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Pro Tips for Workplace Hygiene

March 13, 2020
Personal hygiene has been in the news lately, and the winter illness season is still winding down. What steps can managers of individual buildings take to help reduce the risk of illness?

This information was accurate at the time of publishing, March 13, 2020.

Personal hygiene has been in the news lately, and the winter illness season is still winding down. What steps can managers of individual buildings take to help reduce the risk of illness? 

Amna Handley, director of clinical development for Georgia-Pacific Professional, and Darin Squires, GP Pro’s general sales manager for commercial real estate, chat with editor-in-chief Janelle Penny about key hygiene concepts and how to help promote healthy work environments.

*This podcast was created in partnership with GP Pro.

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[Start transcript] 

Janelle Penny: Hey, this is Janelle Penny, editor-in-chief of BUILDINGS magazine. I’m joined today by Amna Handley, who is the director of clinical development for Georgia Pacific Professional, with a focus on infection prevention in hygiene. Amna is board certified in Infection Control and Epidemiology and she’s also a post-master’s, board-certified family nurse practitioner. We’re also joined today by Darin Squires. Darin is GP Pro’s general sales manager for commercial real estate. Thank you both for joining me.

Amna Handley: Thank you for having us.

Darin Squires: Thanks for having us. Appreciate it.

Janelle: This podcast was created in partnership with Georgia Pacific Professional, and today we’re going to be talking about hygiene and infection prevention.

Now, to start off with hygiene has been in the news a lot lately, and we’re just coming off the end of the winter illness season. What are some of the key concepts that people need to know about hygiene?

Amna: Yes, that’s a great question. So, according to the Centers for Disease Control, we should all be following practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease, especially through cleanliness, and hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes with tissue, and maintaining a clean environment. All of these interventions can impact how germs are transmitted that result in infections.

Janelle: How does good hygiene reduce the risk of illness? And why are we hearing so much about hand washing all of a sudden? Don’t people already do that?

Amna: That’s a great question. The CDC guidance tells us that hand hygiene and hand washing is the most effective intervention to prevent the spread of germs. This includes washing with soap and water and using an alcohol-based hand rub that has at least 60% alcohol when soap and water are not available. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to germs and hand hygiene is the most effective intervention to prevent this spread.

Janelle: That makes sense. So, what should people be doing differently?

Amna: The CDC recommends that we take extra precautions and really focus on hygiene. Specifically, we need to focus on things like avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, increase hand hygiene frequency, and be careful to cover any coughing or sneezing with a tissue. And please stay home if you’re sick.

The CDC is also recommending that we clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, and things like keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks in the bathrooms. If surfaces are dirty, clean them and use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.

Janelle: Okay, that makes sense. I’ve been seeing a lot of news stories about people stocking up on hand sanitizer. What do we need to know about buying that?

Amna: As we were saying earlier, the CDC recommends that if soap and water are not readily available, people should use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. And to properly apply sanitizer, you have to cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry. And again, per the CDC, sanitizers should really be used as a backup if soap and water are not available. And in particular, soap and water should be used after using the bathroom, before eating and if hands are visibly soiled.

Janelle: Great. What should be in that hand sanitizer? Are there certain words or phrases we should look for on the packaging?

Amna: Yeah, so per the CDC, it should have at least 60% alcohol and that could be ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol.

Janelle: Great. So, taking a slightly different tack for a minute, let’s look at this from a whole building angle. What are some things that facilities managers can be doing to reduce the risk of illnesses being transmitted?

Amna: Yeah, so that’s a great question. What should people do or know about disinfecting their spaces? Facility managers can play a vital role in implementing some of the CDC recommended best practices, like we discussed earlier, such as cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily. These areas again, include tables, desktops, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks.

All of these items play a vital role in making sure that they’re cleaned daily, and they’re frequently touched. So, it’s important that we pay attention to interrupt the transmission of germs.

Facility managers should also be vigilant to watch for dirty surfaces if they find them, clean them, and it’s as simple as using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfecting. Now, you may be wondering, ‘Well, what’s the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?’

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Cleaning is just removing the dirt off of those surfaces with just a regular soap and water. But to actually disinfect, according to the CDC, most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work and disinfectants that are appropriate for the surface should be used. So, you have to pay special attention to the label.

They’ve stated that products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims are expected to be effective and based on data to for harder to kill viruses. So, definitely read the labels. And most importantly, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products.

Things to pay attention to are, how do you apply the cleaner and the contact time, the time that you allow that product to dry on the surface—those are those are important interventions to properly achieve disinfection.

