How to Return to Work Safely

More than a year after the U.S. reported its first coronavirus cases, many organizations are still using caution when welcoming employees back to their offices. While some businesses may not yet be ready for on-site office hours, it’s best for all organizations to be prepared for an eventual return as the vaccine becomes more widely available. Read on to learn more about employee confidence related to the return to work and how your business can ensure a safe and successful transition once the time comes.

Considering Employee Concerns

The outlook on employee confidence around returning to work is not encouraging. According to Honeywell’s global 2020 Building Occupant Survey Report, 83% of all respondents have continued to work inside a building either full or part time. Only 54% of them think their building management has taken steps to keep them safer.

Looking at U.S. workers, the majority do not have faith that changes made over the last year will remain in place. The report reveals that 61% of U.S. workers believe building management is more likely to make short-term changes in response to the pandemic versus long-term investments​. Additionally, 40% of all global respondents feel that building or facility management is responsible for implementing safeguards, rather than their employer.

The findings suggest that facility managers are facing an uphill battle, and that if they cannot continue to meet the new standard of cleanliness, employers may struggle to convince professionals to return to work.

Your Return-to-Work Plan

Your business can properly prepare for the return to in-office working by following these four recommendations:

Pivot to a daytime cleaning schedule.

Consider working with your cleaning service provider to develop a day-time cleaning schedule that showcases your commitment to curbing the spread of pathogens. Having cleaning professionals begin their work during the morning hours allows them to address high-touch surfaces while employees are present. These include door handles, desks, appliances, elevator buttons and more.

Confirm the use of safe and sustainable solutions.

Every cleaning program needs to consider the safety of cleaning staff and building occupants. Unfortunately, there are many products that can have a negative impact on indoor air quality, asthma, allergies and more. Confirm that your building service contractor uses safe and sustainable cleaners and disinfectants that meet efficacy standards. For example, electrochemically activated solutions (ECAS) are cleaners and disinfectants made from salt, water and electricity. The disinfectant can inactivate SARS-CoV-2 in 60 seconds on pre-cleaned surfaces. It is also effective against Norovirus, which is one of the most difficult viruses to inactivate.

Consider social distancing guidelines.

It’s unlikely that your office will be ready to welcome back every employee due to occupancy concerns. To make employees feel comfortable working around others again, develop a plan for social distancing that includes a rotating schedule to limit the total number of occupants in the building at a time. Revise the floor plan and include floor markings to ensure employees have a reasonable amount of distance from others. Wall signage, email reminders and table tents on desk can all be helpful for notifying people of the social distancing precautions.

Determine your mask policy.

Wearing a face mask is simple, yet lifesaving according to multiple studies. In fact, the United States is experiencing historically low flu activity this season in part because people are wearing masks. Depending on the size of your organization, consider requiring employees to wear masks for the duration of the workday. You may determine that masks in common areas is more appropriate instead. Whatever policy you put in place, be sure that employees also have access to hand hygiene essentials like soap and sanitizer so that they can further reduce the spread of germs.

A Successful Transition from Remote to In-person Work

Whether your business is planning to return to work after COVID-19 or during the pandemic, there are necessary steps that you need to take to ensure employee wellbeing. Working with a qualified and professional service provider to develop a comprehensive plan will help provide peace of mind and reduce risk. Your return-to-work program should include cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces, regular restocking of essentials and adherence to health and safety guidelines. Not only will employees be happy that the organization is considering their needs, they’ll be able to focus more on their work, thereby enhancing productivity and profitability.

Get your business ready for the return of employees with support from GSF-USA. For more information, contact the GSF office nearest you. Follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook for the latest updates.

GSF Supports Healthy Learning at Medinah School District

Challenge

Medinah School District in Roselle, Ill. serves more than 600 students across its primary, intermediate and middle schools. Given that the district operates with the motto “Every Student. Every Day.”, it’s no surprise that it sought a thoughtful approach to maintaining its schools in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Teachers, students, parents and administrators had reservations about returning to in-person learning during the 2020-2021 academic year and wanted to be certain that the district was prioritizing the wellbeing of everyone who learns and works in these buildings, as well as the community at large.

