As the coronavirus lockdown is gradually eased across the UK, anyone who provides goods or services faces the challenge of ensuring they can get operational again in a way that successfully safeguards their people and customers.
Personal protective equipment (PPE), signage and sanitisation chemicals and disposable catering supplies all have a part to play in that process but, with a myriad of mixed messages circulating about what works and what doesn’t, how can organisations be expected to pick their way through all that and choose the things that are going to do the job effectively, and not pay over the odds for the privilege?
We thought we’d take a look at ‘what’s hot and what’s not’ when it comes to achieving ‘COVID-security’, no matter what sector you operate in. Below, we debunk some myths about the most talked-about issues and products, with tips on what to look out for, how to decide whether you need certain items in the first place and how to use them effectively.
Gloves are an interesting one. We’ve all seen these being worn by everyone from shop assistants to medical and care professionals, and delivery drivers, since the pandemic began, and there’s no doubt they do add an air of confidence for customers and clients, by sending a signal that they are taking extra precautions.
However, like anything, they are only effective if you choose the right ones, and use them properly. Nitrile and vinyl gloves are best suited for work tasks and food handling. Latex and nitrile are ideal for medical use and polythene gloves are advisable for general purposes, and by far the most economical option.
There are golden rules for wearing protective gloves, too: they must be changed between customers, whether you are a delivery driver or care worker moving from house to house, or a restaurant worker serving customers. Otherwise, they are rendered pointless because they become just as risky for passing germs from person to person as your own hands. In the majority of cases, regular and thorough handwashing, for at least 20 seconds at a time, with the right chemicals, is just as effective. Even when there isn’t a global pandemic under way, promoting good hand hygiene to your organisation and customers is the single, most effective single step you can take to protect everyone.
#2 Face Coverings
Elasticated, disposable masks
The above is also true when it comes to face masks. Firstly, in order to be effective in protecting you and those around you, they need to cover your mouth and nose, and look out for products with a CE mark, or which are graded FFP2/KN95 or IIR, to be sure you are getting the real deal.
The wearing of face masks is gradually becoming compulsory in more and more locations, such as when using public transport in London. Many medical centres and GPs surgeries across the country are requiring users to wear face coverings when attending appointments and Scotland has become the first UK nation to make wearing them compulsory in shops. In those instances, the Government guidance is that wearing something is better than nothing, even if it’s only to protect others rather than yourself from droplets you might cough or sneeze out.
However, when it comes to professional settings, the above criteria apply when it comes to ensuring any masks you choose to wear are effective.
And, as with gloves, the way you wear them is also vitally important. For example, you should adhere to the individual product recommendations for usage time. The ‘crème de la crème’ are FFP2 or KN95-coded masks, such as those produced by manufacturer 3M. These can be worn for up to six hours effectively, and you can even re-use them so long as you store them in a clean, airtight plastic bag between times.
With all types of masks, it is essential that you put them on with clean hands, touch only the outside material when donning them and while wearing, ensure they cover your nose and mouth at all times and don’t take them off and place them on, for example, your forehead, or other surfaces that could be dirty, in between uses.
We recommend that wearing masks is clearly essential in the health and care sector, and advisable in settings such as retail, catering, manufacturing and delivery services that involve engaging closely with, or creating goods for, members of the public. And, aside from the practical benefits, they send out a very positive signal from a customer confidence point of view.
Reusable, full-face visors
These offer additional protection for people operating in high-risk areas of the health and care sectors, and are designed to be worn in addition to – and on top of – disposable face masks.
Typically made from perspex, they offer exceptional all-round shielding from the droplets that can transmit COVID-19 from one person to another, and the other good thing is that they can be re-used, so long as they are cleaned in between using effective anti-viral cleaning agents.
#3: Screens and sneeze guards
There are now a plethora of practical options available for guards to protect your employees and customers when going about their daily business.
Wherever you are tight for space and simply cannot implement the ideal two-metre distancing or, worse still, the new once metre-plus rule, these should certainly be considered.
They vary between discreet Perspex options which can be fitted between office desks, or between individuals on a production line; to ‘pop-up’ banners which can be shifted from place to place according to need, for example between customers queueing up at retail counters.
