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COVID 19: The technical and mental cleaning crisis

17 April 2020

Specialist cleaning contractors have a key role in battling COVID-19. Steve Broughton, MD of SafeGroup, shares lessons learned so far.

The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging business continuity measures like no other crisis. Cleaning contractors are playing a vital role in supporting businesses and public services, many of them involved in combatting the virus.

What has been particularly challenging has been the lack of clear facts. Like common cold viruses, COVID-19 is a Coronavirus. But scientists haven’t been able to give precise advice about how the virus behaves. 

Business continuity crisis 
Callers into our office have been operating in this environment. Most of them have been deploying business continuity plans. The more senior the caller, the quicker they have been asking for our assistance. They have realised this crisis is off the normal scale.

Our decontamination teams have been dispatched to all kinds of organisations, all over the UK. We have been cleaning NHS facilities, financial institutions, retail spaces, even helicopters.

The first call we had, came from one of London’s airports. A senior business continuity manager needed urgent support to provide a rolling, continuous decontamination service across all airport areas, both public and back office.

We had just invested in new decontamination technology that electrostatically charges a broad-spectrum disinfectant spray, so it coats surface more effectively and productively.

It has been rigorously tested and has demonstrated high efficacy against viruses, including coronaviruses. Therefore, we could offer the product, with a high degree of confidence, as a methodology for COVID-19 decontamination.

The spray is also effective against bacteria (including mycobacteria and bacterial spores) and fungi. Importantly, it allowed us to quickly decontaminate large spaces. 

Intensive decontamination 
To support the airport, we have been deploying two teams of four operatives, working early morning and late night shifts. Their task has been to spray high risk touch points across the whole airport. 

Based on a risk assessment, these teams wore standard PPE with masks. The aim was to provide an effective decontamination service and to reassure, but not alarm, passengers. 

Reassuring customers and staff
This was important for staff, also. In a crisis, it is vital that staff can give customers credible messages. Our presence provided a strong evidence of the significant action being taken to safeguard passenger safety.

Higher risk areas have been treated with an appropriately higher degree of caution. For example, when decontaminating the airport’s isolation pod in the medical centre, an operative wore full hazmat PPE protection, including a respirator and taped body suit.

Protecting key workers
Millions of people have found they can work from home. But many more cannot. These people need effective protection against Covid-19. They include emergency service providers, financial institutions, the NHS, military bases, care homes, food retailers and data centres. They also include businesses critical to us pulling through the crisis – food factories, logistics providers and food delivery specialists.

Mental health a key concern
Employers have a duty of care for their staff. Covid-19 is already causing significant anxiety. Legitimate fears need to be allayed. Employers will also need protection against claims of negligence. So, what lessons can from the COVID-19 crisis so far?

  • There is demand for, and a need for, legitimate and effective Covid-19 decontamination services
  • Improved wellbeing and mental health are legitimate and important benefits of effective cleaning and decontamination
  • There is a need for decontamination regimes that support skeleton teams or that can be deployed in workspaces that may need to be reopened multiple times.

Decontamination services will be needed as the crisis ends. As workplaces reopen, best practice indicates staff and customers will need to be reassured that COVID-19 and other viral and bacterial threats, either caused by human or animal pest activity, have been thoroughly dealt with.