Clean as a Whistle: Tips for maintaining a hygienic, sanitary work environment

Shutterstock / Hvostik
Shutterstock / Hvostik
Published On
Jan 14, 2022

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing and flu season in full swing, it is important to maintain a safe, clean work environment. People may become infected by touching surfaces contaminated with illness-causing viruses and bacteria and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Fortunately, the risk can be reduced by regular cleaning, disinfecting and encouraging workers to frequently wash their hands and use hand sanitizer.

Cleaning surfaces once a day with products that contain detergents or soap should be adequate in environments where nobody has been sick. However, high-traffic areas might need to be cleaned and disinfected more frequently.

When using disinfectants, be sure to follow the instructions on the label. If the disinfectant needs to be diluted with water, use room-temperature water unless otherwise indicated. After diluting, make sure to label the mixture. Cleaning solutions and chemicals must be stored properly and according to their labels. They should never be mixed. And it may seem obvious, but never apply them to the skin, ingest, inhale or inject cleaning solutions or chemicals, as doing so can result in serious bodily harm.

In the event someone tests positive for COVID-19, or an employee is sick, the entire area, facility or work site should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. This includes high-touch surfaces such as hand-held tools, pens, counters, tables, doorknobs, light switches, drawer handles, stair rails, elevator buttons, desks, workbenches, keyboards, phones and bathrooms. When cleaning these areas, it is imperative to wear appropriate PPE, which may include gloves, masks, respiratory protection and safety glasses or goggles.

When the workplace is being cleaned or disinfected, it’s a good idea to open doors and windows and use fans or HVAC to increase air circulation. Central HVAC systems should remain on while vacuuming because they provide better filtration capabilities and introduce outdoor air into the atmosphere. However, window- or wall-mounted HVAC fans should be turned off to avoid contaminating them with airborne pathogens. Use a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air filter and bag whenever possible.

If laundry such as clothing, towels or linens becomes contaminated, wash them on the hottest setting possible and let them dry completely. It’s OK to launder dirty items from a sick individual with other items. However, when handling dirty laundry from a sick person, wear gloves and a mask, and be sure to thoroughly wash hands after. Additionally, it is imperative to clean and disinfect hampers or other containers that may have contained contaminated laundry.

Alternative cleaning methods that have emerged during the pandemic and are said to kill the coronavirus include devices that emit ultrasonic waves, high-intensity ultraviolet radiation and LED blue light (see “Disinfecting With Light” in the May 2021 issue of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR). While their effectiveness is not fully established, using them as a secondary cleaning and disinfecting measure couldn’t hurt. However, it probably isn’t necessary to purchase this equipment.

If a company vehicle becomes compromised by a sick employee, focus on cleaning commonly touched surfaces such as car keys and fobs, door handles, the center console and cup holders, armrests, seat belts and seat adjusters. This also includes cleaning and disinfecting the headrests and seat pockets; instrument panel, gear shift and control knobs; steering wheel, mirrors and radio microphone; transported items placed in the trunk or rear cargo hold; and all other devices used during the employee’s shift.

Workers who clean, disinfect, wash laundry and pick up waste should be aware of COVID-19 hazards and implement policies and procedures to protect workers.

Additionally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “To protect workers from hazardous chemicals, training should include when to use PPE, what PPE is necessary (refer to Safety Data Sheet for specific cleaning and disinfection products), how to properly put on, use, and take off PPE, and how to properly dispose of PPE.”

Employers need to make certain that workers are trained and understand OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard (29 CFR 1910.1200). Employers and employees should also follow OSHA’s standards on blood-borne pathogens (29 CFR 1910.1030). This includes proper disposal of regulated waste and PPE (29 CFR 1910.132).

Maintaining a clean and sanitary work environment will help reduce the transmission and spread of COVID-19, the flu and other illnesses and keep employees safe. Visit www.cdc.gov for more information.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.

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