5 Reminders for Creating a Healthy Building

Let’s take these lessons with us as we move beyond COVID-19

Healthy Building, Hygiene, Health

1. Clean for health

Cleaning is first and foremost a tool to protect public health, especially from the things we cannot see—which are often the most serious threats to our health. While COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through inhalation of viral droplets and is now being controlled through vaccines, we cannot forget that the indoor environment is filled with other harmful contaminants such as staphylococcus, salmonella, E. coli, mold, dust contaminated with pesticides, asbestos, lead, and vehicle exhaust soot, among others.

Reminder: Examine cleaning products, processes, frequencies, and worker training regularly, not just in the event of a viral pandemic, to protect building occupant health every day going forward.

2. Focus on high-touch surfaces

COVID-19 guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) focused on cleaning “high-touch” surfaces. This is because not all building areas or surfaces are of equal importance from the perspective of protecting occupant health. For example, a light switch or doorknob that is rarely used or touched is not a high-touch surface. 

Reminder: Focus on the building areas and surfaces within those spaces that are touched by multiple people throughout the day. 

3. Practice good hand hygiene

COVID-19 reinforced the importance of hand hygiene beginning with frequent handwashing for at least 20 seconds, with alcohol-based hand sanitizers as an alternative when soap and water are not available. Unfortunately, many missed the opportunity to stress the importance of “thorough” handwashing (including thorough hand drying), and not merely rubbing palms together for 20 seconds.

Reminder: In addition to using a high-quality soap and preferably warm water to wash palms, also wash fingers, thumbs, between fingers, fingertips, creases in knuckles, and back of hands—and maybe even the wrists. And while you’re at it, consider washing your face as well. Plus, if using a refillable soap dispenser, periodically wash it out (not just top it off) as bacterial slimes can grow even in dispensers filled with antibacterial soaps.

4. Clean thoroughly

Facilities will eventually reduce the frenzied cleaning seen at the height of the pandemic, but will likely continue cleaning at a higher level than before the pandemic to truly protect health. If no other lesson is learned from the pandemic, remember the need to go beyond cleaning for appearances to focus on cleaning for health. Just as with handwashing, cleaning should focus on thoroughness.

Reminder: Quickly and superficially cleaning any surface, no matter how frequently, is not effectively cleaning for health. Thoroughness should be the cleaning industry’s new mantra.

5. Don’t waste resources 

Occupants have real concerns about the health and cleanliness of the facility they visit or work in and need to be reassured that the building is safe. Thus, it is important to make cleaning visible. Unfortunately, in some cases, cleaning exceeded what was necessary to actually protect occupant health. 

Reminder: “Hygiene theater” is simply a waste of product, time, and especially money. And in some cases, it may actually pose unnecessary risks to occupants if cleaning staff are not thoroughly cleaning building surfaces. 

Posted On July 16, 2021

Stephen P. Ashkin

President, The Ashkin Group

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in green cleaning and sustainability. He can be reached at [email protected].

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