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COVID-19 Pandemic: Disinfecting Your Building or Facility

Cleaning and disinfecting have always been vital components of warehouse and factory maintenance, and now as we return to normal, retail establishments and restaurants. But given the widespread effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it is having on industrial and retail operations, cleanliness is more important than ever.

For companies to remain operational and keep essential workers on the job, new cleaning standards and protocols have to be implemented. These measures have been put in place to protect your workers, your customers, and your company, and now with more places re-opening diligent cleaning and disinfecting is even more critical. But with the guidelines changing on a seemingly daily basis, many people wonder, what are we supposed to do?

To help ensure that your building, warehouse or factory is following state and national COVID-19 recommendations, we have compiled comprehensive list of tips and guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting your facility.

Guidelines for Disinfecting Your Facility & Equipment

Cleaning vs Disinfecting vs Sanitizing

When implementing new procedures at your facility, you will likely use the terms disinfect, sanitize, and clean interchangeably. However, it is crucial to understand that cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are different things. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explicitly states the difference between these three processes:

  • Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. Cleaning works by using soap (or detergent) and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. This process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection. Cleaning is the best first step, but will not rid surfaces of the COVID-19 virus and must be followed up with more extensive treatment.
  • Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection. Think of sanitizing as the middle ground between cleaning and disinfecting, but it does not completely rid any surface of viruses or pathogens.
  • Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection. This is the level to which all surfaces in your facility should be kept, to ensure that any illness-causing germs that could enter your facility are killed.

Not all disinfectants are suited to kill the virus that causes COVID-19. Always use a certified disinfectant to be sure you are actually killing pathogens and contaminants on surfaces and keeping your facility up to code for current operations. A list of certified COVID-19 killing disinfectants can be found here, as recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.

How to Disinfect

Disinfectants are only as good as the person who uses them, so it is crucial that disinfecting directions are followed to the letter. Each product will have its own guidelines, but always follow these CDC best practices for disinfecting your building or facility.
Hard/Non-Porous Surfaces

  • Clean the area or item with a clean cloth/paper towel, soap and water or another detergent prior to applying disinfectant.
  • Apply the disinfectant directly to the surface.
  • Follow the instructions on the label to ensure safe and effective use of the product. Many products recommend:
    • Keeping surface wet for a period of time before wiping away the disinfectant.
    • User precautions such as wearing gloves, masks, and making sure the working area is ventilated and has clean air flow.

For warehouse and industrial applications, household cleaners or diluted bleach solutions are not ideal for disinfecting surfaces. For jobs of this magnitude, it is recommended that you use industrial-grade disinfectants that have all been certified to kill the COVID-19 virus. Some of those solutions include:

Flooring
Flooring is also a non-porous surface, but there are recommended disinfecting practices that go the extra mile to ensure your facility floor is clean. After all, the CDC believes that the COVID-19 virus can live on the bottom of shoes and cross-contaminate flooring surfaces, and vice versa.

To properly disinfect your flooring, follow a similar order of operations that you would on other hard surfaces.

  • Start cleaning the floor by sweeping, vacuuming, and picking up any visible dirt or debris.
  • Clean the flooring with soap and water or another detergent that isn’t a disinfectant.
  • Cover the entire flooring surface with a recommended flooring-specific disinfectant, allowing it to dry completely before walking or moving items over the floor.

Because disinfecting floors require unique processes, there are specific disinfectants that are recommended for industrial flooring or warehouse applications. Some of those include:

Soft/Porous Surfaces

Due to the nature of soft and porous surfaces, it’s difficult to fully disinfect them. However, there are some steps you can take to get rid of most viruses, pathogens, and bacteria.

For fabrics and soft items, wash them by hand with soap/detergent and water or in a washing machine at the highest heat setting. Things such as uniforms or coveralls should be laundered in a washing machine immediately after use in a warehouse or industrial facility.

Follow up the cleaning process by applying surface disinfectant that is approved for fabrics or other soft surfaces. You don’t want to use a disinfectant that will harm or even ruin your items, so always read the labels.

Equipment

Equipment is another non-porous surface, but due to its sheer size and frequent use, it probably requires slightly different disinfecting processes. The actual disinfectant solution, however, can be the same as you use on other hard surfaces and even floors.

