In the first week of April amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington, D.C., had an office occupancy rate of only 14%, according to Kastle Systems. D.C. residents and workers were under... Read More
As the COVID-19 crisis intensified in New York City, which quickly became the epicenter of the outbreak, most NYC offices shut down and asked employees to work remotely from home. Though this arrangement may have been sustainable temporarily, many businesses have been eager to find a way to safely re-open their offices, and the ability to do that hinges on providing a healthy work environment designed to reduce the spread of the virus.
Frequently touched surfaces
One of the most crucial aspects of maintaining this kind of environment is managing frequently touched surfaces in the office. These types of surfaces, which might be touched by several different employees multiple times throughout the day, can be found everywhere in the typical office. They include:
- Door handles and drawer pulls
- Desks and computer keyboards
- Chairs and office furniture
- Shared kitchen and eating spaces (including coffee makers, counter tops, fridge, etc)
- Bathroom surfaces
These areas are ground zero for the spread of germs, and for COVID-19 in particular. As a result, protocols must be put in place to manage these surfaces.
Three strategies for halting the spread of COVID-19
Three main strategies that can be employed in offices to keep these frequently touched surfaces from facilitating the spread are:
Cleaning the surfaces regularly
Frequently touched surfaces will need to be cleaned multiple times per day. A daily visit from a cleaning service helps with removing germs, but it won’t be nearly sufficient enough for protecting against the spread of something as contagious as COVID-19 in an indoor setting with many employees. In addition to the efforts of a professional cleaning service – who should also be responsible for disinfecting frequently touched surfaces there will also need to be regular cleaning of frequently touched surfaces during the course of the work day.
A particular staff member or team of employees may be chosen to take on this responsibility, using disinfectant wipes to clean a predetermined list of surfaces at regular intervals. Employees should also be instructed to wipe down any surface that they touch before and after use. It may initially sound like a tedious task, but wipe downs should be fairly fast and easy, and they will go a long way to providing employees with peace of mind as well.
Ending or limiting the common use of these surfaces
Some of the frequently touched surfaces in your office can be transformed into not-so-frequently-touched surfaces. For instance, many offices have previously had an open desk policy, meaning that one workspace will end up being touched by multiple employees. This can be changed by assigning dedicated workspaces, at 6ft distance apart, allowing each employee to more easily keep their own germs contained to a designated space and to easily social distance from one another.
Other commonly touched spaces can be eliminated entirely. The use of community kitchenettes, coffee pots, and refrigerators might need to be discontinued – hopefully not forever, but at least until we are in a better position to prevent and treat COVID-19.
Employing touch-less technologies
One of the best strategies for keeping germs from surfaces is to implement hands-free technologies wherever possible. This may include motion-activated office lighting, sensor-driven doors that open automatically, and faucets activated by movement.
Although some of these technologies may be expensive to install initially, consider the cleaning costs it will eventually save, not to mention the safety benefits. Furthermore, some of these technologies have other advantages: for example, many companies have already been adopting motion-activated lighting as a way of saving on electricity costs.
Cleaning the right way
As mentioned above, thorough cleaning is critical to keeping surfaces free of COVID-19, but it is important to ensure you are cleaning in the right way. In response to the challenges of COVID-19, the New York City Health Department has issued guidance on Cleaning and Disinfecting for Non-health Care Settings that includes advice on how to effectively disinfect both hard and soft surfaces.
While the document notes that coronaviruses are actually fairly easy to kill, it’s always good to begin by removing any dirt or grime before wiping down with a disinfectant. Bleach, peroxide, and solutions that include at least 70% alcohol are all suitable for disinfecting hard surfaces. Soft items (e.g., linens, upholstered chairs, carpets) can be cleaned with typical detergents or cleaners made specifically for those items.
The importance of hand washing
Another way to keep frequently touched surfaces clean in the office is to help employees maintain good personal hygiene, especially where their hands are concerned. Hand sanitizer dispensers should be located throughout the office, and employees should be supplied with disinfecting wipes and sanitizer at their desks.
The NYC Health Department guidance suggests that employees wash their hands after coughing or nose blowing, using the toilet, handling trash, using public transportation, and touching animals, among other activities. They also advise not to shake hands, to sneeze into tissues (not your hands!), wash hands after interacting with clients or coworkers, and to generally avoid touching your own eyes, nose, and mouth.
Disinfecting surfaces if someone gets sick
Taking all of these actions and precautions will help prevent the spread of coronavirus and other germs in the workplace via common surfaces. However, if an employee does become ill, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) offers guidance specifically for cleaning and disinfecting your building or facility if someone is sick.
The CDC’s suggestions include closing off the areas used by the sick employee, increasing air circulation by opening doors and windows, waiting 24 hours before cleaning if possible, and then disinfecting all areas used by the employee. It is advised when vacuuming is necessary, that it is done when no other employees are present in the space.
Among the CDC’s additional considerations for employers are to educate workers on performing cleaning, providing training for cleaning staff (including when and how to use PPE), developing policies for worker protection, and ensuring continued compliance with OSHA standards.
These strategies and guidelines should help your business with managing frequently touched surfaces in the office. It is a responsibility that is especially important now, as businesses learn to function amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but it will also be better for overall the health and welfare of employees to maintain these cleanliness standards.