How to ensure physical distancing while cleaning

Four ways to make sure your teams are staying physically distant while cleaning.

Businesses with casual essential workers, including cleaning companies, are the key to re-opening the country safety.

While we know how crucial cleaning has become in response to COVID-19 outbreaks and preventing community spread, have you considered that the way in which cleaning staff are managed is just as important?

Safe Work Australia’s physical distancing guidelines often relate to businesses operating from a fixed location.

But what if your workforce is spread across multiple locations, without supervision? What if personnel need to rideshare to, from, and between different sites?

How to ensure physical distancing while cleaning

Safe Work Australia requires businesses to ensure their staff stay physically distant from each other by 1.5 meters, with 4 meters around them at all times. But for cleaning companies working across multiple sites, this can be challenging.

Here are four ways to ensure your cleaning team stays physically distant while they work.

The challenge of physical distancing while cleaning

Safe Work Australia’s information about physical distancing contains valuable guidelines for:

  • Worker interactions and work tasks
  • Staff gatherings and training; and
  • Travelling in a vehicle together for work purposes.

But much of SWA’s information is relevant to businesses operating from a fixed location. For cleaning companies offering essential services across multiple sites, meeting SWA’s physical distancing requirements can be quite challenging to control. For example:

  • Cleaning teams work across multiple sites, often with little supervision.
  • Personnel need to travel to, from, and between different sites, often after hours.

Cleaners may also work more than one job. This has been identified as one of the key ways coronavirus is spreading through the community in Victoria.

So here are four ways to make sure your teams are staying physically distant while cleaning.

  1.  Scheduling duties and breaks

The recent hotel quarantine breaches by security guards in Victoria, has shown just how easily COVID-19 infection can spread between workers, by taking breaks together, chatting in close proximity, and sharing personal items such as phones.

Carefully plan your work schedules and workflows (order of tasks) so cleaners do not need to work close together or be in the cleaner’s room at the same time. If practical and safe to do so, stagger the arrival and departure times of cleaners. For example:

  • One cleaner could be responsible for preparing all chemical bottles, carts and mop buckets ready for when other staff arrive (wear gloves to prevent contamination);
  • One cleaner could wash cleaning cloths while others finish mopping or waste removal, then finish alone by disinfecting high touch points with disposable paper towel.

If physical distancing is not possible during breaks, or breaches are occurring, stagger break times as well so that workers do not take ‘smokos’ together.

  1. Travelling to site

If workers need to travel in a vehicle together for work purposes, they still need to practice physical distancing.

Safe Work Australia has issued the following advice:

  • Reduce the number of workers travelling together in a vehicle for work purposes.
  • Ensure that only two people are in a 5 seat vehicle – the driver and a worker behind the front passenger seat. Only one worker should be in a single cab vehicle.
  • If workers are required to travel together for longer than 15 minutes, set air conditioning to external airflow rather than to re-circulation or windows should be left opened.
  • Clean shared vehicles more frequently, no matter the length of the trip, after each use.

SWA also advises that some states and territories have placed strict limitations on gatherings in public places, meaning workers cannot travel together in a vehicle to and from work, or eat lunch together in a park for example. Check with your State work health and safety authority.

  1. Training and meetings

Face to face training of cleaners is vitally important for demonstrating the correct use of cleaning, disinfection and putting on and removing PPE for example. To do this safely:

  • Hold training sessions outdoors or in large spaces with adequate ventilation that enable workers to keep at least 1.5 metres apart from each other and the trainer.
  • Ensure all trainers and trainees wear masks to prevent germs from being spread.

All other meetings should be conducted via electronic conferencing wherever possible.

  1. Monitoring and support

Safe Work Australia has issued a range of free posters and resources to help remind workers about physical distancing and the risks of COVID-19 and measures to stop its spread. These posters should be put up in the cleaner’s room and can be used as part of tool-box training sessions.

At HPC Solutions, we recommend companies nominate a ‘COVID-Safe Champion’ on every site, such as a team leader, who supports and reminds their team members to practice physical distancing.

This is an excerpt from Bridget Gardner’s Guide to Cleaning for COVID-19

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