“Our main objective at Medinah School District is to provide an environment that is healthy for students and conducive to high-quality learning,” said Marco Rajcevich, Director of Operations, Medinah School District. “By rethinking the way we clean, and introducing safer solutions, we can face today’s challenges.”

Solution

In August 2020, GSF USA, a global cleaning services provider, installed an on-site generation (OSG) system from PathoSans® at each of the district’s schools. The PathoSans systems use three simple ingredients – water, salt and electricity – to produce two electrochemically activated (ECA) solutions: PathoClean®, a cleaner/degreaser, and PathoCide®, a sanitizer/disinfectant.

The systems support GSF’s promise of cleaning for health and safety through the use of non-irritating cleaning and disinfecting solutions. The district also knows that cleaning solutions are always available because they are generated daily in the schools’ custodial closets.  On-site and on-demand generation of cleaner and disinfectant eliminates reliance on shipments of conventional cleaning chemicals from suppliers.

“At GSF, we take pride in recruiting, training and retaining employees who are champions for cleanliness at our customers’ sites. We supply employees with the necessary tools to do their job well,” said Grant Mackall, Operational Asset Manager, GSF. “The PathoSans system fits in nicely with our goals and the districts’ because employees always have the cleaning solutions they need to maintain the buildings.”

Results

Through the use of PathoSans’ systems, GSF USA and the district realize the following benefits:

Eradicate pathogens of concern.

PathoSans solutions have demonstrated efficacy against human coronavirus and other viruses more resilient to disinfection. PathoCide has been proven by an independent GLP laboratory to inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus in 60 seconds on a pre-cleaned surface and in 10 minutes in a one-step process when produced by an on-site generator and used as directed. In addition to inactivating viruses, the solutions are also effective at killing a wide variety of bacteria and fungi. According to Mackall, “it’s easy to find cleaning chemicals that kill pathogens of concern. The challenge is finding chemicals safe enough to use every day. With PathoSans, we have effective and safe solutions.”

While the PathoSans solutions look like water, they are well-suited to tackle today’s viral, bacterial and fungal threats. PathoClean enables surface cleaning and biofilm removal ahead of disinfection to ensure workers can effectively kill or inactivate pathogens. Regular, long-term use of PathoClean helps restore hard surface finishes without leaving residues that can impact appearance and attract dirt.

Reassure students, parents and staff of the schools’ cleanliness.

The pandemic has resulted in fear regarding the cleanliness of public facilities. The district’s cleaning processes go a long way in reassuring faculty, students and parents that the district’s buildings are thoroughly cleaned with effective and non-irritating solutions. Adds Rajcevich, “with the help of GSF and PathoSans, I feel confident about having students return safely to Medinah School District.”

Enable opportunities for in-person learning.

The district’s buildings are being cleaned more frequently, making the use of environmentally responsible products crucial. Conventional chemicals can be toxic and corrosive and pose environmental and health hazards. With no added fragrances and three ingredients, PathoClean and PathoCide help preserve good indoor air quality and won’t aggravate conditions like allergies and asthma, creating a better learning environment for students and faculty.

Empower cleaning teams.

Custodial teams want to know that their work contributes to the overall success of the district. By using products that eliminate pathogens without compromising safety, employees feel empowered to do their best work so students can focus on learning. Luis Tovar, Branch Manager at GSF says: “Because of our partnership with PathoSans, I have what I need to do my job well. This is a safe environment where I feel confident working.”

“The PathoSans system has helped us create healthier learning environments across Medinah School District,” added Mackall. “We are using the best products available. Because they are responsible, effective and always available, PathoClean and PathoCide meet the needs of many and provide comfort for all.”

