Office Cleaning and Corona Virus

There is a lot of misinformation regarding cleaning requirements in office areas to prevent the spread of coronavirus.  Some cleaning companies are using this as a reason to push clients into paying for extra services that they don’t need or would have little or any effect preventing spread in a Corona virus outbreak.  One recent example is where a contract cleaning manager told a major client that they would have to spend a lot of money so they could buy in special disinfectants and recommended that the client have their carpets and all office chairs ‘steam’ cleaned as part of their response.  When provided with information by a contract cleaning manager, check their credentials and their qualifications in virology and infection control and ask for references from public health authorities and World Health publications that back up their claims and their proposed methodologies.

The best course of action is for the client to go to those authorities first, research the facts, the risks and the required practices to minimise risks of transmission of this disease.  Once the correct procedures are established, review your scope for cleaning services to ensure that the cleaning requirements are adequate and appropriate for a public health alert.   All public health authorities recommend regular and thorough cleaning of high touch surfaces (e.g. doors, handles, hand rails, taps, keyboards etc) combined with hand hygiene procedures as applicable for COVID-19 in public settings.

A review of the cleaning scope for your building should include a review of and ongoing audits of cleaning methodologies and cleaning hygiene practices.  FM Contact Solutions regularly audits cleaning practices in commercial buildings and finds consistent failings that expose clients and building workers to unnecessary public health risks.

Issues to look for include, but are not limited to

  • Cleaning practice – do the cleaners in your building work from clean to dirty surfaces or from dirty to clean?  For example, it is not uncommon to find toilets being cleaned first before moving to other areas.  Practices like this create and exacerbate health risks in buildings.
  • Adherence to colour coding – Many contractors input implement colour coding but don’t include proper training and supervision. Examples include cleaning toilets with a red cloth and then cleaning kitchens with the same cloth.
  • Cleaning cloth hygiene
    Microfibre cleaning cloths should be laundered daily according to colour and dried using a commercial dryer. Dirty and damaged cloths should be disposed of.

    Dirty cleaning cloths and cross contamination of cleaning cloths are major hygiene risks

    Dirty cleaning cloths and cross contamination of cleaning cloths are major hygiene risks.
    How many cleaning cloths of each colour are issued to each cleaner and how frequently are cloths changed when cleaning surfaces?
    Are cleaning cloths changed when moving from one area to another?
    Are clean clothes being laundered washing machine and commercial dryer or simply rinsed out and left to dry on their cleaning trolleys overnight?
    Are cloths laundered separately according to colour code in a washing machine and dried in a commercial dryer?
    Are different coloured cleaning cloths in contact with each other?
    Are used cloths in contact with clean cloths?

  • Hand hygiene
    Do your cleaners wear gloves and do they change their gloves frequently during each shift e.g. when moving from area to area?
    Do your cleaners wash their hands frequently and thoroughly before starting work, between sections, before and after breaks and eating food, after visiting or cleaning toilets and before they go home?
    Do daytime housekeepers change their gloves and wash their hands before handling clean crockery and cutlery and moving to a new kitchen?
    Are there dedicated daytime housekeepers to handle to rubbish and clean toilets?
    Do your housekeepers clean staff kitchens after moving rubbish or cleaning toilets?
    Are refillable soap dispensers in toilets and kitchens contaminated with bacteria? (Hint: Look for an odour, discolouration, scum, and product preparation in the dispenser.
Refilllable handsoap dispensers can become contaminated with bacteria

Refillable hand soap dispenser are often contaminated with harmful bacteria

  • High Touch surfaces
    Does your cleaning scope require daily cleaning of high touch surfaces?
    Are these surfaces actually being cleaned every night?
    Are the cleaning processes appropriate or do they simply spread dirt and contaminants from one surface to another?
  • Cleaning equipment and cleaning trolleys used to transport cleaning chemicals, equipment and cleaning cloths around the building
    Are cleaning trolleys clean and free of dust and contaminants?
    Are used cleaning cloths in contact with surfaces on the cleaning trolley?
    Does your service provider require cleaners to follow a nightly clean of equipment after each shift?
    Is there a documented procedure for equipment cleaning and storage in their building operations manual and daily cleaning task lists? Are these requirements regularly audited by the contractor to ensure compliance?
    Are vacuums fitted with HEPA filtration to minimise the spread of contaminants through the building HVac system?
  • Cleaning storage areas– The condition of equipment and the cleanliness of cleaning storage areas provides a snapshot into the professionalism of a contractor and their adherence to basic hygiene practices.  Clients should regularly inspect cleaning storage areas to ensure that Hygiene requirements are strictly followed.  Storage areas and all equipment should be clean and neatly stored.  There should be no cleaning cloths hanging on lines or draped over trolleys or buckets and the floor and all surfaces should be clean and dust free.

There are many science-based reference documents prepared by federal and state health authorities and qualified practitioners available to help facility managers and company managers develop strategies to minimise risk of outbreaks and transmission of Covid-19 in their facilities.

Here are some useful links-

Australian Government Department of Health – Coronavirus disease (COVD-19) – Information for employers.
https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/03/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-employers.pdf

Department of Health Victoria – There is a trove with information with links to documents and sites with specific information on prevention and transmission. The site has posters that can be downloaded for display in workplaces.
https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/victorian-public-coronavirus-disease-covid-19

Worksafe Victoria – Exposure to coronavirus in workplaces
https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/safety-alerts/exposure-coronavirus-workplaces

NSW Health – https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/alerts/Pages/coronavirus-faqs.aspx

National Health and Medical Research Council NHMRC – Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection in Healthcare. This document details cleaning requirements for clinical and non-clinical areas in health care, including office cleaning.
https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/attachments/publications/infections-control-guidelines.pdf

US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Coronavirus disease Prevention and Treatment
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention-treatment.html

Whiteley Corporation – The risk of infection via surfaces and the new Coronavirus. Dr Greg Whiteley.
https://www.whiteley.com.au/news/the-risk-of-infection-via-surfaces-and-the-new-coronavirus

ISSA – Coronavirus: Prevention and Control for the Cleaning Industry
https://www.issa.com/education/cleaning-for-infection-prevention/coronavirus-prevention-and-control-for-the-cleaning-industry

Cleaning is essential public health, and along with hand hygiene is a key factor in minimising the risk of transmission of diseases like Carona virus.  Cleaning contractors however are not necessarily experts in public health and the effectiveness of cleaning is limited by the scope of works provided to the contractor and the lack of ongoing audits of cleaning effectiveness and cleaning hygiene systems by the client.

Cleaning strategies to reduce risks of transmission it should be implemented and researched by the client and implemented and monitored in conjunction with the cleaning contractor.