The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to an often dangerous increase in disinfectant use, which ultimately exposes facility occupants to further short and long-term health risks if used incorrectly or irresponsibly.
Safely Disinfecting for COVID-19
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in various activities which, when used in moderation, are beneficial but, when overdone or incorrectly applied, create health hazards of their own.
Chief among these activities is the over and dangerously incorrect use of disinfectants, including ingesting, intentionally inhaling fumes, and using household bleach directly on skin and food products.
According to a recent survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- 19% applied bleach to food items, including fruits and vegetables
- 18% used household cleaning and disinfecting products on their hands or skin
- 10% misted their body with a cleaning or disinfectant spray
- 6% inhaled vapors from household cleaners or disinfectants
- 4% drank or gargled diluted bleach solutions, soapy water, or other cleaning and disinfectant solutions.
While those examples of dangerously incorrect use appear extreme, overuse of disinfection products is just as dangerous, if not more, long-term.
According to the American Lung Association;
Many cleaning supplies or household products can irritate the eyes or throat, or cause headaches and other health problems, including cancer.
Some products release dangerous chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Other harmful ingredients include ammonia and bleach.
Even natural fragrances such as citrus can react to produce dangerous pollutants indoors.
VOCs and other chemicals released when using cleaning supplies contribute to chronic respiratory problems, allergic reactions and headaches.
Studies are underway to assess how these chemicals affect people who have asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
However, past studies link exposure to chemicals from cleaning supplies to occupational asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
Additionally, improper disinfectant product application, including ignoring dwell time requirements, not only exposes occupants to dangerous chemicals, the process likely will fail to protect occupants from COVID-19.
Improper cleaning and disinfection practices – such as neglecting required product contact times, using inappropriate procedures or application methods, or failing to communicate with cleaning workers and building tenants – can expose building occupants to unsafe levels of hazardous chemicals while failing to protect them from COVID-19.
Safely Cleaning and Disinfecting for COVID-19
Green Seal recommends the following best practices to safely disinfect your facility and prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
Depending on if or how long your facility was closed will determine the initial stages of your cleaning and infection prevention plan.
If it was closed for an extended period, increase HVAC flow, check for and remove mold and mildew, and flush the water system thoroughly.
- Deep clean and disinfect all surfaces.
- Remove difficult to clean items, such as electronics, rugs, and office furniture.
- Clean, but do not disinfect outdoor furniture and equipment.
- Identify and document high contact touchpoints, categorize them into zones, and assign a porter to wipe down these spots throughout the day, preferably based on occupancy and use as opposed to a specific time of day.
- Develop an additional facility cleaning and surface disinfection plan based on occupancy and use, ensuring that all safety precautions are taken when applying dangerous chemicals.
Cleaning and disinfectant product handling and use can range from pointless to deadly depending on how and when certain products are applied, underscoring the importance of only using highly trained custodial staff for these types of services.
Service providers must be aware of proper application methods, dwell times, safety precautions, correct use of protective equipment, and safe disposal methods.
Additionally, while the pandemic is ongoing, service providers should self-check to ensure they are not feeling ill or running a high temperature.
Sustainability and Indoor Air Quality
The EPA's List-N contains numerous disinfectant products that are capable of killing COVID-19.
Green Seal recommends the following seven products, which are registered as effective, but considered safer for building occupants:
- Hydrogen peroxide.
- Citric acid.
- Lactic acid.
- Ethyl alcohol (also called ethanol or just alcohol), or;
- Isopropyl alcohol.
- Peroxyacetic acid, and;
- Sodium bisulfate.
Communication between various stakeholders, including custodial staff, administrators, and facility occupants, is critical for the successful operation of any organization.
Crucial communications include:
- The presence of suspected positive cases of COVID-19 within the facility.
- Pamphlets and other signage available for facility occupants so they understand your organization's current plan for addressing the pandemic and ensuring their safety, and;
- Steps each occupant can take to ensure their own safety, especially hand hygiene advisories, and;
Finally, several items are recommended for increasing the safety of all facility occupants, including:
- Social distancing.
- Providing adequate hand sanitation products.
- Increasing ventilation, preferably naturally, and
- Providing personal protective equipment, including gloves and masks for employees as needed.
References & Resources
- Green Seal's Guidelines for Saver COVID-19 Cleaning and Disinfection
- Proper Use of Disinfectants
- Cleaners, Sanitizers & Disinfectants
Ongoing fears revolving around COVID-19 transmission have led to an increase in disinfectant use, which is both dangerous and unnecessary.
Routine cleaning with soap-based detergents is sufficient to break down the lipid surrounding the virus and render it inactive.
Increasing touchpoint disinfection is advisable, but only by trained personnel wearing the correct protective equipment when combined with increases in effective communication to facility occupants regarding ongoing increases in disinfectant product use and the potential dangers that involves.
Outsourcing your facilities enhanced cleaning and EPA/CDC recommended disinfection procedures to an experienced and trained service provider is a proven method for rapidly onboarding critical services while maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness and safety.
If you would like more information regarding the effectiveness of high-performance infection prevention and control measures, or if you would like to schedule a free, no-obligation onsite assessment of your facility's custodial needs, contact us today for a free quote!
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