Science-Based Cleaning in a COVID-19 World
Number two of the four factors we are weighing in the decision to reopen is clear best practices. In this post, we’ll dig a little deeper into what this means for us. I’ll share our main sources of information, and how science-based best practices can help keep our staff and our customers safe.
As a nationally-certified Housecleaning Technician, I can really geek out on the science of cleaning. My intent here, though, is to provide a higher-level overview of our science-based approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ll try and save the geekier stuff for another post.
Starting at the Top
The first place we are looking to for guidance are the major national and multi-national health organizations charged with pandemic response.
One of the main problems for us to date is that the guidance has been shifting relatively rapidly. Each day we learn more about the virus and how it spreads. Consequently, I’ve been hesitant to resume our housecleaning services. Rather than shifting opinions, I need to see that there is broad, settled agreement on the specific risks associated with cleaning homes.
Specifically, I want assurance that:
1) We are not unwittingly spreading the virus to others.
2) We can understand and control risks for staff.
3) We know what cleaning protocols need to be in place to reduce the viral load on surfaces (i.e. kill corona!).
So, we’ll start with the three major health organizations whose guidance we are tracking.
World Health Organization
Founded in 1948 and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, The World Health Organization (WHO) is the premier global public health authority. A specialized agency of the United Nations, they are a powerhouse of pandemic response capability. Among their ranks, you’ll find “medical doctors, public health specialists, scientists and epidemiologists” along with experts in “administrative, financial, and information systems.” Their pandemic response capabilities round out with experts in health statistics, economics and emergency relief.
Interestingly, the predecessor to the WHO was formed specifically to enable a coordinated response to a global pandemics. At the time, this meant cholera, yellow fever and the bubonic plague (eeek!).
The WHO COVID-19 Pandemic website offers regular rolling updates, including – you guessed it – guidance on cleaning and disinfection to prevent the spread of the disease. They also continue to develop science-based best practices on the proper use of safety gear (PPE) during the pandemic. By doing so, they help us all understand who needs what gear, and when.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
This federal agency is part of the department of Health and Human Services and is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Like the WHO, the CDC was formed in the aftermath of World War II. Also like the WHO, it is the successor to an earlier organization charged with coordinating pandemic response. In this case, they worked on Malaria in WWII.
The CDC’s COVID-19 response website acts as a clearinghouse for information on the disease in the US. Best practices guidance for individuals, businesses, public institutions, hospitals and first responders is all here. And like the WHO, the CDC is providing extensive and frequently updated guidance on cleaning and disinfecting best practices.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
OSHA was formed in 1970 as part of the “Occupational Safety and Health Act” signed into law by President Nixon. Fun fact: The driving force behind the creation of this agency was the Radium Girls radiation poisoning case, a landmark in worker rights and industrial safety.
Under typical circumstances, we look to OSHA for guidance on the important but pretty much “common sense” aspects of health and safety that we encounter in our work. For example, making sure our cleaning products are properly labeled, or checking for exposed wires on our vacuum cleaners.
However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, OSHA has become a valuable source of guidance on how to keep our employees safe in this new environment. Their guidance has helped us to assess our own level of risk. They are essentially acting as a bridge between all the science and public health experts and those of us with boots on the ground, directing teams who are working in the field.
It turns out that to date, we seem to fall in the “Low or Average Risk” category. This is one of the reasons I remain hopeful that with some relatively simple precautions, we can resume our cleaning services quickly once the curve is flattened.
Science-Based Industry Sources
Next, we’ll look at the major sources we look to within the cleaning industry. I never take a salesperson’s word for it. Rather, I want proven cleaning outcomes based on science.
Global Biorisk Advisory Council
GBAC is a division of the International Sanitary Supply Association, the leading worldwide cleaning industry trade association. Within this larger association, GBAC focuses on education, training and certification for the biohazard remediation industry. If you wanted to learn how to safely perform biohazard clean-ups – like in the movie “Little Miss Sunshine- it’s GBAC you’d turn to. Incidentally, if you haven’t seen that movie, it makes great COVID-19 lock-down entertainment.
Our goal at Green Clean Maine is not to become biohazard remediation specialists. However, we can learn from these specialists to better understand the risks in our housecleaning work and how to better manage those risks. Furthermore, we can learn to recognize when a customer’s needs have moved outside our scope of work – and our ability to serve them safely.
Cleaning Industry Research Institute
CIRI is the cleaning industry research organization, dedicated to the science of cleaning the indoor environment. They produce the only peer-reviewed scientific journal for the cleaning industry – Cleaning Science Quarterly.
This type of peer-reviewed science is critical in our business. I know from 13 years of personal experience that the cleaning industry attracts some of the most caring, committed people in the world. It also has its fair share of people happy to sell you a bunch of products you don’t need, that may or may not perform the way they claim. “Snake oil” abounds.
To sort real sanitary benefit from the snake oil, CIRI provides science-based, peer-reviewed data. In turn, this data is used to inform product formulation, equipment design and best practices. Yes, this organization takes its funding from industry players. But I do believe the funding is decentralized enough to ward off undue influence on outcomes. Their work is widely respected and often makes conclusions that challenge conventional wisdom.
This past Tuesday, I attended CIRI’s Spotlight On Coronavirus day-long webinar symposium. It was fascinating! We heard from scientists around the world, engaged in world-class studies of cleaning and the indoor environment. We also heard from an infectious disease expert and international experts in the biohazard remediation industry.
It will take me another few hours of concentrated study to digest all that was presented on Tuesday. What is certain is that all of us in attendance learned A LOT about this virus, how it spreads and how we can control it through cleaning. I can’t wait to share more with you!
Healthy Green Schools and Colleges
Healthy Green Schools and Colleges is the result of a collaboration between the Healthy Schools Campaign, a national advocacy group, and global eco-certification nonprofit Green Seal. This program provides facility managers and staff with education, training and tools to create healthier indoor school environments.
I stay connected with this group for several reasons that are worth explaining. First, there is accountability. The leaders of some of the largest facilities departments in the country are involved. They are each responsible or the sanitary maintenance of millions of square feet across hundreds of buildings. They are accountable to unions, public health officials and their communities. This is a degree of public scrutiny and accountability not present in the housekeeping industry, and it drives an incredible focus on science and best practices.
Second, they meet these exacting standards without the use of harsh chemicals. They clean for health, and that means always bearing in mind the public they are serving. They are setting a tremendous example and I continue to learn from their approach.
Finally, the members of this program are leaders in worker safety. Green Cleaning is more than formulas and equipment, it’s ensuring everything is used properly in an operational system that integrates safety at every step.
Last week, I attended all three of their COVID-19 focused webinars. I learned how managers of these large facilities systems safely clean using eco-friendly practices in a world where COVID is a daily reality. Think you need chlorine bleach to clean safely in a COVID-19 world? It’s simply not true, and these guys have the science, research and best practices to back it up.
Pro tip: Hydrogen Peroxide works better, and it breaks down into Hydrogen and Water once it’s done it’s virus killing. More on that later!
As I work to digest the COVID-19 specific information from each of these sources, I’m looking for areas of broad agreement. The good news is, clear patterns have started to emerge. In areas I find conflicting information, I am digging deeper to understand more and ask the right questions.
Together with our management team at Green Clean Maine, we will develop new training, protocols and procedures. We will develop an internal pathogen safety certification. We will make the necessary changes to equipment use, personal protective equipment (PPE) and our cleaning formulas themselves.
All of this will build on our existing commitment to being a world-class housekeeping service. We will take a science-based approach to cleaning for health, and we will do it the GCM way – with products and practices that are safe for our customers, our staff and our environment.