Workplace hygiene in the post-COVID-19 era

What has the pandemic taught us about vigilant workplace cleaning?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen Australians develop whole new ways of being together.

Kids tap ankles, politicians bump elbows and sneezes are well contained! Yet as borders start opening, it is crucial that we keep our eyes firmly on the prize of workplace hygiene and safety.

What has the pandemic taught us about vigilant workplace cleaning? And how do we ensure that viruses don’t lurk at work, then spring up to surprise us in the future?

COVID-19 and cleanliness

Lockdown saw families separated, groceries delivered in masks and offices emptied as many employees were sent home to work.

As a nation, we stood amazed – and often confused – at the many ways in which the coronavirus spread across communities and workplaces.

We sorted through the different attachment methods of the virus to hard and soft surfaces, the phenomenon of merely speaking without a mask creating long and icky droplet showers… even rumours that sweaty cyclists could fling the virus about on the bikeways!

And as a community, we changed tack with each new health development, working hard to adopt the highest hygiene advice that medical advisors could provide at each moment.

But what now? Will Australian workers keep heeding the hygiene message? Employers and workers alike were delighted as we hit ‘Donut Day’ in early November – zero new infections across the country.

Yet it is crucial that employers do not drop the ball on COVID-19 – or any other viruses – as Australians head back to workplaces.

A hygienic return to work required

It is the mass return to work that will mark an important moment in post-COVID life.

Will the hard-won lessons learnt on workplace hygiene be lost? Workers returning from the home environment will be busy adjusting to new workplace arrangements, rekindling team dynamics as well as navigating the work journey.

Public transport numbers will swell and it is highly likely that as seasonal colds and flu begin their regular cycles, transport infrastructure will once more become a danger zone.

In the mayhem of getting back to work, workplaces might in fact become extremely vulnerable to poor hygiene and cleanliness. And it is this potential that needs to be met with vigilant health and safety strategies by employers.

Post-COVID cleaning strategies

As workers flock back to workplaces, employers must carefully consider if their workplace has ‘superspreader’ potential. Pre-pandemic cleaning routines are unlikely to pass muster in a post-COVID world.

Getting back to work and normality, the hygiene advice and PPE that we give to workers will only ever go so far as a preventative measure.

The bugs and viruses that are brought in from home, transport and the streets must be dealt with vigilantly by employers.

We can hope for more sanitiser in or near public transport, sensible workers staying at home when unwell, or masks being worn at all times (and not dangling off the chin!)

However, when it comes to a clean and germ-free work environment, the buck stops clearly at the feet of business.

A large part of any industrial hygiene strategy will be creating constant, thorough and regular cleaning cycles.

A full inventory of work-spaces, surfaces, worker movement and cleaning resources will need to be undertaken as a first step.

Workers might feel like relaxing into a return to ‘normal’, combined with the general laid-back vibe that comes with Australian summer and Christmas.

Employers however must maintain a constant focus on workplace hygiene and cleanliness in the post-COVID world.

Libby Roberts is founder and director of WRM and LeapForward. Libby is VP of the NSW Board of the Australian Rehabilitation Providers Association and is on the board of the Pain Management Research Institute.

Libby will be presenting at the ISSA Cleaning & Hygiene Expo .

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