Employers need to keep their workplaces COVID-secure. With some industries continuing to work despite new tier systems and others asking questions about when it'll be safe to return, we break down the HSE's guidance for employers - including some very specific advice on environmental hygiene.
Keeping their staff safe is a critical obligation for employers. Now the UK's health & safety regulator has issued new COVID guidelines for workplaces. But what does the guidance actually say? And will all that cleaning actually make a difference?
Employers must ensure “thorough cleaning of all frequently touched surfaces at least once per day.”
That's because the COVID-19 virus can survive on surfaces up to 28 days. If we don't disinfect the surfaces we touch, we put ourselves, our colleagues and others at risk.
The new COVID workplace guidance from HSE says that "any adequate cleaning regime should include periodic and deep cleaning." That means, as well as decontaminating all frequently touched surfaces at least once per day, where possible, they should also be cleaned between every use.
In practice, that means effective surface disinfection products should be available in every workplace and in every shared vehicle.
According to the HSE, creating a COVID-secure workplace means "doors, bannisters, buttons and anything that is frequently touched, especially if it’s touched by lots of people, will need more regular cleaning than normal." The examples they give include:
"Yes, it seems so" is the answer.
In science, things are rarely black and white. We have to look at what the evidence suggests. Whilst infection prevention is a well-developed science within healthcare, beyond that we're still learning.
But a new study published earlier this year helps shed some light on the issue.
In it, a group of scientists took a harmless virus called MS2 and looked at how it spread through a workplace over 6 hours. MS2 can't infect humans, so all the spread is directly related to hand and surface contamination.
To start the experiment, they put some MS2 on a single door handle and on a single person's hand. Over the course of the next 6 hours, it spread all over the workplace. Out of 68 different surfaces they tested, the researchers found the virus present on every single one!
When you couple how easily a virus spreads through a workplace with how long the COVID-19 virus survives on surfaces, and we start to understand why the HSE's guidance is so explicit.
But the researchers didn't stop there. They looked at what difference it would make to the spread of the virus if the frequently touched surfaces were cleaned halfway through the day. And what difference it would make if they provided the staff with hand sanitiser or hand hygiene wipes.
When environmental cleaning was carried out effectively, and when staff were given access to effective hand hygiene products, the infection risk for respiratory viruses was decreased between 58.9-87.8%.
Provided the products you're using are effective, and you're able to communicate their use properly, improving surface hygiene and providing hand hygiene solutions is now one of your most important health & safety obligations as an employer.
We've produced a host of resources to help keep you and your colleagues safe. Visit our Safe Offices or our Safe Fleets pages to download some handy resources for free. These include checklists and posters for workplaces in the UK.
In the real world, the HSE COVID workplace guidelines mean that effective surface disinfection and hand hygiene solutions should be available in every workplace and every shared vehicle.
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