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Virtual event recognises cleaning operatives 10/07/2020

The British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc) has announced that, in place of this year’s BICSc Annual Awards Dinner, it will host a virtual ceremony on 24 September to recognise five special cleaning operatives who went the extra mile during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, BICSc announced: "We must never forget the challenges and difficulties we have all faced this year, and whilst there will be more to overcome, let’s take the opportunity to reward some special people."

There are five awards and each of the winners will receive a £250 cash prize, an engraved trophy, and a ticket to attend the BICSc 60th Anniversary celebrations in September 2021.

Nominees must hold a valid Licence to Practice, and the closing date for applications is 31 August.

To download the application form visit the BICSc website.

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HSE inspectors visit businesses to ensure they are COVID-secure 10/07/2020

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is calling for UK businesses to make sure they’re COVID-secure as more sectors open their doors.

HSE inspectors are out and about, putting employers on the spot and checking that they are complying with health and safety law. Being COVID-secure means being adaptable to the current guidance and putting measures in place to control the risk of Coronavirus to protect workers and others.

According to the HSE, there are five practical steps that businesses can take to do that:

Step 1: Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment in line with HSE guidance
Step 2: Develop increased cleaning, hand washing and hygiene procedures
Step 3: Take all reasonable steps to help people work from home
Step 4: Maintain 2m social distancing where possible
Step 5: Where people cannot be 2m apart, manage transmission risk.

Philip White, director of regulation at HSE, said: “Becoming COVID-secure should be the priority for all businesses. By law, employers have a duty to protect workers and others from harm and this includes taking reasonable steps to control the risk and protect people from coronavirus. It’s important that workers are aware of the measures that will be put in place to help them work safely.

“Ensuring workplaces are COVID-secure will not only reassure and increase confidence with workers, but also customers, partners and the local community. Nobody wants lockdown measures to be reversed and the Government has made clear that it will not hesitate to do so if the virus is not properly controlled.”

As inspections are ongoing, HSE has been utilising a number of different ways to gather intelligence and reach out to businesses with a combination of site visits, phone calls and through collection of supporting visual evidence such as photos and video footage.

Some of the most common issues that HSE and local authority inspectors are finding include: failing to provide arrangements for monitoring, supervising and maintaining social distancing, failing to introduce an adequate cleaning regime – particularly at busy times of the day – and providing access to welfare facilities to allow employees to frequently wash their hands with warm water and soap.

HSE will support businesses by providing advice and guidance; however where some employers are not managing the risk, HSE will take action which can range from the provision of specific advice, issuing enforcement notices, stopping certain work practices until they are made safe and, where businesses fail to comply, this could lead to prosecution.

Philip continued: “All sectors and business of all sizes are in scope for inspections and we will ask questions of duty holders to understand how they are managing risks. We understand that the vast majority of employers want to make their workplaces secure and are doing everything they can to keep people and their business safe and healthy.

“Ultimately, becoming COVID-secure benefits the health of our nation; the health of our communities, of businesses and the health of the UK economy. As a nation, we can’t afford not to become COVID-secure.”

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WHO: Coronavirus airborne transmission cannot be ruled out 08/07/2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that evidence is emerging that Coronavirus can be spread via airborne transmission.

A WHO official said that the virus could not be ruled out in crowded, closed or poorly ventilated settings. According to The New York Times, if this evidence is confirmed, it could have an impact on guidelines and people may need to keep wearing masks indoors, even when they are socially distanced.

It would also mean that ventilation systems in schools, nursing homes, residences, and businesses would need to add new filters to air conditioning units.

Previously, in an open letter from 239 leading scientists, the WHO was accused of underestimating the possibility of Coronavirus being spread by airborne transmission. Currently, WHO guidelines state that the virus is transmitted via tiny particles which are expelled when people cough or sneeze.

One of the signatories, Jose Jimenez, a chemist at the University of Colorado, said: "We wanted them to acknowledge the evidence. This is definitely not an attack on the WHO. It's a scientific debate, but we felt we needed to go public because they were refusing to hear the evidence after many conversations with them."

Professor Benjamin Cowling from Hong Kong University told the BBC: "In healthcare settings, if aerosol transmission poses a risk then we understand healthcare workers should really be wearing the best possible preventive equipment... and actually the World Health Organization said that one of the reasons they were not keen to talk about aerosol transmission of COVID-19 is because there's not a sufficient number of these kind of specialised masks for many parts of the world.

