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Common COVID-19 cleaning mistakes in the workplace

Lisa Macqueen, director at commercial cleaning company Cleancorp, has outlined eight common mistakes being made in valiant but misguided attempts to make workplaces COVID-safe.

Cleancorp has cleaned and sanitised more than 1000 premises since March, so they know the ins and outs of dealing with this virus.

“With many Australians anxious about future lockdowns, workplaces have a primary responsibility to minimise virus-related risks on site,” Ms Macqueen said.

“Employers whose employees’ contract COVID-19 because of poor or inadequate risk management in the workplace face serious penalties.

“They must be aware that old-fashioned cleaning practices, such as merely wiping down surfaces or using a single cloth for multiple surfaces, are inadequate for keeping surfaces virus-free.

“This is why it is important to ensure your workplace does not make any of the below mistakes.”

Below are eight common health and safety mistakes that workplaces are making on their premises:

Failing to update to a new contingency plan 

As fit-for-purpose disinfection equipment and chemicals have become more available and less costly since the start of the pandemic, the price of anti-viral commercial cleaning has also gone down.

However, many businesses still use the COVID-19 contingency plans they developed in February or March, and which locked in a preferred cleaning supplier at a high cost.

For instance, while Cleancorp has reduced its prices per square metre since the start of the pandemic, because of products and equipment being more readily available, some commercial cleaning companies still charge up to $30 a square metre.

Lisa says: “If they haven’t already, organisations should revisit their contingency plans to ensure they are not being overcharged or are locked into an old pricing schedule when they could be shopping around for more competitive rates.”

Tasking employees with cleaning 

Many businesses, such as gyms, have tasked their employees with cleaning tasks throughout the day.

Lisa warns that, if the organisation and its employees have not received infection control training and are not following best practice methods, it is at the expense of the health and safety of all people on site.

Missing crucial touchpoints 

Whether it’s employees cleaning throughout the day or professional cleaners coming in outside of hours, many important touchpoints are being forgotten.

These include surfaces underneath chairs in hospitality premises – and the chairs themselves.  

Relying on spray-and-wipe techniques 

In too many commercial premises, Lisa sees surfaces being sprayed and then immediately wiped when the key to properly disinfecting surfaces is allowing disinfectants to ‘cure’ for 10 minutes before wiping down. 

When cleaning an area that has had a confirmed case of COVID-19, hospital-grade disinfectants need to be used in the curing process. Letting a disinfectant cure ensures all bacteria is eradicated before wiping away.

Lack of transparency with employees and site visitors around cleaning practices 

It is not uncommon for businesses to display signage about COVID-19 and how to wash hands correctly.

However, to demonstrate that they prioritise the health and safety of employees and customers, Lisa says it’s best for businesses also to provide information about their effective infection control practices and products.

“Greater transparency from organisations around the cleaning tools, disinfectants, agents and techniques they are using is crucial for gaining the trust of their workers and customers, as well as ensuring that these people feel safer and more confident about their personal health and safety,” Lisa says.

Implementing rules for legislative compliance only, rather than for people’s safety 

Lisa says many organisations have taken steps to convey their compliance with government requirements to avoid fines, WorkCover claims or negative publicity – instead of doing so with the aim of making people safe.

An example is a business placing a COVID-19 Safe Hygiene Marshall on their premises who is not trained to identify and implement hygiene, social distancing and other safety measures on-site.

Using the same cleaning materials across multiple areas

Despite risks of cross-contamination, Lisa says cleaners at sites, such as restaurants, cafes, fitness facilities and gyms, often use the same cloth to wipe down multiple pieces of equipment, tables, surfaces and rooms.

Clean wipes must be used for every piece of equipment shared between people and rooms.

Sufficient instruction and supervision should be provided to make sure that these surfaces are properly sanitised.

Applying the same rules to confirmed COVID-19 sites. 

How cleaning staff manage physical distancing is just as critical as how employees manage it.

Organisations need to check that cleaners conducting a deep clean on a confirmed COVID-19 site follow more stringent social distancing on site.

“We have extended the 1.5-metre rule to 10 metres to ensure there is no close contact between our staff on a confirmed COVID-19 site,” Lisa says.

“We have also taken measures to ensure that all cleaners wear PPE before entering the site and have no contact with the client.”

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