Why the Wellbeing of Cleaning Professionals is a Top Priority

From hospitals and long-term care facilities to schools, college campuses, and office buildings, custodians and building cleaners have been on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic ensuring all areas are cleaned and disinfected. Even before the pandemic, cleaning professionals worked tirelessly to keep facilities clean. Ensuring they have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) or training is key to keeping them safe.

The pandemic is shining a spotlight on the important role that cleaning staff play in protecting public health and safety. It’s more important than ever to recognize the work they do and prioritize their needs. Facility managers who provide their cleaning staff with the right tools to complete their job safely and effectively will foster a loyal employee-employer relationship that minimizes turnover and increases morale.

Recognizing the Risks

When the pandemic hit, custodians and other cleaning professionals were at the highest risk of being affected by the virus due to their essential worker classification. Some custodians were expected to work long shifts without the proper PPE due to widespread shortages. In fact, the Service Employees International Union found that one in five of their members didn’t have gloves and two in five didn’t have face masks.

Expecting custodians to risk their lives by handling biohazards and caustic chemicals, and deal with strenuous and labor-intensive motions without the proper protection is unfair. We depend on cleaning professionals to keep our communities safe and it’s important that we recognize the risks they take each day just by coming to work.

Best Practices to Improve Employee Wellbeing

Consider implementing the below strategies to give in-house staff the support they deserve while reducing risk and turnover. If you work closely with a building service contractor (BSC) to support your facility’s cleaning needs, determine how well the organization lives up to these best practices.

Conduct thorough and regular training.

Training is one of the most important ways to improve your employees’ wellbeing. It should occur during the onboarding process and throughout their tenure to ensure that they are up to date with the most current procedures and information. The pandemic caused a disruption in the supply chain that resulted in many BSCs and facility managers exploring new cleaning chemical options and equipment. Custodial workers needed proper training on these products and technologies to avoid lapses in safety. Investing in education and reviewing your training program annually will result in a larger ROI, ensure consistent cleaning performance, reduce risk and improve employee retention.

Upgrade to non-toxic cleaning chemicals.

Traditional cleaning chemicals contain potentially toxic ingredients and strong fragrances that can aggravate conditions like allergies and asthma. Staff are cleaning more frequently than they were before, which is why it’s important to utilize an on-site generation (OSG) system to create non-irritating solutions with just water, salt and electricity. Otherwise known as electrochemically activated solutions (ECAS), the cleaner and disinfectant are compatible with one another and replace the majority of chemicals required to maintain a facility. This greatly limits the chances of employees creating unsafe chemical mixtures. Utilizing an OSG system also eliminates supply shortages that can result in staff having to use unfamiliar or unsafe chemicals.

Provide the proper PPE.

While using safer chemicals reduces reliance on PPE like gloves and eye protection, it is important for employers to give staff access to equipment that enhances peace of mind. This includes face masks in addition to disposable gloves and protective eyewear when needed. PPE adds an extra layer of protection against contagious viruses while also instilling confidence in building visitors that the facility takes their pandemic precautions seriously.

Offer continuing education and benefits.

Offering continuing education options, such as leadership courses through partnerships with local universities, shows your employees that you want to see them grow professionally within your organization. Give your employees additional educational opportunities by enrolling them in certification courses that expand upon best practices for maintaining safe facilities. Separately from cleaning and leadership courses, consider healthcare and 401(k) options that offer long-term benefits. This can set an organization apart from competitors, as most hourly employees in the cleaning profession do not have access to these benefits.

Show Your Appreciation

As custodians and cleaners continue their work on the frontline of the pandemic, managers can take steps to set their employees up for success. Providing training, safer chemical options, continuing education and rewarding benefits prove that an employer cares about employees. Showing your appreciation can promote a culture that values worker wellbeing and helps reduce employee turnover.

At GSF-USA, we’re proud to invest in our people and their wellbeing, now and after the pandemic. For more information, contact the GSF office nearest you. Follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook for the latest updates.

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