With the UK lockdown scheduled to end in a matter of weeks, many businesses across the country are looking how to futureproof themselves in the lead up to Christmas.
Many organisations have struggled and floundered during the initial peak of the virus. Yet business leaders continue to face unprecedented challenges. Even those who have weathered the storm so far have now discovered the critical importance of taking decisive, proactive measures to inspire confidence in customers, staff, and shareholders alike.
Chief executives leading their organisation’s return-to-work – whether to office spaces, factory floors, construction sites or a combination of these environments – need to consider how they can prepare and communicate a robust package of measures to demonstrate the COVID-security of their business.
To shed light on the issue, we asked Tautvydas Karitonas, Head of Research and Development at Inivos, how business leaders can implement practises which ensure a safe environment for staff and a future-proof business.
Distance is not enough
When individuals are out and about, maintaining an appropriate distance from others is one of the most effective ways of limiting viral spread.
This becomes much harder in the workplace. Modern work environments, particularly city-based offices, often require employees to be densely packed into small spaces – with banks of undivided desks an increasingly common sight over the past few decades.
In response to the pandemic, many business leaders may now take steps to reverse this trend, giving employees more distance through a combination of space dividers and new remote-working shifts – and this is to be applauded.
But in a shared work environment, even when it’s possible to give each individual a designated two-metre workspace, keeping your distance is not enough to guarantee safety.
Research has shown that COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for days at a time – with viral particles able to remain for up to three days on steel and plastic – meaning any employees who share equipment, machinery, or bathroom facilities all risk exposure to traces of the virus on surfaces.
While workplace distancing measures are an essential part of a COVID-security programme, it is only effective as part of a larger package of policies which includes clinical decontamination and proactive infection prevention.
Take a proactive approach
Although lots of businesses will have plans to deep-clean their workspaces, manual cleaning on its own is not enough to ensure an environment is COVID-secure.
Conscientious business leaders who want to improve workplace health must implement more robust measures to ensure a safe space for their workers, guests, and customers.
With an estimated four in five cases of coronavirus thought to be asymptomatic, and the delay between contracting the virus and the onset of symptoms estimated to be as long as fourteen days, the virus can spread silently and easily between a number of individuals before causing another to become critically ill.
For this reason, a reactive approach to decontaminating – only beginning a deep clean or contracting an infection response service when a case is confirmed in the workplace – is not enough.
To break the chain of infection, leaders must ensure their middle managers are scheduling regular, proactive decontamination of office and communal spaces.
Consider every element of the working day
The functional areas of your work environment are not the only places your workforce risks exposure to COVID-19. Doorways, stairwells, lifts and communal facilities such as staff kitchens and bathrooms all offer opportunities for the virus to spread. It’s essential that business leaders take steps to mitigate risk in all these areas.
Workplace Infection Prevention Assessment tools, such as the one launched by Inivos, can help CEOs in any business sector or size to understand which areas of their work environment pose the greatest risk of viral or bacterial transmission – and what steps are required to minimise or mitigate these risks.
Understanding and maximising the movement of staff within the building itself can be enormously beneficial for controlling viral spread in businesses. Managers can keep track of when different spaces within the office are unoccupied – for example, during the weekend or after hours – to identify opportunities to deep clean and how to harness technology to do so.
Travel to the workplace can also pose risks of workforce viral spread. While this risk is impossible for CEOs to control, particularly in urban settings where many of their employees use public transport, there are measures that can help reassure and protect staff.
Having a policy of providing staff with PPE and hand-hygiene kits for their trip to and from work can provide additional peace of mind. These policies can be scaled and adapted so more protection is advised and provided during peaks in viral spread, when the government advises the risk is modest.
Take an evidence-based approach
Many business leaders will likely have plans to deep-clean or ‘fog’ their work environments; however neither of these practices can fully ensure a space is effectively decontaminated of potentially harmful viral and bacterial contaminants, and can even leave harmful organisms behind through unintentional but unavoidable human error. To ensure that this does not happen, CEOs should create clear expectations with suppliers of an evidence-based approach.
To ensure your decontamination will deliver on its services, look for a company that will explain their technology and activities to you, and share peer-reviewed evidence on their efficacy.
Hydrogen peroxide vapour (HPV) and ultraviolet-C (UV-C) light decontamination are both good options, demonstrated to reduce micro-organisms much more resistant than coronavirus to safe levels.
Both work by destroying the fat and protein outer layer of the virus, before destroying the genetic material within and are already regularly used by more than a third of NHS Trusts to combat infection concerns including COVID-19, MRSA and C.difficile.
Looking to the future
This pandemic has taken all industries by surprise and created unprecedented difficulties. COVID-19 has raised the profile and importance of improving infection prevention and control practices, and it’s crucial that business leaders carefully consider their direction of future travel.
As the country continues to battle the pandemic, it is vital that businesses – especially those in the hospitality sector that rely on physical contact – develop robust COVID-security policies that ensure spaces are free from harmful contaminants and are safe environments for staff and customers to be in.
Ultimately, by implementing regular decontamination practises, CEOs can ensure the future health of both their business and the people who make it special.