"And in the community, if we're thinking about aerosol transmission being a particular risk, then we need to think about how to prevent larger super spreading events, larger outbreaks and those occur in indoor environments with poor ventilation, with crowding and with prolonged close contact."

Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO's technical lead for infection prevention and control, said that evidence emerging of airborne transmission of the Coronavirus in "crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings that have been described, cannot be ruled out."

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Antibodies study suggests flaws in herd-immunity theory 07/07/2020

A large-scale Coronavirus study indicates that only 5% of Spain's population has developed antibodies.

According to the Spanish research on a nationwide representative of more than 61,000 participants, 95% of the country's population remains susceptible to Coronavirus, raising doubts about the effectiveness of a herd-immunity approach. 

The European Center for Disease Control told CNN that the study appears to be the largest to date, and, according to The Lancet, which published the study: "the key finding from these representative cohorts is that most of the population appears to have remained unexposed" to Covid-19, "even in areas with widespread virus circulation.

"In light of these findings, any proposed approach to achieve herd immunity through natural infection is not only highly unethical, but also unachievable," said the Lancet's commentary authors, Isabella Eckerle, head of the Geneva Centre for Emerging Viral Diseases, and Benjamin Meyer, a virologist at the University of Geneva.

Spain's peer-reviewed study began in April 2020 while the nation remained on a strict lockdown, and was conducted by leading government research and epidemiological agencies.

The report stated: "The relatively low seroprevalence observed in the context of an intense epidemic in Spain might serve as a reference to other countries. At present, herd immunity is difficult to achieve without accepting the collateral damage of many deaths in the susceptible population and overburdening of health systems."

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Interserve and Mitie propose merger to create UK’s leading FM business 03/07/2020

Mitie PLC has announced the proposed merger of Interserve Support Services with Mitie for a combined consideration of £271million, comprising £120m in cash and a 23.4% shareholding in Mitie to be held by or on behalf of Interserve’s shareholders.

Interserve Support Services is comprised of the company’s facilities management operations in the UK and overseas across both public and private sectors.

Completion of the transaction is subject to certain conditions, including approval from Mitie’s shareholders. Should these conditions be satisfied within the expected timeframe, the merger of Interserve Support Services is expected to complete by the end of this year. Mitie will also be engaging with the CMA as part of the merger process.

Interserve and Mitie are both leaders of the UK FM outsourcing industry. The combined organisation will be evenly balanced between the public and private sectors and will be the largest facilities management company in the UK, employing over 77,500 people.

The Board of Interserve Group believes that the proposed transaction creates a larger and stronger UK FM business and is highly attractive to its stakeholders, including its employees, customers, partners and shareholders.

Following completion of the transaction, Interserve Group Limited will continue to focus on delivering its business plans for its three remaining divisions, Construction, Interserve Construction and Equipment Services (RMD Kwikform) and Citizen Services. Alan Lovell will continue to lead Interserve Group as chairman, supported by Mark Morris, executive director and chief financial officer.

Interserve Construction Limited will continue to be chaired by Nick Pollard, supported by managing director Paul Gandy. The Group’s Equipment Services division, RMD Kwikform, will continue to be led by its chairman Ken Hanna and Ian Hayes as managing director. The Group’s Citizen Services division, comprising of Interserve Healthcare, Interserve Learning & Employment (ILE) and the company’s Community Rehabilitation Companies that deliver rehabilitative services to low and medium risk offenders. This division, previously part of Interserve Support Services, is not included in the transaction and will continue to be managed by Ian Mulholland.

Employing over 3000 people, the division will continue to execute its growth strategy for the Health and ILE businesses, and will support the Ministry of Justice to successfully transfer probation services back to them on expiry of the current contracts in June 2021.

Alan Lovell, chairman of Interserve Group (pictured) said: “The proposed combination of Interserve Support Services with Mitie will create the UK’s leading facilities management company, with strong prospects in both the public and private sectors providing significant opportunities to employees, customers, and shareholders alike.

“The transaction, which is consistent with our stated strategy of realising value for our shareholders, will reduce the Group’s debts, enable a paydown to our shareholders and stabilise the Group’s financial position through a retention of a proportion of the proceeds.

“It will leave Interserve as a focused Group executing clear business plans in Interserve Construction Limited and RMD Kwikform, as well as our Citizen Services portfolio of businesses. Interserve Group Limited see significant opportunities for these businesses in their respective markets, which we will continue to pursue with a high level of discipline.”

Lazard is acting as sole financial advisor to Interserve Group Limited in respect of the transaction, and Slaughter and May is acting as legal counsel.

