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By Valerie Burd, Senior Vice President, Service Delivery, ABM
COVID-19 has disrupted life as we knew it worldwide. While people wait for a vaccine or an effective treatment, daily life struggles to go on normally. People miss the places they frequented pre-pandemic and (in many cases) they must return in-person to their workplaces. Despite these feelings of longing or urgency, they remain apprehensive about returning.
The challenge of COVID-19 is an opportunity to show tenants, occupants, and your colleagues that facility management is more than just mopping floors and fixing the leaky AC unit. As local restrictions lift and people cautiously return to work, school, travel, and leisure activities, how can facility managers help provide peace of mind for those entering those facilities? How can people come together to overcome uncertainty?
One solution offers the promise of ease of return, visual reassurance, and expert-vetted science: a turnkey third-party disinfection program from a reputable facilities services company. But as you consider service providers, be aware of common issues.
Ask any disinfection provider the following questions and expect similar answers in your vetting process.
Question #1: Is this a longstanding company with success in facility services?
Answer: Developing a comprehensive disinfection program from scratch in the midst of a pandemic is a daunting effort, requiring a large-scale organization with access to industry experts and a history of providing cleaning and disinfecting services. Cleaning services within controlled environments like hospitals or industrial cleanrooms are a good example. However, if the company is young, small, and was not doing skilled cleaning in any capacity before, you should be skeptical that they are suddenly offering facility disinfection services. In short: small, localized janitorial companies are unlikely to provide effective, consistent, and knowledgeable disinfection that your tenants or employees will trust.
Question #2: Was their disinfection program developed based on best practices in healthcare and as guided by the CDC?
Answer: Not only should any facility cleaning and disinfection program be based on the best practices recommended by the CDC, WHO (World Health Organization), and outside experts (like industrial hygienists and infection disease specialists), but it should also be continually updated to reflect the most-current guidance. New findings in areas like how the virus spreads, how long it can live on surfaces, and what disinfectants are most effective against it should factor into program and service updates. Does the company you’re speaking to have professionals devoted to this? How quickly can they adopt new guidance from national and global health and safety organizations?
Question #3: Is the service provider using disinfectants from the EPA’s List N (disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2)?
Answer: A cleaner showing up with a rag and a bucket of bleach is not enough. In fact, some chemicals can be both harmful to your surfaces and finishes AND ineffective. Only disinfectants on the EPA’s List N are approved for their use against COVID-19. Not only does the list authoritatively vet and log effective disinfectants, it also validates the proper disinfection method and the kill-time. Some disinfectants can be wiped away in as little as 10-secs, others need to sit for as long as 20 minutes. Your provider needs to know what disinfectants work and how to use them properly.
Question #4: Do they have experts outside of their company vetting their training, equipment, and techniques?
Answer: It is admirable to admit that you’re not an expert on everything and seek outside expertise on highly specialized topics. However, a working knowledge of facility services to build on is a non-negotiable base requirement for the development of a disinfection program. Facility professionals do not typically have access to industrial hygienists and infectious disease experts. Bringing together the right experts in combination to face this unique challenge is crucial to creating an effective program and set of services. Look for a company that has both inside experts in facility services topics and relevant outside experts making recommendations and scrutinizing everything. It’s as close as we can get to peer-review while no industry-wide standard of facility disinfection for COVID-19 currently exists.
Question #5: Are the specialists performing the cleaning properly trained thru an accredited training program and then tested on their knowledge?
Answer: You should look for a provider that has invested time and training in their specialists performing the work. Giving the right people the right tools and the wrong training still equals ineffective disinfection. Effective disinfection requires knowledge of the science behind disinfection and the practical knowledge of how to perform the disinfection. Ask about their training and if they have an accredited training program, testing, and if they have internal certifications designating the cleaner’s level of knowledge (e.g. a cleaner on a crew might need less theoretical knowledge than a district manager who oversees training multiple crews at various sites). A company that ensures comprehension through multiple methods of learning (classroom-style learning, webinars, in person observation, etc.) is a plus, too.
Question #6: How much does the service cost?
Answer: Creating a program from the ground up with experts in infection prevention and industrial hygiene, countless hours of operational development, and extensive training is a huge upfront cost for the provider. Providing the service with expensive equipment, supplies, disinfectants, and PPE is a huge ongoing expense. In turn, you should expect high-quality services to come at a higher price. If the price of the services is around the same cost as traditional pre-pandemic cleaning, you should ask questions and try to figure out if corners have been cut.
Question #7: Does the disinfection program have various service levels for flexibility given the occupancy or usage of the space?
Answer: One service does not fit all for disinfection. From initial reentry to ongoing daily needs to after-hours broad disinfection, there are different methods that work best at different times for different types of facilities. Top tier providers will seek to understand your facility first, then customize a program to your needs. This will usually include advising you to perform one large-scale disinfection before reentry (or to “reset” your facility if it never fully closed), then ongoing daily disinfection that accounts for your facility’s risk profile, and after-hours disinfection with tools like electrostatic sprayers to offer broader coverage beyond frequent-high touch point disinfection. You should look for a provider that asks a lot of questions upfront and then offers helpful solutions specific to your needs, not someone trying to come and quickly sell you a one-size-fits-all program.
Question #8: Can this company help support you in other ways outside of disinfection to reduce the spread of COVID-19?
Answer: Having one facility services partner multiplies the efficiency and efficacy of your program, simplifies your oversight, and might even save your organization money. Examples include:
- Occupant signage, which is used to encourage healthy practices like social distancing and handwashing.
- Upgraded HVAC maintenance, which offers both filtration that can kill the virus in the air and better indoor air quality overall. If your building has been closed through the transition to warmer weather, heating equipment may not have been shut down properly. Where appropriate, we will recommend upgrades to existing systems and/or technologies such as MERV-14 high efficiency air filters and indoor air quality testing devices.
- Touchless parking, which offers the promise of less interactions with potentially contaminated services.
- Maintain assets that are crucial for servers and data centers, to ensure your ability to support remote work, and to facilitate communication with your teams.
- Even your grounds can perform in ways that maximize health and safety. ABM will analyze your needs and implement best practices such as mass disinfection (e.g., outdoor seating areas, playgrounds, trash cans, handrails), and tree-trimming to maximize UV exposure.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Keep People Safe
These questions are vitally important because, frankly, anyone with a microfiber cloth and a disinfectant can claim to offer a disinfection service. Many residential cleaning services are struggling (and even shuttering) due to lost business attributable to the pandemic. However, some have pivoted away to seize the opportunity to provide much in-demand commercial cleaning and disinfection services.
This is a new challenge for facility services companies, and the ones that have done it right will be proud to explain all the hard work their company has put into providing an effective service that delivers safer, healthier environments.
The ABM EnhancedClean™ program is a three-step approach that delivers healthy spaces with a certified disinfection process backed by experts. To learn more, visit ABMEnhancedClean.com or call 866.624.1520 and press 3.