COVID-19 has taught us some hard lessons about safe, healthy spaces – but the new knowledge gained will deliver dividends for years to come. Cleaning and air quality experts share their insights.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown the world that cleaning is more than a basic service, says CEO of GJK Facility Services, Elias Stamas. “We all now know that cleaning well is a science.”
As employees navigate the return to their offices, some need extra reassurance that their workplace is safe. “The first thing staff will ask is: How clean and hygienic is my workplace? This is the one thing landlords should be able to answer,” Stamas says.
COVID-19 has highlighted how important hygiene practices are to prevent illness caused by the invisible threats that are around us all the time.
In 2019, absenteeism cost the Australian economy an estimated $35 billion in wages and lost productivity. A massive $90.4 million of that was caused by the ‘flu virus spreading between workers. But research also confirms that improving indoor air quality and hygiene can reduce absenteeism and enhance performance and productivity.
Creating cleaner spaces
GJK has compiled six recommendations to create cleaner spaces through healthy surfaces, air and hands. The report’s author, Bridget Gardner, says common germs can survive for up to 60 says on inanimate surfaces in buildings.
“Micro-organism survival time on surfaces depends on the type of bacteria or virus, the type of surface, and the temperature and humidity of the environment,” Gardner, director of High Performance Cleaning Solutions, explains.
She agrees that there is a science to good cleaning, and recommends landlords check that cleaning companies comply with Department of Health requirements. “Ask for a copy of their COVIDSafe cleaning plans and procedures,” Gardner advises.
“At a minimum, building owners should be checking that the disinfectant their cleaners are using is proven to kill coronavirus.”
Businesses are nervous about operating in a “COVID-normal world”, says Andrew Cleary, director of business development with Stay Clean (Aust). “Surface transmission is a consistent cause of outbreaks,” he says.
Stay Clean is the national distributor of SIQURA products, a hard surface disinfectant that forms a protective polymer and is effective against a broad range of bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19. SIQURA products are listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.
“We have products that can keep high touch surfaces secure for up to 24 hours and low touch surfaces for up to 30 days and hand sanitiser that also lasts up to 24 hours,” Cleary emphasises. “Being COVID-secure also requires the right training protocols and procedures.”
The science of clearing the air
Dr Vyt Garnys is an air quality expert who says sanitation and social distancing are not enough.
“State-of-the-art HVAC systems and best practice control strategies can increase ventilation and reduce the risk of airborne transmission. But it is rarely a case of flicking a switch. We need to take a more scientific approach to air quality,” Garnys says.
Garnys is managing director of CETEC, a specialist in technical, laboratory and scientific risk management solutions. He recommends building owners “define their risk profile” and then “develop a defensible risk management plan” that addresses surfaces, air, waste, cleaning audits, indoor environment ratings, targeted measurements and occupancy protocols.
Covid-19 has been an “easy test,” Garnys adds. “The fatality rate for COVID-19 is low, compared with other infectious diseases like SARS, MERS and Ebola. We must now practice and prepare for future pandemics – because this provides the bedrock of trust and confidence that tenants need to feel safe.”
Professor Tony Arnel from Deakin University’s Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment urges landlords to “draw on the data”. An independent NABERS Indoor Environment assessment, based on real data, provides the big picture of a building’s indoor air quality, as well as other factors like lighting, temperature, thermal comfort and acoustics.
“What we are learning from COVID-19 will pay dividends each year during the influenza season because the same principles apply,” Arnel says. He points to one study published in 2019 that found improving a building’s air quality reduced ‘flu transmission by the same amount as having up to 60 per cent of occupants vaccinated.
“We face a deeply interconnected and intricate challenge. The solution is multi-pronged: strong scientific and engineering principles, skilled human resources professionals and well-trained facilities management and cleaning teams.”
Making the invisible visible
Gardner has a clear recommendation for building owners. “Make cleaning visible – in both a physical and digital sense. This could include posters with key hygiene strategies from COVIDSafe plans, high touch point cleaning schedules, and even feature daytime cleaners in newsletters,” she says.
Stamas says some of the most effective strategies are the simplest. “Have cleaners present throughout the day. Encourage cleanliness with hand sanitisers on desks, touch-free sanitisers in public spaces or hands-free soap dispensers. Use verification systems or visual artifacts such as cards placed on desks that show when they were last cleaned.”
Building management and cleaning teams have worked together to keep people safe by implementing COVID-safe cleaning protocols, Stamas adds.
“It makes good business sense to build on this momentum and increase workplace wellbeing and productivity in 2021 and beyond.”
Download GJK Facility Services' Six essential ways to optimise cleaning for wellbeing and productivity.