Employers have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from COVID-19 exposure. Performing a risk assessment enables you to think about the risks present and allows you to consider what measures will help to reduce them. Whilst the measures you may wish to employ will vary greatly from workplace to workplace, reducing exposure to the virus present on surfaces around your building is universally good practise. Employing a strict cleaning protocol and reducing the number of shared touch points is strongly advised to limit exposure to contaminants.
But if Corona virus is a respiratory infection, why are surfaces so important?
Social distancing measures and face coverings are great at preventing direct person to person viral transmission, but a more hidden method of transmission is picking up the virus from contaminated surfaces and objects – called fomites.
A number of studies have been conducted into the length of time the virus remains infective on these fomites. For example, one study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found SARS-CoV-2 (the COVID-19 virus) was detectable on cardboard for up to 24 hours and on plastic and stainless steel for 2-3 days. Whilst these types of studies are artificial in nature, because they use extremely high virus titre levels and are not able to completely replicate real life conditions, it is agreed and reflected in public health guidance that it is possible to contract the virus through fomite exposure. Therefore, the government recommends a number of steps you can take to reduce the risk to your workforce.
So how can I reduce COVID spread via surfaces?
✓ Regular cleaning and good hygiene
As much as it has been repeated again and again, practising good hygiene is of paramount importance. Sneezing and coughing has the potential to release the virus aerosols in the air which can directly deposit on to surfaces. Even if someone covers their cough with their hand but then touches a surface, there is the potential for the surface to harbour the virus and possibly infect the unfortunate person who touches it next. As SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus, to become infected, they will then need to touch their mouth/nose area and for it to enter the respiratory system. We tend to touch our face numerous times in a day without evening realising it. This is why it is very important to regularly clean frequently touched surfaces as well as our hands. Placing automatic hand gel dispensers around your building is a great way to encourage frequent hand hygiene.
At a minimum, government advice recommends that frequently touched surfaces are cleaned twice per day with at least one of the times being at the start or finish of the working day, using an appropriate cleaning product – such as an anti-viral surface spray. Placing tubs of cleaning wipes at places with shared touch points will encourage your staff to wipe clean surfaces before touching them.
✓ Do not share “communal” supplies
It’s not just surfaces like walls or tables that could unwittingly harbour the virus. Other ‘surfaces’ include objects or tools used. One way of preventing the risk of viral spread through your workforce is stopping the use of shared communal supplies. Many workplaces that used to offer’ hot desking’ options have stopped the practise of sharing work spaces, but government guidance also states that crockery and utensils should not be shared so encourage your staff to bring their own in so that they can label them for their personal use.
Using multi coloured labelling tapes is just one way that staff can label an object as their own and easily see at a glance if something is theirs. Some of the commonly shared items in the workplace include calculators, staplers, timers and pens. In a laboratory -based setting many scientists have their own set of pipettes, which may be used with great frequency. Socorex offer a colourful selection of smartie plunger caps to attach to the top of their pipettes, so you can colour code a pipette to a particular staff member along with coloured pipette stands. Other pieces of equipment can be identified with small coloured dots which can denote a certain user in the laboratory, and its easy to spot when your equipment has been borrowed unwittingly.
Camlab have many products that can help your workplace become more COVID-secure. Read more about our workplace essentials here. Contact us on 01954 233 110.