Shaun Doak, chief executive of React Specialist Cleaning

The pandemic has undoubtedly affected nearly every industry in the UK and globally. With multiple lockdowns and conflicting advice for office-based workers fluctuating between staying at home and encouraging them into work, it is without surprise that business owners and landlords have been some of the hardest hit over the past year. When workplaces were allowed to open in a limited capacity, one of the most important issues was to ensure the staff returning would be safe at work and brand new measures needed to be put in place.

A lack of clarity on precise measures as to who was allowed to return, to what degree businesses and office spaces were to be open, and how to communicate the new measures in place have all had a massive impact on those with buildings and offices to maintain.

With winter already at our door, some businesses are being forced to stay open and others tentatively preparing for another return in the New Year. The challenge now facing those maintaining business spaces and office buildings is how to safeguard against a potential outbreak and how to respond to an outbreak of COVID-19 within the working environment.

Key messaging should be implemented, if not already, ensuring it is communicated to all occupiers ahead of returning to the office as well as physically communicating through signage on hygiene, social distancing and one-way systems. The regular cleaning routine most buildings have in place would not be sufficient to prevent COVID-19 exposure, and one of the most critical points landlords and business owners should address is ensuring the cleaning routine is updated to include a more rigorous regime. When cleaning, surfaces should be washed down using a PH-neutral detergent first – such as soap and hot water. This aims to remove ‘hidden’ bacteria and viruses in lingering dirt and dust, resulting in a more effective disinfection process.

This should be followed with a disinfectant certified as effective in disabling similar coronaviruses. Virucidal disinfectants are stronger than their antibacterial counterparts but, in many cases, their effectiveness against coronaviruses is unproven, and so choosing the right disinfectant is crucial. Many virucidal disinfectants on the market contain potentially harmful ingredients, such as chlorine compounds, which, when used more frequently to protect against the virus, can cause damage to surfaces and/or cause other health issues.

Mostly made up by ethanol, surgical spirits can be used as an alternative to virucidal disinfectants. These products can destroy the protein and RNA of viruses, effectively destroying them in as little as 30 seconds. To use surgical spirits, rub the liquid over the surface using a cloth. The spirit will then evaporate and does not need to be wiped away.

In order to ensure staff and occupiers will be able to return safely to workspaces, it’s necessary these additions are included in the everyday cleaning routine. Through steps such as these we can reduce the chance of infection within the building space and aim to move towards a normal working life again. However, there will always be a chance of infection at the moment either inside or outside the working space and, to decontaminate the space with as little disruption as possible, it’s imperative landlords and business owners understand the steps required when there’s an outbreak of COVID-19 and the imminent risk of infection to their occupiers.

Outsourcing the initial deep cleaning process to a professional company, before returning to regular services, is advisable. They will have the products and expertise essential to complete reliable and meticulous cleaning. It’s important to make sure the professional cleaning service you’re using is prepared for the level of decontamination required – many businesses adapted over lockdown to provide cleaning services that may not have the expertise and correct equipment of more established businesses.

When completing a deep clean, the standard disinfecting process from the regular cleaning regime should be followed by ULV (Ultra Low Volume) fogging of the building, to be most effective at removing potential coronaviruses. ULV foggers deliver the disinfectant product at droplet sizes ranging from 10-120 microns. For this reason, ULV foggers should only be used with products that are safe for use in the presence of people when adjusted to levels below 80 microns.

This is just one of the reasons as to why it is advisable to have the initial deep clean completed by a professional cleaning company, with the correct PPE and expertise to use this type of equipment. When deploying ULV fogging, it is important to follow manufacturers’ recommendations and take care to isolate areas which may be sensitive to the process, such as electrical equipment. An appropriately rated sanitiser, certified to destroy viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2, should also be used in the fogging process.

Fogging is a beneficial extra step to take as the disinfectant has greater surface contact time to destroy all present threats. ULV foggers treat entire areas, including those that conventional cleaning and disinfecting protocols may miss. The use of UV (ultraviolet) lights can also be beneficial in small, enclosed areas as part of a deep cleaning process. UVC works at a high energy to destroy the genetic material inside viruses, and so can be used for disinfection.

Like most products, though, UVC has not been clinically tested against the virus which causes COVID-19, although it is proven to destroy related coronaviruses. The use of UVC can be dangerous, too, as it can cause damage to eyes and skin. Its application, therefore, needs careful care and the appropriate PPE.

The final step is crucial to ensuring that the building is safe for staff and occupiers to return to. After the site has been deep-cleaned, the professional cleaning company can verify the building has been disinfected effectively by testing the surfaces for the presence of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP is an indicator molecule for the presence of biological residues. This test works by wiping a swab across surfaces, inserting it into an active substance and then measuring the output on a hand-held device called a ‘luminator’. The more light shown on the device, the more ATP present and, the more ATP present, then the more virus or bacteria residue on the surface.

If business owners and landlords can effectively implement these steps, both to safeguard against a spread of coronavirus and also the steps required when there’s an outbreak of COVID-19, then the transition back to the workspace will be made far smoother. With the New Year approaching, by ensuring that more rigorous, regular cleaning routines and deep cleans are in place, occupiers will feel at ease with the eventual return to the office, whether or not full time, and place their confidence in landlords and business owners.

IDX Real Estate