As an employer, you use your expertise to guide your employees through many challenges. If you’re like many other business leaders, your expertise may not be in a medically sound reintroduction to your workplace.
That’s why FormulaMed is dedicated to sharing our expertise in health and safety to support you and your employees through the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the most critical challenges that business leaders seek support for is maintaining cleanliness in the workplace. In this blog, we put together a guide to safely navigate clean and dirty states in the workplace to minimize virus exposure.
Difference Between COVID-19 Clean and Dirty States
Prioritizing cleanliness is routine for many organizations; however, cleanliness in the context of a highly contagious virus takes on a new meaning and requires new safety approaches. Under typical circumstances, “dirty” often means:
- Dusty shelves or furniture
- Floors that need to be swept or vacuumed
- Food or drink spills
- Toilets that need to be scrubbed
The common feature is that there are typically visible indicators of dirtiness. Once these are removed, the surface or area is often considered clean. When it comes to COVID-19 cleanliness, these definitions are not sufficient. Harmful infectious materials are not always visible to the eye.
Minimizing risk of virus exposure requires a different understanding of dirty and clean. Think about cleanliness as two mutually exclusive states that an employee can be in:
- Clean states
- Dirty states
An individual is in either a clean or dirty state – similar to how a light switch is either on or off. This categorization contributes to greater safety in and out of the workplace.
What is a Dirty State?
Being in a dirty state means that you have had high exposure to the virus. You are more likely to have a large amount of particles containing the virus on you that are unobservable. When re-entering the workplace, employees will spend a majority of their time in a dirty state.
Where You Get Dirty
There are several environments that put individuals into a dirty state, including:
- High-traffic public spaces (e.g. hallways, common areas, and waiting rooms)
- High-touch surfaces (e.g. elevator buttons, and faucets)
- Close-proximity spaces (e.g. restrooms and elevators)
What NOT To Do When in a Dirty State
Being in a dirty state should not be a cause for panic. It just calls for different behaviors. Remind your employees that they can stay safe in a dirty state by not doing any of the following:
- Touching their face
- Using public writing utensils
- Adjusting their personal protective equipment (PPE) / mask
- Administering eye drops
- Adjusting contact lenses
- Taking glasses on or off
What is a Clean State?
Comparatively, employees will only be in a clean state a minority of the time – where they are not covered in virus-carrying particles. A clean state occurs when an individual does any of the following:
- Showering with soap
- Washing hands
- Using hand sanitizer
Best Practices When in a Clean State
The goal is to get back into a clean state as quickly as possible. Provide these best practices to employees to accomplish this task:
- Frequently wash your hands with soap and water. Do not touch your face until your hands are decontaminated.
- Limit face-touching. Keep interaction with your face and mucous membranes to brief and essential instances.
- Carry hand sanitizer, and use it correctly. Frequently cover all surfaces of your hands with alcohol-based sanitizer, including between fingers and around nails.
Additionally, management can make it even easier for employees to follow these guidelines for navigating clean and dirty states by establishing a COVID-19 hierarchy of controls.
A Guide to Safely Navigate Clean and Dirty States in the Workplace
Employee behavior in clean and dirty states significantly impacts their health and wellbeing in the workplace. Your employees will spend the majority of their time in a dirty state. To foster the safest work environment possible, introduce your employees to these guidelines to safely navigate clean and dirty states in the workplace:
- Limit accessories and apparel
- Wash hands properly and frequently
- Use an event-based gloves plan
- Wear masks
Limit Accessories and Apparel
To minimize risk of infection in a dirty state, organizations need to evaluate and make adjustments to their dress code. Personal clothing and accessories can harbor viruses. Moreover, they can make the sanitation process more difficult and time-consuming.
Consider creating a dress code policy that includes the following:
- No jewelry, rings, watches, or other hard-to-clean accessories
- Avoid loose fitting clothes and long sleeves
- Tie up long hair if possible
It’s a simple, but effective policy for both employers or employees.
Wash Hands Properly and Frequently
The importance of handwashing cannot be overstated. Encouraging your employees to not only wash their hands frequently, but also properly will make a significant difference in workplace safety.
Proper Handwashing Procedure
Employees should properly wash their hands using the following steps:
- Wet hands and apply soap. Remember, soap is the source of sanitization – not water.
- Fully scrub all sections of both hands – including, palm to palm, back of hands, between fingers, back of fingers, the base of thumbs and wrists, and fingernails.
- Rinse and dry hands with disposable paper towels. Do not use hand dryers as these can spray leftover contaminated droplets into the air.
Use an Event-Based Gloves Plan
Organizations should also require employees to wear gloves when handling items exposed to a dirty state (e.g. when opening up mail). This will minimize the risk of this employee transitioning into a dirty state and becoming infected.
Glove wearing can be a bit challenging for some organizations to adopt. Afterall, our skin is easy to clean. It is difficult for an employee to clean a glove without getting into a dirty state.
FormulaMed encourages the use of an event-based gloves plan where gloves should NOT be cleaned and reused. Instead, one pair of gloves should be used per event. After this event, they will be doffed and discarded properly. Employees will then don a new pair of gloves for the next event.
Event-based gloves plans will help employees who are exposed to high-contact items and surfaces be and feel safe performing their responsibilities.
Wearing masks is a group-effort approach that organizations can take to halting the spread of the virus in a dirty state. They work not to protect the wearer so much as those surrounding them. Management should provide all employees and visitors in the workplace with masks. If everyone in your workplace wears a mask, then everyone can be protected.
Surgical Mask 101
A surgical mask has 3 protective layers:
- The Inner Layer is made of spunbonded non-woven fabric, which enhances the wearer’s comfort.
- The Center Layer is made of polypropylene SMS non-woven fabric, which filters particles and bacteria according to the ASTM standards.
- The Outer Layer is spunbonded non-woven fabric, which holds the desired color of the mask and is coated for fluid resistance.
Two structure components that make surgical masks so effective are:
- Metal nosebands to form-fit the mask to the wearer’s face
- Elastic ear loops to secure the mask in place
Proper Donning and Doffing of Masks
Wearing masks is a new concept for many employees. It’s critical that they understand how to properly don and doff their masks. To enforce proper donning and doffing of masks, organizations should train employees not to:
- Leave their chin exposed
- Wear their mask loosely with gaps on the sides
- Wear their mask below their nose
- Push their mask under their chin on their neck
- Wear their mask so it covers just the tip of their nose
Instead, employees need to:
- Pinch down both sides by the nose and then cover their chin
- Only touch the ear loops when taking off their mask– not the inside or outside of the mask
- Reuse a mask if it isn’t soiled
- Drop a mask into a plastic bag and zip it up or wrap the mask’s ear loops on the outside of a tupperware container.
Other Types of Masks
Aside from surgical masks, there are other types of masks that employers may decide are appropriate for employees to use in their workplace, such as:
- N95 respirator
- P100 respirator
- Full face respirator
- Self-contained breathing apparatus
For more information about which type of masks are most appropriate for your specific work environment, schedule a consultation with the FormulaMed team.
Create a Custom Plan for Your Organization
FormulaMed is working hard with companies to address their specific concerns and needs as they re-enter the workplace. Learn how you can confidently re-enter and stay safe while working through the pandemic.