  • Clean with soap and water and hose down large equipment if possible.
  • Treat all surfaces of equipment with disinfectant sprays or wipes.
  • Allow the equipment to dry completely before using again or putting it back into workflows.

A general note for what are known as “high-touch areas” — think doorknobs, drawers, keyboards, and phones. These surfaces should be disinfected regularly. High-touch areas on equipment include steering wheels, control switches, and shifters, which should be disinfected regularly. Operators should also have access to hand sanitizer.

When searching for disinfectants for all surfaces in your warehouse or facility, you will save valuable time with RTUs — ready to use products. These disinfectants are already mixed and ready to be applied directly out of the bottle. Some disinfectants you may find will require mixing of various chemical components, which can be messy, time consuming, and even dangerous. At most, use a disinfectant that only requires adding water.

How to Protect Yourself During Cleaning & Disinfecting

What good is disinfecting your building if the people doing the disinfecting aren’t protected too? During the actual disinfecting process, you can come into contact with viruses and pathogens on surfaces. This can lead to cross-contamination or even workers getting sick, which will defeat the entire purpose. To protect everyone in the facility, OSHA recommends the following when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in a warehouse or any industrial facility:

  • Any person cleaning or disinfecting should wear personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes gloves, masks, and even coveralls depending on the situation.
  • Disinfect the facility at off hours when few or no people are in the facility.
  • Have maintenance workers and all employees wash their hands often.
  • Never touch a surface with your gloved hand and then touch yourself, face, phone, etc.

How Frequently to Clean & Disinfect

As we are currently in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, cleaning and disinfecting should happen on a daily basis, if not multiple times throughout the day. This will ensure that everyone in the facility can and should feel safe coming to work, and that the risk of anyone getting sick is greatly minimized.

If your business elects to do a facility-wide disinfection only once per day, high-touch areas should then receive regular attention throughout the day. As mentioned before, some of these high touch areas include:

  • Tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, sinks, and equipment controls.

Nationally Mandated Warehouse Cleaning Tips

Some of the leading public health authorities have put together a detailed list of protocols for proper cleaning and disinfecting. The CDC has warehouse-specific disinfecting protocols that must be in place for a company to stay open, and all companies should use these instructions as a baseline when implementing enhanced cleaning procedures.

According to the CDC, all facilities need to be aware of and ensure the following are put in place:

  • Employers should work with their local and state health departments to ensure appropriate local protocols and guidelines, such as updated/additional guidance for cleaning and disinfecting, are followed.
  • Employers should educate staff and workers performing cleaning, laundry, and trash pick-up activities to recognize the signs of COVID-19 and provide instructions on what to do if they develop symptoms within 14 days after their last possible exposure to the virus. At a minimum, any staff should immediately notify their supervisor and the local health department if they develop symptoms of COVID-19. The health department will provide guidance on what actions need to be taken.
  • Employers should develop policies for worker protection and provide training to all cleaning staff on site prior to providing cleaning tasks. Training should include when to use PPE, what PPE is necessary, how to properly don (put on), use, and doff (take off) PPE, and how to properly dispose of PPE.
  • Employers must ensure workers are trained on the hazards of the cleaning chemicals used in the workplace in accordance with OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard (29 CFR 1910.1200external icon).
  • Employers must comply with OSHA’s standards on Bloodborne Pathogens (29 CFR 1910.1030external icon), including proper disposal of regulated waste and PPE (29 CFR 1910.132external icon).
  • Custodian and facilities staff should ensure that all handwashing sinks have clean running water, soap and paper towels at all times.
    Consider having alcohol-based hand sanitizers in common areas (for example, in bathrooms, laundry rooms, gyms and playrooms) to encourage hand hygiene.
  • Building staff should make sure building ventilation systems are working properly and maintained per standard protocols for optimal indoor air quality. If feasible, increase ventilation in common areas and the amount of outdoor air entering the building.

If you have any questions regarding industrial disinfecting procedures or products, we can help. The team at NITCO has been helping companies through this difficult time with comprehensive guidelines and product recommendations that work in any operation. Contact the NITCO team to learn more about how you can disinfect your facility and stay operational during our new normal.

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