Over the last 18 months, we've all been diligently cleaning and sanitizing workplace surfaces as part of our efforts to reduce transmission of COVID-19.
While this hasn’t changed, other things have, including our knowledge of how the virus spreads, worker and customer expectations of cleanliness, the rise of more infectious COVID-19 variants, and the advent of vaccines.
How do these changes affect the cleaning and disinfecting of workplace surfaces, and other control measures? We posed this question to WSPS Occupational Hygienist Kelly Fernandes.
What we've learned about how COVID-19 spreads
According to Health Canada, COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying the virus.
It is also possible for people to come into contact with the virus on contaminated surfaces or objects. While health authorities like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)* consider the risk to be lower than we first thought, it still exists. Kelly explains why: "If a person touches a surface that has the virus on it - from a cough or sneeze, for instance - and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes, they could transfer the virus from that surface."
Don’t let a declining infection rate create a false sense of security. More infectious varieties such as Delta and Lambda are circulating in Canada, and fully vaccinated people can still contract and spread COVID-19, even if they don't display any symptoms.
How our expectations of cleanliness have changed
Employees and customers alike have welcomed the cleaning and disinfection routines adopted by businesses during the pandemic. "Even though contaminated surfaces and objects may be a low risk, people are still wary, with good reason. Knowing that an organization is maintaining controls such as cleaning and disinfection helps everyone feel safer," says Kelly.
Paradoxically, this expectation of cleanliness continues even though a re-opening economy and the availability of vaccines leaves some people less motivated to wear masks or physically distance.
Kelly offers seven tips for workplaces in light of this new information.
- Continue cleaning and sanitizing according to your COVID-19 safety plan. "Pay particular attention to high touch surfaces, such as light switches and doors, and shared tools and equipment." Use Health Canada approved products and follow manufacturers' guidelines for safe use.
- Encourage employees to wash their hands regularly and avoid touching their face. “That’s really how to prevent transferring a virus from a surface to you,” notes Kelly. Make sure hand washing and sanitizing stations are easily accessible, and post signs reminding people to use them frequently. Wearing masks also reduces the number of droplets that could be deposited on surfaces.
- Improve ventilation and air flow to reduce the deposit of expelled virus particles onto surfaces. (See 10 ways to reduce COVID-19 exposure with better ventilation).
- Make your cleaning and sanitizing visible to employees and customers so they see you have their health and safety in mind. "Have employees dedicated to cleaning high touch surfaces throughout their shift," suggests Kelly.
- Ensure employees are trained to strictly follow cleaning protocols and use cleaning products safely.
- Inform customers that you are ensuring their safety through cleaning, sanitizing and other control methods while reminding them to touch surfaces or objects as little as possible, and to hand wash or sanitize. Use signs, posters, and your PA system.
- Increase the level and frequency of cleaning during flu and cold season, ensure workers wear masks, and follow all other COVID-19 protocols. "Wearing masks, handwashing, cleaning, disinfecting and other protocols are the reason few of us had the flu this year," says Kelly.
How WSPS can help
- Download these free resources:
- Download the Prevent COVID at Work mobile app for workers to help them stay safe from COVID-19
- Check out these articles:
* Science Brief: SARS-CoV-2 and Surface (Fomite) Transmission for Indoor Community Environments
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.