Cold and flu season typically begins in early October and extends into late May, with flu activity commonly peaking in late January or early February.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year one in five Americans will come down with the flu. The flu can be a life-threatening situation for many at-risk populations. However, most of us will recover within a few days.
While the impact on our health and well-being tends to be minimal, the net effect on the U.S. economy totals a staggering US$87 billion dollars in lost productivity per year, according to www.flu.gov. In fact, one out of 10 lost workdays can be attributed to the flu, which is why facility managers need to take a more proactive approach to safeguard their facilities and tenants.
Although germs can harbor anywhere in a building, common areas such as restrooms are prime targets for germs to spread. Whether you are a facility manager, cleaning contractor, or custodian, the responsibility falls on you to ensure restrooms are sanitized properly to prevent the spread of infection and to have a plan of action in place in the event an outbreak does occur.
Here are nine steps facility managers can take in restrooms to keep sickness at bay:
- Schedule seasonal deep cleanings. Deep cleaning is a part of every janitorial service program and requires proper scheduling to prepare for the work and reduce interruptions to the work day. At the beginning of cold and flu season, it’s always best to schedule a deep clean for your entire facility as a preventative measure, paying special attention to restrooms. Custodians should scrub restroom floors, walls, and partitions with both disinfectant and sanitizer. While deep cleanings should be done at a minimum of once per year, timing them with the beginning, middle, and end of cold and flu season will increase the effectiveness of your flu prevention measures.
- Introduce additional hand sanitizers. To help promote cleanliness, facility managers should place hand sanitizers in high-traffic areas such as restrooms. It is also important to install hand sanitizers near employee workstations. Freestanding hand sanitizer dispensers should be available near the building entrance, office entrance, conference room, kitchen, and copy room. The strategic placement of hand sanitizers provides quick sanitation. It also reminds employees to wash and sanitize their hands frequently throughout the day.
- Go hands-free. Facility managers should consider installing hands-free appliances such as automatic sinks and toilets, automatic soap and paper towel dispensers, and airflow hand dryers in restrooms. Removing as many touch points as possible from restrooms will reduce the spread of germs. It is equally important to encourage facility tenants to wash their hands multiple times each day, especially after using the restroom and before and after eating. Consider purchasing restroom signage that reminds employees to thoroughly wash their hands to promote a cleaner restroom experience.
- Educate employees. It is just as important for facility managers to remind tenants and/or employees to practice hygienic restroom habits as it is to provide a clean restroom. Encourage employees to clean their desks and cubicles throughout the day. By keeping their workspaces clean, workers reduce the risk of transmitting cold and flu germs with them into the restroom.
- Encourage sick employees to head home. Most individuals with colds become contagious about a day before cold symptoms develop and remain contagious for about five to seven days. When an employee is showing signs of sickness, the employer should encourage him or her to head home to recover. In addition to unnecessarily spreading germs, pressuring employees to work despite feeling under the weather can impact a company’s productivity and morale.
- Provide flu shots. One of the best ways to minimize the spread of cold and flu in the workplace is to take preventative measures before the outbreak. Offering free flu shots to employees is one option. Employers cannot legally force employees to get a flu shot, but they can encourage them to do so.
- Enlist outside help. The cost of hiring a contractor—or if you are a contractor, a subcontractor—to perform specialized services can vary depending on the services and area in need of cleaning. When it comes to keeping business operations running smoothly, the additional fees are worth the cost.
- Enlist the help of custodial staff. The custodial team needs to work in conjunction with employees to keep sickness from spreading throughout the workplace. The office maintenance staff should ensure the proper disposal of infected materials, especially when it comes to garbage cans or loose tissues in restrooms. Maintain regular contact with custodians to make sure they are providing proper cleaning and maintenance to restrooms daily.
- Schedule cross-contamination surface cleanings. When a cold or flu outbreak occurs, your immediate concern should be containing and disinfecting the affected area. Everything from the doorknobs to the restroom partitions should be sprayed with a disinfectant and sanitizer or protected with an antimicrobial surface coating that will stay on the surfaces throughout the day to help disinfect. For severe outbreaks, consider using a hospital-grade disinfectant to cover all surfaces. It will kill all of the bacteria and germs instantly and will continue to work for 24 to 48 hours after.
When enlisting the services of a specialized cleaning crew to perform a deep clean, it’s vital to understand exactly what you are getting. Here is a series of questions to review with the contractor:
- What is your plan of attack in case of an outbreak?
- Are the chemicals you use truly disinfectants, or just sanitizers?
- What kind of equipment do you use?
- What services will be performed?
- How much will each of the services cost?
- What expectations can I have when the work is complete?
- Will anyone be assigned to check in with me to ensure the work was completed to my satisfaction?
- What is your process for cleaning restrooms?
- When will the crew arrive for the cleaning?
- When will the crew complete the cleaning?
- How many people have been assigned to clean the workspace?