As the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, I have observed a multitude of non-HazMat-trained companies offering ‘deep cleaning services’ for COVID-19. I am concerned that these companies are putting their profits ahead of the safety of their employees, the clients that have appointed them and the general public.
Gareth McCorkill, Response & Environmental Project Manager
Thorough decontamination, which produces hazardous waste, should be treated as such and in line with the current legislative framework. COVID-19 waste is a biohazard and requires a hazardous waste licence to transport to a licenced disposal site in the correct containers and with the correct health and safety procedures. It goes without saying that the correct paperwork must also be completed showing a clear transfer from site to disposal.
When conducting a decontamination of a site, the primary thought should be to prevent secondary contamination. This requires zoning or segregation of contaminated areas, best described in HAZWOPER procedures (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response), which is an internationally recognised OSHA standard for HazMat response and a necessity for any emergency response in the USA. All competent employers should have their staff trained to at least this standard.
The whole point of the lockdown within the UK is to prevent secondary contaminations. If a cleaning contractor enters a COVID-19 contaminated space and performs a deep clean they must also be considered contaminated, and they need to decontaminate themselves and their equipment before departing the site and declaring the site ‘clean’.
What is happening with the PPE after it has been used? Throwing the gloves and suit away, sure, but are the mask / goggles / face shield being decontaminated and where is the waste that has been generated going? Are the goggles or face shield being decontaminated effectively or at all? What about their footwear? Are they using boots and decontaminating them? If not, secondary contamination is almost certain.
There are pictures out there of COVID-19 ‘specialist cleaning’ companies cleaning in normal trainers and shoes. If this is all being decontaminated, great, but I am guessing that the mention of decontamination or hot, warm and cold zones and a decontamination corridor would be a foreign concept to the vast majority of these companies.
Based on current research, SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19) lives for up to 8hrs on latex, copper and aluminium, up to 24hrs on cardboard, an amazing 1 to 3 days on stainless steel, counter tops and plastic and an alarming 5 days on glass and wood.
Anyone employing a company to undertake decontamination needs to understand the procedures required to effectively deal with this problem, otherwise they are part of the problem and not part of the solution.
This is also true for companies offering fogging and hazing.
Fogging / Smoke machines use heat to atomise the solution, whereas hazing uses pressure or compression to atomise the solution. Both can be detrimental to the efficiency of the detergent being used unless it is specifically designed to be atomised by these methods.
Misting is the introduction of the solution into the path of fast-moving air, blowing the solution in a mist to adhere to the surfaces. This can use any detergent certified to be used to eradicate the coronavirus. If a detergent is not specifically designed to be atomised by heat or pressure when used, you may as well be spraying water onto the surfaces; in fact, that is exactly what you are doing.
Fogging / Misting / Hazing alone will not eradicate the SARS-CoV2 virus. It is a good finish to a decontamination process which should include, but not be limited to: rubbish removal; HazMat vacuum; a wipe down with alcohol wipes or sanitizer spray or an approved coronavirus eradication detergent / steriliser / sanitiser; high-touch wipe down; mop; then lastly fog / haze / mist using chemicals which will not be affected by the atomisation process (heat or compression).
Another point to consider is whether the company you are talking to has the correct insurances to be working on your sites. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the start of the global crisis many insurance underwriters have sought to restrict cover, and as such many standard company insurance policies will exclude anything COVID-19 related unless specifically agreed and additional premiums paid.
A good example is the decontaminating of an office environment. Does the company you intend to appoint have the correct Public / Products Liability Insurance to protect you and your staff against damage or injury should something occur, and (some might say) most importantly of all, does it have the correct Professional Indemnity Cover to provide you with the certainty that you will be protected from losses arising from advice on what decontamination should be carried out and how.
If you want your premises, vehicles or, indeed, any asset cleaned due to COVID-19, or just want to return to work with a baseline ‘clean’ giving the confidence that COVID-19 has been eradicated from surfaces, check the procedures and equipment used by the company in question and ask the awkward questions. Ask to see method statements, risk assessments, JSAs, proof of delivery, hazardous waste licenses, safety data sheets, HazMat training certificates, corporate CVs of those in charge, company insurances specifying COVID-19 services and, finally, make sure you are working with a reputable company by asking for trade references.
The company insurance, HAZWOPER training and the correct HazMat equipment is not cheap and is currently very hard to source, so if you are getting cheap quotes for cleaning I would hazard a guess that you are getting exactly that:
With over 15 years’ experience in the Oil Spill Response Industry operating in over 45 countries, Gareth has an unparalleled depth of expertise in the industry, having managed, co-ordinated or overseen numerous international major spill response projects.
Gareth’s technical knowledge of oil spill equipment, response methodologies and the necessary interconnecting equipment required to ‘make it work’ in all environments (Land, Shoreline, Off-shore) is extensive.