The CDC site has great links available with different options on various disinfectants that you can use based on the type of the surface. And they also list other common EPA-registered household disinfectants that can be used as well. But now is the time to pay attention to those frequently touched surfaces that I mentioned earlier.

Janelle: Definitely. Now, speaking of frequently touched surfaces, what can you do as a professional in the built environment to make sure that people are taking the right steps at the individual level? Obviously, you can’t force people to wash their hands, but can you do anything to improve the odds of people doing the right thing?

Amna: Yeah, that’s a great question. We’ve learned that providing reminders to people with messaging like posters or visual cues, screensavers, fliers, those can make a difference in promoting hand hygiene. But also having hand sanitizer readily and easily available at the entrances and the exits, having sanitizer available on desktops and meeting rooms, and making sure that soap and water and paper towels are readily available and replenished.

And to help with this effort, the CDC and the World Health Organization have great posters available for download on their websites for free that businesses can use for this purpose.

Janelle: So, we’ve talked a little bit about hand sanitizer stations and the need to use certain sanitizers. And I’m wondering how the products that building owners or designers specify affect either the cleanliness of the building or the odds that individual people will use them to improve their hygiene?

Amna: Yeah. I know that each space is going to have its unique challenges. But having a sound infrastructure for hand hygiene is a great starting point. And when I say hand hygiene infrastructure, when you look at your space, the location that you place the dispensers will actually impact how frequently people sanitize. Having working dispensers at the sinks and with the paper towels in the restrooms can also make a big difference.

We’ve learned that people actually prefer touchless dispensing systems. So, when those types of decisions are made, there are features and benefits with solid product selection that can impact the end users’ preference for hand hygiene. So, paying attention to those types of details when you’re actually creating an infrastructure or designing a facility are important to promote optimal hand hygiene practices.

Janelle: Is there anything in particular that you can do to promote hygiene if you’re renting a space, but you don’t own it? It’s so easy to make improvements if you own your own space. But what can you do if you’re a tenant in an office building you don’t own or maybe just someone renting out meeting space?

Amna: Some of those interventions that we’ve talked about, there are things that you can do to promote hygiene with the visual cues that we mentioned, like posters and visual reminders. And then having product available when and where you need it, so tabletop sanitizers is a great example, where you might not own the building or have an influence over the existing infrastructure, but you can absolutely provide tabletop sanitizers and tissues, and signage to promote good hygiene practices, like covering your cough and sneeze or sanitizing with a hand sanitizer before you touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

Those are some simple basic practices that can impact hygiene. And the other opportunity that can be done as well as where you choose to sit. And choosing to not be so closely next to each other during this time is probably a good idea. When you do your seat assignments or when you choose your desk space for the day, promoting a little bit of distance is a good idea.

Janelle: Now Darin, what are you seeing from the market in terms of healthy and hygienic workplaces?

Darin: What we’re seeing, and we’re all living in today’s world in the office building environment, very cool, contemporary, updated, redesigned office space. Much of it densified or open space. Our GP center, our tower in downtown Atlanta, we just densified all 51 floors of that building. And you find that flu and cold season, you get a little spread of germs in these environments, you’re not in an enclosed office anymore.

So, as cool and as unique as some of these buildings are, and some of that reason is because with labor at a low level right now, unemployment, I should say at a lower level right now, we’re seeing the decision to work for a company because there’s multiple options, so for a Gen Z or a millennial, they’re really deciding on their career possibly or working for a corporation based on the building that they’re going to work in.

And so, when you visit some of these really radical and cool - we call them "Instagram-able buildings" - technology is abound, sleeping pods, meditation rooms, so a lot of open space and a lot of interaction between people. Great rooms are now open and collaborative spaces. A lot of people in these breakrooms, even setting meetings in breakrooms, because they’re farm table style, attractive places to have meetings.

So, my point of that is the market has very unique and desirable office space right now. But we all have to be healthy and safe to come to work. So, if you’re going to occupy these buildings, make sure you’re not coming to work ill. If you are not feeling well, obviously stay home. It’s critical that that happens in these open environments, because you certainly could come to work and spread germs.

So, I think that’s kind of a unique situation that has evolved after all these buildings have been opened. I don’t know that it was something that was thought of on the front side of open or densified workplaces or neighborhood as it’s also called.

Janelle: Absolutely. Well, thank you both so much for joining me today. This has been really illuminating.

Darin: Yeah. Thanks for having us. Appreciate it.

Janelle: OK, and thanks to you all for listening. We’ll see you next time.

[End transcript]

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About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has been with BUILDINGS since 2010. She is a two-time FOLIO: Eddie award winner who aims to deliver practical, actionable content for building owners and facilities professionals.

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