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Protecting Custodial Workers: What Every New Cleaning Worker Needs to Know

Long before COVID-19 infected patient zero, a large percentage of the 3.25 million cleaning workers in the U.S. received little job training. In some circles, the assumption is that most people know how to clean, so the absence of training might not seem like a big deal. Individuals in these groups treat it as an inherent skillset that people are either born with or learn at an early age. 

But the thing is, not everyone just “knows” how to clean. As a recent survey showed, the majority of Americans aren’t disinfecting properly. And the processes you would use to clean a building are different than how you would clean your home or apartment.

There are many issues with the lack of occupational training in the cleaning industry, but a primary issues is the increased risk and exposure to workers. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that cleaning workers suffer the second highest rates of job-related injuries of any occupation—injuries heavy lifting, overexertion, chemical exposure and slips and falls are most common.

Reducing Risks to Cleaning Workers Now and After the Pandemic

When it comes to COVID-19, cleaning and disinfection is essential in stopping the spread of the disease. Aside from person-to-person spread, COVID-19 spreads when a person comes into contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. So when businesses slowly begin to open again over the next few months, all eyes will be on cleaning workers. Regular, systematic cleaning and disinfection will be key to controlling the spread of the virus and limiting the additional waves of the pandemic. 

For these individuals to clean—and to not pollute the surfaces and buildings they are meant to protect—they need training. They also need training to protect themselves. 

During this period, we can expect to see a swell of new cleaning service providers. Many people who have been displaced from current jobs in the hospitality or foodservice industries may find themselves working in a position where they’re being asked to clean in a commercial environment for the first time. 

We’ve seen way too many headlines highlighting cleaning workers who are concerned because they don’t understand the routes of transmission or how they could become infected. Too many people who are asked to use new disinfectants and don’t have training to do so. Too many people who aren’t equipped with the right personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect their hands and faces from exposure. 

We need to reverse this trend and make sure ALL cleaning workers have the knowledge and training they need to clean safely and protect themselves.

If you’re new to cleaning, we’ve pulled together a checklist of things you should know before you start working.

This is not meant to replace any existing training programs, but rather serve as a supplement. Our hope is to help provide a resource for those individuals who may not receive any training from their employers. If that’s you, we’re here for you. Please feel free to reach out with any questions about what you can do to protect yourself during this time.

Cleaning in the Age of Coronavirus

Right now, cleaning and disinfection is a focus for people around the world because of the coronavirus. For people in our industry, this is somewhat of a seminal moment — we’ve arrived at a place where there’s greater appreciation and understanding for the importance of the work we do. Of course, we wish it didn’t take something like a pandemic happening to get here, but we’re thrilled to see that the message is being heard.

When we get to the other side of this, there’s little question that the world of cleaning will change. Already, Singapore is implementing mandatory cleaning standards, beginning with “higher-risk premises such as childcare and eldercare facilities, schools and hawker centers [food courts and markets], according to Channel News Asia

Combined with social distancing, cleaning is the next most effective way to control coronavirus. 

The thing is, cleaning needs to be done correctly, or else it’s not effective.

In the future, we can expect government standards around this to ensure cleaning is done properly. For now, it’s left to each cleaning professional and organizations to make sure they’re following best practices.

Here’s what we know (with some great links to help explain things!):

  • The coronavirus spreads by hard surfaces or fomites. The most recent research found that it lasts on hard surfaces such as stainless steel for up to two-three days. 
  • Cleaning workers form a critical line of defense in helping to stop the chain of infection, killing the virus on the surface before it has the opportunity to jump to the next host/hosts. 
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential to protecting cleaning workers. Follow guidelines from the CDC, which includes using gloves and gowns and understanding how to don (put on), use and doff (take off) PPE. 
  • OSHA requires training for all workers who use cleaning chemicals and disinfectants. All organizations should maintain Safety Data Sheets on ALL cleaning chemicals used in their facilities. 
  • Not all “cleaning” kills coronavirus. It’s critical that people understand the difference between cleaning, sanitizing and disinfection, explained in full here.
  • Remember, clean first — then disinfect. A disinfectant will never work on a visibly dirty surface. Clean using a cotton or microfiber cloth—never a paper-based product.
  • Read the directions! Each EPA-approved disinfectant used for killing coronavirus indicates the dwell time, or the time the surface needs to remain visibly wet, in order to be effective.
  • Hand washing is everything. Make sure workers wash their hands before they begin cleaning and immediately after removing gloves. 
  • We must work together. Encourage individuals throughout the facility to assist with cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces, including tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks, per CDC recommendations.
  • Communication is key. Make sure to communicate what you’re doing with stakeholders in your buildings. Share images on social media to help people at home see how hard your facility is working to keep buildings clean for their return. 

We’ll get through this; effective cleaning is essential in that effort. And when we do get to the other side, we hope there will be a much broader appreciation for the critical work that cleaners, janitors, housekeepers, environmental service workers and other cleaning professionals do in protecting the health of the public. 

We’ll be holding FREE training around chemical handling in the coming week. Sign up to our newsletter for dates and times.