HSE Guidance on Disinfecting Offices During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Whether re-opening after lockdown or sanitising during occupancy, employers have to consider many different factors when ensuring their workplaces are as COVID-safe as they possibly can be.
One of those factors is the methods used to clean the offices, both between work sessions and during them. From a casual wipe of surfaces after they have been used to a rigorous deep clean of everything, including furnishings and floors, these different approaches require different practices and substances to carry out.
There is a lot of information to be found on cleaning premises; much of it may not necessarily be wholly accurate or in date. It can be difficult for conscientious employers to know what to trust to do the best by their workforce.
Now the HSE has issued new guidance for employers who disinfect their premises.
The HSE does not recommend spraying people with disinfectants via walk-through systems under any circumstances. A person who is infected can pass through a disinfection system/device and start to infect people once they emerge.
As well as being only minimally effective against the spread of the virus, disinfectants that are used in this fashion can have harmful effects on the health of those on whom they are used. The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has issued a publication on whole-body walk-through systems (PDF) .
Instead, the HSE recommends that employers should use standard control measures to reduce the risk of COVID transmission. These measures include social distancing, frequent cleaning, adequate ventilation and regular handwashing. These measures have been proven to be effective and any relaxation of them can increase the risk of transmission.
Cleaning premises with fog, mist or UV treatment
For larger work spaces, a fog, mist or UV treatment may be suitable for disinfection purposes, but they work best as part of a full COVID-19 risk assessment. Whoever carries out the disinfection process needs to be competent and properly trained.
The choice of treatment will depend on several factors:
The size of the area being treated,
How easily it can be sealed off while being treated.
Whether the surfaces in the area are hard or soft.
The type of business
When spraying or fogging, disinfectants may reach harmful levels and can cause breathing problems.
If equipment is being used to disinfect an area, then it must comply with the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations.
Sealing off rooms
For fog, mist or vapour treatments, gaps in doors or windows can allow leakage of hazardous chemicals back into the building beyond the area being treated. Potential leak points should be sealed to minimise the risk of exposure to people.
Compared to disinfectants applied as a fog, mist or vapour, UV treatment of surface normally leaves no chemical residue behind. However, UV may present a risk for injury to unprotected skin and eyes if operators do not take necessary precautions.
The law on disinfectants
If disinfectants are going to be used, the manufacturer’s instructions should be followed to make sure the substance is being used safely and effectively.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) says that employers need to make sure any substances that could be harmful to health are:
and the risks associated with their use must be eliminated or controlled with suitable processes.
Under COSHH, employers must provide information, instruction and training for all their employees using hazardous substances, including taking the appropriate precautions and actions to safeguard both themselves and others.
Only the HSE can authorise biocides under the Biocidal Products Regulation so if the product being used says that it is endorsed or approved by another organisation, this is irrelevant and does not override the requirements of the Regulation.
Manufacturers of disinfectant products are responsible for making sure that their products meet any necessary testing standards. They are also responsible for using the product label to provide the end user with information and instructions.