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Robot takes production hygiene to a higher level 10/07/2020

Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Dresden have developed a mobile cleaning device that sanitises equipment and production spaces to standards in a reproducible way.

Production lines and hygiene zones have to be spotlessly clean. And absolute cleanliness is critical wherever food is processed and medical instruments are handled. Now Fraunhofer's robot, which is equipped with self-learning and autonomous motility systems, can automatically detect the degree of fouling and select the appropriate cleaning procedure.

There is no room for compromises when it comes to hygiene in industrial food production. Manufacturing equipment and rooms need regular cleaning, while biofilms and other fouling deposits must not be allowed to gain purchase under any circumstances. The success of cleaning efforts has an impact on hygiene and food safety, and, although the task of cleaning plants and equipment is demanding and a determining factor of quality, much of this labour is still done manually. Despite the vigilance of diligent cleaning crews, their work is hard to reproduce, prone to errors and time-consuming.

Smart robot cleaners for indoors and out
This has prompted a research team at the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging to develop a modular cleaning robot, two variants of which are now up and running. One travels down the production line on a conveyor belt, cleaning the equipment from the inside; the other cleans the floor, ceilings and walls of rooms and machines outer surfaces.

An extendable robot arm carrying a rotary jet cleaner can stretch to reach high spots on the production line. This mobile, modular machine with the ability to independently scoot across the shop floor goes by the name of Mobile Cleaning Device 4.0 (MCD). The Fraunhofer IVV has teamed up with the Fraunhofer IOSB-AST at Ilmenau in a research project to look into a multi-sensor system for harsh environments. It is to be installed in the MCD. This system employs an interesting method called fluorosensing to spot contaminations. The installed sensors scan and calculate the degree of fouling for the robot to adaptively adjust cleaning parameters, such as pressure, and the amount of foam cleaning agent to suit the situation.

Max Hesse, team leader at the Dresden branch lab for Processing Technology, explained: “A detector uses UV light to identify fluorescent particles such as fats, oils and proteins, and doses the foam and water according to the determined parameters, such as the layer thickness and dryness of the residue.

"This is to be accomplished by a self-learning AI system that selects the suitable cleaning parameters and specifies the process steps." 

According to Hesse, a simulation enables a virtual twin to render the data while this process is underway. He continued: “The virtual twin serves to map the detected fouling to a 3D model of the plant. The water pressure can then be adjusted and reduced, depending on the distance between the device and the surface – all in the interest of using resources efficiently."

Sophisticated sensors
The battery-powered robot moves autonomously with nothing but a hose for the cleaning agent connecting to the docking station. It is controlled via Wi-Fi and advanced sensors paired with AI enable this adaptive cleaning.

A radar sensor is able to take readings even through spray, mist and steam, while an ultra-wideband sensor gauges the position in the room.

A third sensor, an optical fluorosensor, detects fouling and conveys an impression of the object’s geometric properties. Experts call this "Visual Odometry." The system extrapolates the process parameters from the detected fouling levels and fused sensor data. It also monitors the process on the fly to make sure the cleaning is being done properly. In the next step, it sends the results of its check to the virtual twin with the self-learning capability. This way, the system improves itself with each pass to achieve excellent results while sparing resources.

“Our tests have shown that this can save up to 50 percent on cleaning agents because no more than the actually needed amount is applied to the surfaces,” continued Hesse. “The system can be trained to clean as resource-efficiently as possible within a given period, for example, during the nightshift downtime in a factory operating in two shifts.

"What’s more, there is considerable efficiency potential to be tapped if the skilled workers that had been doing the cleaning can perform other tasks while MCDs handle the paralleled cleaning processes.”

The benefits do not end there: An automated routine documents the entire cleaning process, and all that automation ensures the procedure is highly reproducible.

Agile and flexible – the industry-agnostic Mobile Cleaning Device
The MCD’s application range is not limited to the food industry. The smart robot can serve other lines of business well, for example, the automotive, pharmaceutical, medical engineering, cosmetics and agricultural sectors.

Hesse believes that many industries can benefit from the autonomous robot cleaners in times of crisis such as the Coronavirus pandemic.

“Our automated system really shines when staff is in short supply," he said. "Around 10% of employees in food production are tasked exclusively with cleaning. This requires skilled workers who are scarce even in ordinary times. Both robot variants are evolving as the research continues, so they will be able to execute ever more complex cleaning tasks."

Images courtesy of Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV © Fraunhofer IVV​

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Flexible furlough scheme starts 01/07/2020

Businesses and facilities will have the flexibility to bring furloughed employees back to work part time from 1 July as part of the government’s plan to re-open the UK.

