While maintaining cleanliness and hygiene should always be a priority, we often don’t truly realize the importance and impact of cleanliness until it is absent or fails to meet necessary standards. The current coronavirus pandemic is an example of the implications of lapses in cleanliness and hand hygiene. Many researchers, health organizations and news outlets are focusing on what organizations and individuals can do right now to limit the scale of the pandemic. However, it’s equally important to discuss what needs to happen once the pandemic eases. Cleaning industry professionals have an unprecedented opportunity to elevate the industry now and moving forward.
A History of Outbreaks & Pandemics
Several major outbreaks have had a significant and lasting impact on society. The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic infected about one-third of the world population. In 1957, the H2N2 flu strain killed more than 1 million people. Other flu pandemics occurred in 1968 (H3N2) and 2009 (H1N1).
From 2014-2016, West Africa experienced its largest and most complex outbreak of Ebola virus disease, which has an average fatality rate of 50%. It killed more than 11,000 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Today, the coronavirus pandemic has forced entire cities and countries to shut down all non-essential businesses in an attempt to “flatten the curve” of new cases – in other words, to reduce the rate of new infections occurring.
A Major Shift for the Cleaning Industry (and Beyond)
Despite the occurrence of prior pandemics, cleanliness is often still considered an afterthought. The coronavirus pandemic will certainly be a pivot point for the cleaning industry. Consumers and businesses are now hypersensitive to cleaning, disinfecting and hand hygiene. Cleaning professionals are coming to the rescue at a time when facilities, even those that have shut down, are relying on these experts to work overtime to kill lingering pathogens. The pandemic is bringing greater awareness to the role that cleaning professionals play in keeping people safe and greater scrutiny to what cleanliness standards should be.
In addition to taking measures against the pandemic, organizations should also consider the following best practices to ensure they are more prepared for the next outbreak:
• Allocate appropriate budgets for cleaning: Many custodial teams are routinely asked to do more with less as organizations have tightened their budgets. But doing more with less can end up costing organizations a lot more in the long run. With the arrival of the coronavirus, many facilities are pouring money into acquiring hospital-grade cleaning products and increasing the frequency and thoroughness of cleaning. Moving forward, organizations will need to approve realistic budgets for their custodial teams and building service contractors. Otherwise, they put themselves and their employees and patrons at greater risk.
• Stocking outbreak-sized levels of essential supplies: Panic buying and increased supply chain pressure has made it difficult for organizations and even cleaning companies to quickly acquire essentials like personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. Once we collectively flatten the curve, organizations will need to adequately stockpile a greater volume of supplies and work to improve supply chain processes to avoid shortages and delays in the future.
• Rethink paid sick leave: Many organizations are instituting work-from-home policies during the pandemic. However, the reality is that many employees are paid hourly and work for organizations like warehouses, pharmacies or grocery stores that are staying open to serve customers in need of their products and services during the outbreak. It’s important for these organizations to provide employees with paid sick leave to discourage symptomatic workers from entering the facility. When employees feel pressured to work while sick, it negates the very important work that cleaning teams are doing to reduce the spread of germs.
A Stronger Focus on Cleanliness
The coronavirus pandemic will have a substantial and long-lasting impact on the world economy. Some industries, like remote learning and working platforms, have seen profits skyrocket, while the foodservice, hospitality and airline industries are facing extensive losses. The cleaning industry is also poised for a massive shift, as the pandemic has brought a greater focus on cleaning and hygiene than we have ever previously witnessed. Once the threat of this pandemic is over, we can only hope that the cleaning industry will continue to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and that facilities will do more to help prevent and prepare for future outbreaks.