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How to manage hygiene as workplaces reopen

22 September 2020

All the planning and preparation for the reopening of the office is about to face its first proper stress test.

The government is encouraging everyone to get back into the office, and a recent survey found that office occupancy increased by 120% since the beginning of September.

Granted, occupancy is still only at 33% of pre-lockdown levels. But that’s still a significant increase on August levels. The test for facilities and building managers is to see how their hygiene programmes work with the increased numbers in the workplace. The outcome will be essential – not only for ensuring the health of those in the office, but demonstrating to those working remotely that the office is safe.

Risk assessment
Multiple risk assessments should have already been carried out in workplaces that have reopened, and it’s vital to continue them. Each one acts as a benchmark and as more people return to the workplace, the risks change. Areas of a building that have previously remained closed off might reopen. Community areas like kitchens will be busier. Risks evolve over time so assessments must be carried out at regular intervals.

Hygiene programme
A risk assessment is the foundation of a workplace hygiene programme. A comprehensive programme should also include cleaning specifications, swab testing, signage, communication tools and independent certification.

Cleaning specification includes the frequency of cleaning, deep cleans, the products used and cleaning of high-risk touchpoints. These will have been identified in the risk assessment and include door handles, light switches, stairway railings, lift buttons and kitchen taps. 

As well as cleaning teams paying extra attention to these touchpoints, labels should be placed on or next to them to remind building users to wash their hands after coming into contact with them.

Positive communication
Labels are just one element of what needs to be an ongoing campaign of positive communication. That is to say, all communication – signage, labels, emails, and in-person communication – should take a positive tone. ‘Please wash your hands’ is a much more effective statement than ‘Don’t forget to wash your hands’. 

A combination of positive messages along with explaining why protocols are in place will go a long way to reinforcing the desired behaviour among building occupants. For example, when implementing a one-way system, signage shouldn’t say ‘One-way only – do not walk down this corridor’. ‘This corridor is one-way - please take an alternative route’ has a much better tone. Email and in-person communication with building occupants can explain why a one-way system is in place and how it helps to reduce the chance of infection and contamination.

The power of independent certification
Certification that demonstrates a building is hygienic should be displayed prominently around a workplace. If the programme has been designed and implemented by an independent organisation, occupants should be made aware of the fact. It shows that a business has sought expert advice and it doing its utmost to make the workplace safe.

We have the means to make workplaces safe and get people back into the office. It’s now a case of adapting hygiene programmes as and when appropriate.
For more ideas and support with workplace hygiene, visit Sitemark's resources page.