07 May COVID-19: First Steps: Initial Building Safety and Training
By Dennis Kaiser
This is the first in a three-part series by Metro Services Group’s facility experts who explain how they help deliver cleaner work environments in the coronavirus era. Today, janitors and engineers on the front-lines at properties will share how their building safety and training measures help fight COVID-19. Future installments in the series will break down how to prepare a building for re-entry, and these experts will offer advice for when buildings welcome tenants back from their COVID-19 lockdowns.
The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the United States and impacted every aspect of the economy and people’s lives virtually overnight. The commercial real estate sector has felt the blow as only essential businesses remained open and all others worked remotely, if at all. Among the front-line essential workers tasked with managing the virus in workplaces are janitors and facility maintenance teams deployed from high-rise buildings to malls.
These property crews were immediately pushed into action to clean buildings and help owners and managers deliver safe and secure environments for tenants. In many cases, the ability to respond rapidly with effective and science-based plans depended upon their ability to tap into accurate information and their experience.
Initially, as the COVID-19 situation hit, proactive facility cleaning teams gathered new information from sources such as the CDC or WHO, as well as counties or local public health departments. Not only were those resources helpful in learning best practices for navigating through the emerging health issue, they provided materials in multiple languages that outlined new social distancing guidelines that helped promote health and safety in the workplace.
But, for some of the more technical and practical aspects of combating the virus, Metro Services Group’s Vicente Moreno notes, it was their decades of experience and dedication to staying on top of current cleaning protocols that helped direct COVID-19 era plans. He said, “The system we have in place now for COVID-19 was actually improved on from what was used during the H1N1 swine flu outbreak. That set the minimum standards regarding a response to how these kinds of outbreaks must be managed at properties.”
Moreno, who heads up safety and training for Metro, added, “COVID-19 was a fluid situation where we modified materials to use that are based on CDC recommendations, OSHA regulations, as well as county and city orders that impacted operations like requiring face covering for essential workers. We had to adjust our program and training-in-place to adapt with COVID-19.”
“Things have changed so much since the beginning,” said Moreno. “We modified our procedures to ensure we have properly disinfected properties with products that comply with EPA regulations. That has evolved to placing a renewed emphasis on hygiene, such as washing hands before we use chemicals. The foundation of how to prevent the spread is to wash your hands, then it becomes important to use PPE to remain healthy.”
Metro’s experts note it is important now to use disinfectants that are registered with the EPA to ensure they are actually cleaning and disinfecting properties. That means it must be listed for the cov-2 virus that causes COVID-19. In addition to using a chemical that will disinfect for the virus, facility crews must know and allow the proper amount of dwell or contact time to pass in order for the chemical to be effective. It is important that cleaning chemicals are used according to the manufactures specifications and Safety Data Sheets (SDS) in order to protect the user and the environment.
It is important to keep in mind the CDC guidelines regarding spaces where infections were known to have occurred or where someone who contracted the virus had been. The CDC now says if someone who has COVID-19 was in the workspace, facility crews should wait a minimum of 24 hours before entering the space to clean and disinfect the area. It is also recommended by the CDC, that once the area has been appropriately disinfected, it can be opened for use.
“Now, we’re seeing our routines and practices evolve,” said Moreno. “We’re seeing social distancing beginning to be incorporated to prevent spread. We conducted field training, where everyone remains six feet apart. We don’t congregate in groups, and we staggered start times by 15 minutes”
Facility team routines now include the use of face coverings, though requirements vary by county. Metro issued masks to all crews who work in buildings. The practice has evolved so that two facemasks are used per employee. One is used when working in a building and the other one for when they are out in public.
Metro facilities crews have also changed their meeting schedules to a more frequent cadence and enhanced their training routines to make sure they are following the latest guidelines, providing access to accurate information and incorporating the best training protocols. Moreno notes, they’ve even added virtual meetings on Zoom where supervisors update everyone on programs, which are supplemented by field trainings in a regular rotation. There is more collaboration and sharing happening now, as teams in Los Angeles might learn something new that is shared with those working on properties in Sacramento or the Bay Area, or vice versa.
Before COVID-19 the basic level of cleaning started with a routine general cleaning that entailed cleaning of hard surfaces, vacuuming, mopping, etc. Now, enhanced cleaning of high touch spots, such as door handles, light switches, handrails, tenants and visitor’s restroom handles, water faucets, etc., is recommended during the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is important that facility teams who perform deep cleaning or enhanced cleanings be trained how to properly conduct these more detailed scopes.
Since many companies haven’t yet brought back every employee to their space, an entire office building doesn’t need to be cleaned each night. That has allowed janitors to focus on cleaning key areas in a building and perform enhanced cleaning. Additionally, in some cases, teams are being cross-trained to perform a wider range of duties at a property.
Ultimately, landlords are working to determine the best way to reopen their buildings fully to tenants once it is deemed safe for people to not need to work remotely. They are looking to their facility crews to help them prepare for that time when social distancing is expected to still be in place. Companies may need to establish new work schedules so not every employee arrives at the same time or same day. In the meantime, firms like Metro are helping to make sure properties are as safe and clean as possible. That means adjusting cleaning frequencies during the pandemic with enhanced cleaning of high touch points areas, as well as using new devices and technologies such as electrostatic sprayers. Metro is finding the electrostatic cleaning method to be particularly effective and efficient because it wraps around touch points, distributes disinfectant evenly and is proven to be better at disinfecting an area than just wiping down surfaces.
But, even the most experienced and well-trained facility teams are only part of the equation to ensure the virus doesn’t continue to spread. Metro’s Moreno said, “We will do all we can to clean the building, but the tenants must do their part, too. It takes teamwork, staying home if you’re sick, and everyone must wash their hands.”