant cleaning will be required. Hot-desking refers to multiple workers using a single physical workstation or surface during different time periods. The concept of hot-desking is great for encouraging collaboration amongst employees but it’s also COVID-19’s right hand man. It’s therefore likely hot-desking will not be reintroduced to workplaces for some time. When cleaning, focus on desks, phones, keyboards and screens.
Clean, clean and clean some more
Cleaning cannot be used interchangeably with disinfecting. Cleaning is the removal of germs but not killing, while the disinfecting means you’re actually killing them. This is an important thing to remember as we continue to navigate our way through cleaning a world highly susceptible to COVID-19.
To maximize the effectiveness of disinfecting – which will come in the next step – a lengthy amount of time should be spent thoroughly cleaning the area prior to using chemicals. With a sturdy pair of latex gloves worn, there several things to consider in the cleaning stage to best ensure a clean workplace:
- Start by cleaning the surfaces with soap and water. This can be considered priming the area before applying harsh chemicals or in other words, disinfecting. It’s recommended to wash with hot potable water (60 °C) to best clean any surface and remove potential pathogens which could include coronaviruses.
- As mentioned above in our suggestions on how to plan, practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces. These surfaces might require more time or a couple of ‘layers’ of cleaning and disinfectant.
- Use disposable paper towels or cloths to clean. It’s not the most environmentally friendly approach however it’s the most likely way of removing any unwanted pathogens.
- Pat dry the area. Pathogens including coronaviruses thrive in moist places. Even if you plan to disinfect directly after cleaning, it’s highly recommended you pat dry in between. This will remove any unnecessary and unwanted moisture.
- Avoid touching the clean services prior to disinfecting them. They’re at the stage where they’re ready to be disinfected.
Remove contamination through disinfection
Once the cleaning step has been completed and the surface is dry, turn the focus to disinfecting, or killing, the germs. Diluted household bleach solutions are ample for disinfecting the workplace and should suffice for all surfaces. Before proceeding:
- Check the label to see if the bleach is intended for disinfection. It should have a sodium hypochlorite concentration of 5%–6%.
- Ensure the product is not past its expiration date. Some bleaches, such as those designed for safe use on colored clothing or for whitening, may not be suitable for disinfection. They may not be toxic enough for what is required in the workplace. It’s important to remember that bleach that has expired may not be effective against coronaviruses.
- Again, check the labels instructions. Check for instructions for proper application and proper ventilation. Never mix bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser.
A bleach solution can be made by mixing five tablespoons of bleach per four litres of room temperature water or four teaspoons bleach per litre of room temperature water. Alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol are also a great option for a strong disinfectant. Bleach solutions will be effective for disinfection up to 24 hours.
Once the disinfectant solution is ready to be used in the workplace, leave it on the surface for at least one minute. It’s not necessary to clean and disinfection wooden surfaces including benches and tables as frequently as plastics and metal. If the disinfectant dries on the surface before the suggested contact time is reached, it is safest to reapply the solution to ensure that the contact or ‘wet’ time is met. Drying is critical, but not at this stage in the process. You will learn more about the importance of drying below.
Hint: if making your own solution sounds too hard, ‘cheat’ by using disinfectant wipes. Most will claim they can kill up to 99.9% of germs and can be effective against pathogens including coronaviruses. If you choose to disinfect with wipes do not reuse wipes to wipe down multiple surfaces as this will simply transfer the germs from one dirty surface to another.
Drying is an underrated – and understudied – part of the cleaning and disinfecting process. And while it’s commonly known that drying is understudied, it’s also commonly known that wet surfaces can increase the risk of contamination. What many aren’t aware of is that drying surfaces is in fact as important as cleaning and disinfecting. Consider drying surfaces as important as drying your hands after using the bathroom. After surfaces are cleaned, they should be dried with paper towels or paper cloths. Alternatively, this is when disinfectant wipes can come in handy as they are fast drying.
Fortunately, many modern offices are designed incorporating large, smooth surfaces which can work to fight against contamination. The lack of corners and joints helps prevent the harbouring of pathogens including coronaviruses. Though if you find yourself cleaning a surface that is uneven or with ‘nooks and crannies’ be vigilant about drying it. Leaving pools of water (where air drying may not even occur) can cause further contamination.
What more can you do to ensure a clean workplace?
The list is endless. While cleaning, disinfecting and drying are the three key components in keeping a workplace clean and hygienic, there are a plethora of things you can do to increase the levels of cleanliness. These include:
Regularly washing your clothes.
The more frequent the washing, the better. Don’t delay cleaning the clothes worn while cleaning a workplace as it’s been proven some pathogens can live on particular surfaces for several days. To wash your clothes, use hot water and bleach or detergent in the washing machine, then dry them on a heat cycle. Fully drying on a heat cycle is required for disinfection.
Avoid Touching Things
Needless to say, avoid touching your face whenever cleaning and disinfecting. Better still, avoid seeing anyone directly after cleaning and prioritise the washing of clothes discussed above. Following the disinfection of a workplace, you are at risk of potentially spreading germs further.
Spread the Word, Not the Germs
It’s great to have a thorough cleaning, disinfecting and drying procedure for keeping the workplace hygienic and clean. To complement the now squeaky-clean bathrooms, kitchens and desks it’s important to ensure those working in the office understand the importance of maintaining those high levels of cleanliness. This will ensure the risk of infection amongst employees is mitigated while also promoting general hygiene in communal areas.
To achieve this, signage should be placed around the workplace. The signage should include information about all risks of contamination but in particular, coronaviruses. It should state the importance of washing hands, not touching the face and keeping a social distance between all employees.
The workplace will remain a safe environment for all employees if the above steps are taken.
Working together to keep the workplace clean
The last six months have proven to be unprecedented times. A once in 100-year event, COVID-19 has certainly made its mark on the century. Countries have responded in vastly different ways and seen vastly different outcomes. One thing that has been shared across the globe, however, is the education around cleaning and disinfecting workplaces. Businesses have flipped their cleaning practices upside down to safeguard all employees working in the office.
Moving forward, there is the utmost need to continue carrying out these vigilant cleaning procedures. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a great place to start for advice on products and procedures that will help assist. From information about contamination to answers to frequently asked questions, the EPA is a helpful website which will help provide clarity around what’s expected in the workplace from a hygiene perspective.
And if all else fails, remember to simply clean, disinfect and dry. If all workplaces do the right thing and increase the frequency and intensity of their cleaning practices, the risk of spreading pathogens, including coronaviruses, will be reduced.