The government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has so far helped protect more than 9.3million jobs through the pandemic, with employers claiming more than £25.5billion to support wages.

The scheme will remain open until the end of October 2020 and will continue to support jobs and business in a measured way as people return to work.

From 1 July employers will have the flexibility to bring furloughed employees back to work on a part time basis. Individual firms will decide the hours and shift patterns their employees will work on their return, so that they can decide on the best approach for them - and will be responsible for paying their wages while in work.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said: "Our number one priority has always been to protect jobs and businesses through this outbreak. The furlough scheme, which will have been open for eight months by October, has been a lifeline for millions of people and as our economy reopens we want that support to continue.

"Giving firms the flexibility to bring back furloughed workers on a part-time basis will help them work gradually and help them plan for the months ahead."

From August, the level of government grant provided through the job retention scheme will be slowly tapered to reflect that people will be returning to work. Businesses will be asked to contribute a modest share, but crucially individuals will continue to receive that 80% of salary covering the time they are unable to work.

The government has also announced that businesses that no longer need the CJRS grants they previously claimed have the option to voluntarily return them.

This is in direct response to employers asking how they can return grants voluntarily – and businesses are under no obligation to do this, but should contact HMRC if they want to pay the grant back.

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BTA makes headlines advising on future of public conveniences 01/07/2020

The British Toilet Association (BTA) has made national and international news with managing director, Raymond Martin, being interviewed by more than 50 sources from the UK and World news media about all aspects of public toilet provision and cleaning.

Raymond Martin (pictured) was quoted in an article by The Sunday Times on 24 May about the future of public conveniences following the Coronavirus pandemic. He stated that the BTA had been continuously giving advice and guidance to councils and companies about keeping public conveniences safe during the pandemic, with the continued need for the safety and health of all users. It was even predicted that it could well lead to a transformation in future provision, he told the newspaper.

Martin told the paper that a range of new measures may need to be instigated around urinals and washbasins to enforce social distancing and thereby reduce the risk of Coronavirus transmission between users, perhaps leading to many public toilets featuring individual cubicles and being upgraded to non-gender specific units.  
 
He also alluded to other measures that might be designed or installed to stop the spread of the disease, ranging from foot-operated or electronic flushes, self-closing seats and integral sanitising systems are being discussed by their members and could be considered.  
 
Martin told the Sunday Times that publicly accessible toilets had always played a vital role in our nation’s health and well-being, social inclusion, equality and, as was very evident recently, a desperate need for public decency and dignity.  
 
The BTA is continuing to encourage the Government to urgently recognise the importance of, and seriously focus and invest in, helping local councils to revolutionise the nation's toilets and washrooms as an urgent matter of ‘public health’ and to fight not only this current virus – but potentially any future threat of contamination. 
 
Raymond was quoted as saying: "It's going to require a structured approach and careful planning to improve and sustain these essential facilities and the BTA is ready and willing to support a government strategy.  
 
“If we want to get our local economies re-established and flourishing, fully support our increasing visitor and tourist numbers and allow everyone to safely visit our villages, towns, cities, parks and beaches, then the Government has to step in, bring back life and stability to this country. We believe firmly that publicly accessible toilets are a vital building block of that vision." 
 
The story prompted huge interest and public support, with Raymond being quoted extensively in UK media outlets such as The Daily Mail, The Star, the Scottish Sun and the Mirror and by news providers as far afield as Australia. He also received a deluge of requests by media to give interviews, leading to appearances on BBC One Breakfast Show, C5’s Jeremy Vine Show and national radio, among others, as well as requests for advice from public toilet operators around the country. 
 
The BTA is a member of the British Cleaning Council. The council’s chairman, Paul Thrupp, said: “Well done to Raymond and the BTA. They have done a fantastic job of putting public toilet provision on the national agenda and raising the profile of the work done by the cleaning sector generally.”

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Coronavirus leaves east Kent hospitals with most deaths in England 01/07/2020

One in nine deaths recorded in hospitals across the country in the last week occurred at sites in east Kent.

More people are dying from Coronavirus in east Kent’s hospitals than anywhere else in England, with the worst affected being in Ashford, Margate, Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone.

All are run by the East Kent Hospitals Trust, which reported 21 COVID-19 deaths in the space of seven days – almost double that of any other Trust in England.

The figures are in stark contrast to other Trusts in Kent, with two people dying in Medway over the same period, and no deaths recorded at hospitals in either Dartford and Gravesham or Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells.

