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OFFICE CLEANING & WORKPLACE SAFETY WITH COVID-19 AND BEYOND

Posted on July 02, 2020

ABOUT this Guide:

Are you running an office and are confused with all the rules and regulations around Covid-19 (Coronavirus) and Workplace Safety? If you are looking for a practical Guide on how to fully reopen your business while making sure your business stays “Covid-Safe” this Guide is for you.

At the start of the Coronavirus crisis almost everyone was hit by surprise when all of a sudden many businesses had to shut their doors and many people lost their jobs.

Now that the restrictions are mostly lifted it’s time to get back to work and make sure we do everything we can to keep the spread of Covid-19 to a minimum.

Of course office cleaning plays a major part. So make sure your commercial cleaners know exactly what to do (and what not to do!).

As with anything in business, the one who is prepared and can think outside the box with innovative solutions will be able to minimise the impact of future outbreaks and therefor stay ahead of the competition.

This guide will help you do exactly that. So let’s jump right in…

KEY PRINCIPLES TO FOLLOW:

The Key Principles are based on the most basic strategies to prevent the spread of Coronavirus as much as possible.
It simply consists of the basic things a virologist would suggest when dealing with any type of virus or even the common Influenza.
The goal is to be able to re-open or continue operating your business and provide not only a service or product for your clients but also a job for your employees while at the same time adhering to health and safety regulations to keep everyone safe and protected from the virus.

1. Covid-19 Risk Assessment

The fist step is to conduct a covid-19 risk assessment. This will give you a good understanding of the situation in your business and what the main risk areas are when It comes to reducing the risk of Covid-19 Infections.

If you run a larger organisation the assessment should be done while working together with unions or employees. It’s also important to share the results with all of your staff and team members. And don’t forget to share it with your contractors too (if you have any).

If you identify that in parts or your business you do not have a safe work environment then the next logical step is to determine what steps you can undertake to create a safe work environment.

Again, sticking with best practices and using common sense, ask yourself what practical and effective measures you could take to make the environment safe.

If no ‘solution’ can be found to turn the environment Into a safe working environment, start thinking outside the box. Maybe you can reorganise that part of your business in a way that is ‘safe’. Or maybe you can outsource that part of the business temporarily. Or maybe you can relocate that part of the business temporarily.

If nothing else seems to be working, you might be required to keep the business closed until the restrictions are lifted and you are able to reopen. But usually there are always ways around – it’s just a matter of letting your creativity run freely!

2. Cleaning & Hygiene

Obviously, one of the most basic steps you can take is to have a solid cleaning and hygiene procedure in place.

It’s no secret that simply washing your hands properly and regularly can prevent much of the risk of spreading any communicable disease – including Coronavirus.

There Is no shortage of procedures and step by step Instructions on how to ‘correctly’ wash your hands. Here’s just one example.

When it comes to the best products to use for cleaning, here’s a great document from the the Australian Department of Health. And here’s a simple DIY tutorial on how to make your own hand sanitiser.

Make sure to regularly share your hygiene procedures with all staff and team members – not just in personal meetings but also circulate documents via email or other work related communication apps such as Slack, Monday or Asana (If you use any of those).

For larger companies It’s recommended you have regular meetings with your union, employees or other representatives (Including the health and safety committee – If applicable) to keep up to date with the latest development regarding Covid-19.

3. Working From Home

During the peak of any epidemic – whether it’s Coronavirus or any other virus – the easiest way to continue operating your business while reducing almost all of the infection-risks, is to have your team work remotely from home.

If your business is currently not setup to be able to work with remote teams, this is your opportunity to get it all started.

You might find this exercise not only useful for any future outbreaks, but many businesses have discovered that it’s also a lot more efficient.

You might find yourself in a situation where you don’t actually need that big of an office anymore and save a lot of money on renting expensive office space in prime locations.

A smaller but ‘nicer’ office for client meetings might be a cheaper and better solution – depending on your type of business.

4. Social Distancing

We’ve all heard it now a hundred times. Social distancing has probably made it into the Top 10 words of the year.

Wether It’s actually effective or not is still highly controversial – even between virologists around the world.

