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You Should Start Preparing for the Next Pandemic Now

Throughout the pandemic, our news feeds were inundated with headlines and articles telling tales of cleaning workers were on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of whom were ill-equipped for the task.

Custodians were “nervous as hell,” said one headline. 

“No Bleach, Dirty Rags: How Some Janitors Are Asked to Keep You Virus-Free” told the story of cleaners who were required to provide their own personal protective equipment (PPE) and products. 

In “What About the Workers Cleaning Up Coronavirus?” a reporter wrote, “…some [cleaners] say they aren’t being provided with adequate training or personal protective equipment.”

Experts have indicated that another pandemic is not far away. Take the learnings from this past year and apply them to your pandemic plan. This helps ensure your team is trained and you have the proper tools and equipment should another pandemic occur.

The pandemic exposed what many of us in the cleaning industry already knew: That way too many people (and frankly, often first generation immigrants) are tasked with the job of cleaning and given little to no training to perform the job. 

We give many of these workers keys to our workplaces. Why can’t we give them keys to protecting both their own health and safety — and ours?

Little Training Can Lead to Big Problems

What we know: Fomites are not the primary source of transmission for SARS-COv-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Rather, according to the CDC, the virus primarily spreads through respiratory droplets and by airborne transmission. 

But we didn’t know this at the beginning of the pandemic, and that new knowledge doesn’t change the fact that many custodial operations were caught off guard. From cleaning product and PPE shortages to a fundamental lack of understanding around the differences between cleaning and disinfection, custodial teams weren’t prepared. 

But unfortunately, this pandemic won’t be the last. As a recent article in National Geographic starkly reported, “Scientists say it’s only a matter of time before another deadly virus jumps from animal to human and goes viral.”

We never like to say, “We told you so,” but… 

Pandemic planning has been a core focus for (OS1) teams for several years. Rather than reacting to a pandemic, our founder, John Walker, believed that all cleaning operations should be prepared to follow a series of steps should a pandemic outbreak occur. 

This plan was tested with the recent pandemic, and if you listened to any of the Cleaning Conversations episodes, you heard from many (OS1) teams who 1) Were prepared to keep indoor environments clean during the coronavirus pandemic and 2) Felt equipped to communicate and educate stakeholders on the actions they were taking to keep building occupants safe.

So, what should your plan include?*

In preparing for another pandemic event, what are some of the core things a custodial professional should consider?

  1. A list of surfaces throughout your building
  2. A list of products/quantities you should add to your inventory, including chemicals and PPE
  3. Specialized worker training on use of chemicals and personal protection
  4. Charts and training resources for new cleaning workers 
  5. Websites for federal and local health agencies to stay updated on the latest guidance and information related to the pandemic
  6. Ongoing training logs to ensure workers understand the plan and are ready to enact it in the event of a pandemic.

If you want to make sure your custodial team is prepared for the next pandemic, you need to start planning now. If they are willing to step up and protect our buildings, we owe it to them to make sure they are equipped with the right PPE and training to do so. 

* This list is intended to provide your organization with a starting point for your planning.

What an Amazing Time to Be in Our Industry

You know the adage “hindsight is 2020”? I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. Ultimately, the saying speaks to the fact that it’s easy to see what the right thing to do was after an event happens, but difficult to predict the future. 

When we get to the other side of this pandemic and are five or 10 years in the future, what will the events of 2020 look like? Will the industry effectively have captured its moment, helping the public understand the critical role that cleaning plays in protecting public health? 

When people go back to work, will they start to look at the person cleaning the restroom or mopping their office lobby in the eye and possibly even say “thank you”?

When budgets are cut due to funding shortfalls, will cleaning be one of the last departments to feel the pinch, because there’s an understanding that cleaning is essential to helping stop the spread of deadly viruses?

Forced to show that they’re cleaning and not polluting the indoor environment, will more custodial teams put key performance indicators in place and do a better of measuring their efforts and possibly benchmarking them against other programs as we do in (OS1)?

Will janitors and custodians finally drop off the list of occupations with the most injuries, because there’s greater value for the work they perform and a desire to help people work more safely?

From custodial directors to distributor sales representatives, janitors to equipment salesman—when someone asks what we do for a living, will we proudly recognize our affiliation with the cleaning industry? 

Will hindsight truly be 2020?