Hospital bosses blame a "second, late" peak of the virus at the end of May 2020, while Boris Johnson has said help has been offered to authorities in Ashford, which has the second highest infection rate in the country.

Speaking on Times Radio, the Prime Minister said: "The crucial thing is to make sure we're ready to crack down on local flare-ups, and that's why we've got whack-a-mole strategies, and why you're seeing the steps taken in Leicester, the things we've done in places like Ashford and Weston-super-Mare.

"Where you have a local flare-up, you have to empower local authorities to crack down on it properly."

Ashford's William Harvey Hospital is one of three major acute sites run by the East Kent Hospitals Trust; the others are the Kent and Canterbury and the QEQM in Margate. The Trust also operates the Buckland in Dover and the Royal Victoria in Folkestone.

The hospitals Trust says a second peak at the end of May, coupled with the area's larger elderly population, is responsible. In the third week of May, cases rose in four areas of east Kent, accounting for 71% of the 347 positive tests in the county's 13 districts. Almost a quarter were recorded in Ashford.

A spokesman for East Kent Hospitals said: “East Kent saw a second, late peak of Covid cases in comparison with many other areas of the country, with high numbers of Covid positive patients in late May, particularly at William Harvey Hospital, Ashford.

“The population of east Kent is significantly older and with more co-morbidities than the England average, which means it is vulnerable to becoming acutely unwell with COVID-19.

"The number of COVID positive patients is coming down, with the highest numbers remaining at William Harvey Hospital."

Canterbury MP, Rosie Duffield, added: "The lesson for all of us is to remain very, very careful when we reach the next stage of lockdown this weekend.

"The death data this week for east Kent is sobering and a timely reminder that we are nowhere near the end of the pandemic and that this is not a time for complacency," she said.

"Many people will be wondering why the current local death rate is so high; as we learn more and get through this pandemic these, and many other questions, will need answers from local health authorities and from government."

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People feel unsafe using public washrooms with air dryers, new study finds 29/06/2020

According to a new international study nearly eight out of 10 people surveyed in the UK feel more unsafe going to facilities with unhygienic public washrooms today than before the pandemic.

The study from Tork, an Essity brand, reveals that 33% of UK survey respondents say they feel unsafe entering a washroom equipped with air dryers.

Expectations about public spaces and demands for safe hygiene solutions are higher than ever before. According to the study, which examined the impact of COVID-19 on people’s attitudes regarding public hygiene, 87% believe it is critically important to public safety to maintain a high hygiene standard in public washrooms.

This increased concern for hygiene in public washrooms has driven a change in preference for hand drying solutions. According to the study, 59% of people surveyed in the UK wish more facilities offered paper hand towels as an alternative to air dryers. The study also found that 29% of people now have an increased preference for paper hand towels versus before the pandemic. The most common reasons selected by UK survey respondents for this change in preferences are a perception that paper hand towels are more hygienic to the user (77%), dry hands more quickly (42%) and spread less bacteria in the air (45%).  

As the preference for paper hand towels increases by washroom visitors, the cost of not offering paper hand towels can be high for facilities. Nearly 40% of UK survey respondents say they are less likely to visit places that do not offer paper hand towels as a hand drying alternative, and 33% say they feel unsafe entering a washroom equipped with air dryers.  

Alberto Cajiga, VP Marketing, Essity Professional Hygiene, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that all businesses need to adapt to a new hygiene standard. While some facilities might have chosen air dryers before based on perceived ease of use, that is not enough anymore.  A larger portion of the population feels less safe now using air dryers.  We have seen an increase in requests from facility managers who want to change from air dryers to paper hand towels.”
 
According to the report, for hygiene-critical areas, such as food processing plants and hospitals, paper hand towels have long been the only acceptable hand drying solution. Unlike paper hand towels, jet air dryers produce more airborne droplets, which increases the risk of bacteria spread in the air. The friction from drying hands with paper towels also helps to remove more bacteria than other drying options.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more visitors are likely to hold public washrooms to the same standards that apply in those hygiene-critical areas.  In fact, 86% of UK survey respondents say they expect public washrooms will provide a safer hygiene environment now than before the COVID crisis.  
 
“The study suggests that providing solutions that make people feel safe when visiting public spaces must be a top priority for facility managers that want to re-attract guests. The cost of not addressing their concerns is simply too high,” said Cajiga. 

The survey was conducted by United Minds in cooperation with CINT using web-panels. Data was collected between April 8-13, 2020 in the UK market with a total of 1004 respondents.

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