None the less, most local governments (including Western Australia) encourage the practice of keeping 1.5 meters of physical distance from each other. So it makes sense to adopt the practice, particularly because this is usually easy to do in most office setups.

5. Manage transmission risk in ‘High-Risk’ areas

If you have areas where you can not keep apply the 1.5 meter social distancing rule, make sure you minimize the risk by applying whatever measures are available and practical for you to implement.

Need to have a meeting with your team members but the meeting room is too small to keep the 1.5 meter distance? How about asking people that won’t necessarily speak much to join via online conferencing such as Zoom, Skype, Google Hangout or even via Facetime.

Have a small office with tightly put together working spaces? How about rearranging the desks in a way that people sit opposite each other rather than next to each other? Or what about simply spreading out the space between the desks by using areas of the office that where previously unused?

See if you and your team can come up with solutions. Practice team work not just in your business meeting but apply it to finding solutions during the health crisis.

Be creative and have some fun with it too!

5 STEPS TO WORKING SAFELY:

  • 1. Conduct a COVID-19 risk assesment
  • 2. Ensure you have cleaning & hygiene procedures in place
  • 3. Encourage working from home as much as possible
  • 4. Keep 1.5M social distancing in place if at all feasible
  • 5. Manage transmission risk in areas where people are closer together

GUIDELINES FROM THE PUBLIC HEALTH AUTHORITIES

There are a few public health guidelines to be aware of. First of all, make sure you and your employees are aware what the Coronavirus is and the symptoms associated with the virus. Here’s a quick overview.

What is COVID-19

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory infections. These can range from the common cold to more serious diseases.

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new form of coronavirus. It was first reported in December 2019 in Wuhan City in China.

Other coronaviruses include Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Coronavirus Symptoms

There are a range of symptoms for COVID-19. According to the World Health Organisation up to 80% of people that have the Coronavirus, don’t even know about it because the symptoms are so mild that they are almost unaware of it.

The symptoms can range from mild illness to pneumonia. Most people will recover within 1-2 weeks without the need of any medical attention. Others may get very sick, requiring access to emergency services and/or even an ICU.

Here are some of the most common coronavirus symptoms people experience:

  • Fever
  • Respiratory Symptoms
    • Coughing
    • Sore Throat
    • Shortness of Breath

Additional, less common symptoms can include:

  • Runny Nose
  • Headache
  • Muscle or Joint Pains
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Altered sense of taste
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue

The Australian Government recommends that people with any of the above symptoms of a respiratory infection get tested in order help prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

If you are concerned you may have COVID-19, the governmet has a basic online symptom checker. You can find more information on how to seek medical attention or how you can get tested.

Make sure that you and your team agree to let each other now of any symptoms immediately, so everyone can take the appropriate action and you can keep each other safe.

It also makes sense to speak to those considered vulnerable. Particularly older team members and those with preconditions. It might be best for those to work from home if at all possible. This would also include expectant mothers.

Now let’s move on to the more specific public health guidelines.

Hand Washing

Make sure you provide sufficient hand washing facilities with soap, warm water and/or hand sanitiser. For more information on hand sanitisers please see the previous section on “Cleaning & Hygiene”.

It’s probably a good idea to create some basic rules for ‘when to wash your hands’. This could be: at arrival, before leaving work, after coughing or sneezing or blowing their nose and after eating or handling food.

Social Distancing

As we’ve covered social distancing already briefly in a previous section we’ll keep it short and sweet.

Ensure people stay 1.5 meters apart wherever possible. If it’s not possible (or practical) to keep a distance of 1.5 meters, make sure you have appropriate safety measures in place. This could include protective gear such as masks, gloves or other PPE. It could also help to install partitions, screens or other barriers to improve segregation.

If you feel it’s necessary, you could add floor markings in the canteen or other areas where people easily ‘forget’ about the social distancing.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

As discussed earlier, you will have done a Covid-19 risk assessment by now. The result will tell you whether you should provide PPE to all or some of your staff members.

Contrary to common believe, things like face masks and gloves play an important role only in medical settings, like hospitals.

There is still no scientific evidence that masks are actually effective in preventing the spread of viruses. Masks are generally used in hospitals by doctors – not to prevent them from getting infected, but to prevent to infect the patient with anything as they often have an already compromised immune system.

BEST PRACTICES FOR SAFER WORKPLACES

Movement

If you or your team have made any travel plans, consider whether it’s essential or if it can be done later or maybe de done online.

Often times they are travelling by car, in that case make sure the same people keep traveling together in the same car and encourage them to have good ventilation during the drive.

If your staff is moving a lot on your business premises, consider things like one person at a time in lifts and make entrances, corridors and aisles ‘one-way’ to prevent congestion where possible.

Work Processes

If you are a larger business, consider reconfiguring production lines and process to create space for social distancing. Same for common areas such as change rooms, reception or canteens.

If possible you could also keep the same team rosters each day. That way it could help with minimising contact between lager groups.

Cleaning

When it comes to cleaning items, there are a few little things to consider.

If you use different types of rubbish bins, see if you can stick to pedal operated bins rather than hand operated once.

See if you can have each cleaning team use their ‘own’ set of cleaning equipment rather than sharing it with other cleaners in the team.

Meetings

When it comes to meetings, here are a view basic but effective ways to make it ‘safer’.

  • Conduct phone or videoconference meetings whenever possible.
  • If meetings are held in person make sure to clean typical ‘touch points’ regularly, including door handles, lift buttons, biometric clocking-in systems etc..
  • Determine a cleaning frequency that is appropriate for the amount of people/traffic you are having in your premise.
  • And last but not lease, as mentioned previously, make sure washing facilities and hand sanitiser supplies are always stocked up

MENTAL HEALTH CONSIDERATIONS

Especially during a pandemic, it is absolutely normal that people are concerned, confused, feel unsecure and are worried about the future.

Your team is no exception – and that includes yourself!

In unprecedented times like this, most people are watching the news several times during the day to see how the virus is spreading (or hopefully not), they check what the latest government advice / restrictions / measures are and wonder if their family will be safe, if their kids or parents are going to be ok.

Is it any wonder then, that mental health and well being is a major (if not the most important) part of dealing with such a situation?

However, you don’t need to be a psychologist to help yourself and your team to manage the additional stress and uncertainty.

Here are some basic but effective things you can do:

  • Speak to your team and get them to understand that everyone has the same interest of staying safe while keeping the business running to provide income
  • Remind people that effective decision making requires open, calm and constructive communication
  • Involve everyone (not daily but regularly) in the discussion of ‘how to solve problems related to the current health crisis’ within your company and context. This will help to include everyone, so people feel heard and taken into account.
  • Encourage people to allow themselves and others to point out to each other if there is a change of mood. And if so, work through the situation together in a compassionate way before returning to the original task. Otherwise things can (and probably will) go out of control easily.
  • If you run a larger business and/or have a union, make sure people know where or from whom they can get help if the need arises and the situation requires a more professional approach. This could be external medical professionals associated with your business or things like Employee Assistance Programmes or Union Support Schemes or even Government Mental Wellbeing resources (if available).

As a business owner (or team leader) we often think we have to sort out all the problems. However, often times it’s better to let others do the job. Not only because they can help us get it done but more so because they can do it better than we ever could!

One of those examples is that some of your team members are often better placed to put forward ideas on how to resolve concerns. Some staff members might even be willing and motivated to help others through the situation and act like a kind of internal counsellor or coach.

If that is the case in your organisation, then definitely take advantage of it. It’s much easier and quicker if your team members have an person they can talk to from within your own team. A person they already know and trust and who they can openly discuss their feelings and emotions with. This is often times all that it takes.

So as with everything. Being aware of possible mental health and wellbeing issues is the first step in coming up with possible solutions. And a little preparation can go a long way.

FURTHER HELP & INFORMATION

Gerneral Information for Businesses from different Government bodies:

Australia.gov.au – the latest information from the Australian Government.

Business.gov.au – COVID-19 information and support for businesses.

Covid-19 information for workplaces – from the Department of Health.

COVID-19 health resources – information for businesses from Safe Work Australia

Coronavirus (COVID-19) at a glance – latest statistics on COVID-19

Coronavirus and Australian workplace laws – information from the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Financial support for businessesinformation from the Australian Taxation Office about the JobKeeper Payment and other financial support for Australian businesses