Nor do they have to be expensive, and we can advise you where you might need to use these, and what kind.
#4: Disinfectant chemicals
When the pandemic first hit, there was a dearth of anything with anti-bacterial properties, and a rise in unscrupulous companies selling ineffective items at extortionate prices, and bogus sellers making a mint by creating home-made concoctions that were not fit for purpose and, in the worst cases, could be harmful. Thankfully, as supplies have got back up to more normal levels, some of these issues have gone away, but it’s still vital to separate the wheat from the chaff when selecting the kinds of chemicals that are going to do the job of making your organisation COVID-secure and there are good and less good in this, as with everything.
Your basic rule of thumb, when selecting items like floor and surface cleaners, is that they should be ‘virucidal’. This means that they will have a high enough concentration of substances like quats/60 per cent or more alcohol, which will kill viruses like COVID-19 on contact, within a maximum of five minutes and should be effective to EN1446 standard.
Not only that but, even at a time like this, we need to combine disease prevention with not harming the environment. That’s why we believe it’s vital to choose from product ranges which are kinder to the world as well. One common myth is that bleach is the best chemical to counteract this and other viruses but, in our experience, while bleach will kill the coronavirus, it will damage a good many other things in the process – as well as tarnishing surfaces – and there are other things which work equally well without being so detrimental.
#5: Disposable cloths
At all times, but particularly at the moment, it is best to use single-use items that can be securely thrown away to avoid germ transfer from one person to the next, or one place to the next. ‘Use it, bin it!’ is our mantra.
We recommend using colour-coded disposable cloths or paper roll, which can also be used and binned, for cleaning all surfaces and touchpoints within your organisation, from desks to food preparation surfaces and security entrance pads.
There are a range of effective options available which are both cost-effective and non-harmful for the environment. Wall mounted and portable dispensers are also available for paper products, which can help to effectively control dosing of paper materials, and so limit waste.
The same principles also apply to selecting the right hand sanitiser. While it’s largely common knowledge, now, that, to be effective, sanitisers need to have an alcohol content of above 60 per cent, that’s not the only important consideration here.
Talk to any health and care professional, or anyone else that has to sanitise their hands numerous times every day, and they’ll no doubt bemoan at great length how their hands are suffering as a result. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. We source chemicals which have nourishing properties for hardworking hands and protect against damage at the same time as effectively killing off germs.
It’s also a widely known fact that the pandemic caused a scarcity of certain products and raw materials, one example of which was hand sanitiser. The World Health Organiation (WHO) permitted wide adoption of a sanitiser recipe which enabled wider manufacture of cheaply-produced products which, although they hit the 60 per cent alcohol threshold, were unregulated. Although this move served a purpose as a stop gap, since normality and regulations have been restored, there has been a natural decline in unregulated products. This ‘open door’ is now closing, as longstanding and reputable manufacturers return to full capacity and the raw materials needed are in supply again. Their products do tick every regulatory box, their standards are the highest available and they have paid ‘all their dues’ in licensing and regulation fees, which means that their products can be fully trusted. We only work with such organisations as a point of principle, because they share our professional values.
Ultimately, though, while it’s good to provide hand sanitiser around your workplace for your staff and customers to use as an added safeguard, there is no substitute for regular handwashing. If you don’t have enough handwashing facilities throughout your organisation for people to be able to do so regularly, we can help you access mobile, temporary wash stands at strategic points to overcome this issue.
#7: Soap, including antibacterial options
All of the above applies to your choice of soap, and the options we provide for our clients have added extras like aloe vera to ensure that they are replenishing skin with essential oils at the same time as removing harmful germs.
#8: Hand-drying facilities
There is possibly no more salient advice we can offer you than ‘ditch your electric hand dryers’. A popular misconception, created by very effective marketing by the companies who manufacture them, is that such driers are the most hygienic way to remove moisture from your hands after washing them. This is simply not true and, in reality, the machines themselves harbour harmful germs in their nooks and crannies and then effectively transfer them from one person to the next. They also disperse harmful moisture droplets far and wide, and often don’t completely dry each individual’s hands, creating perfect places, in the cracks and crevices of hands, for bacteria to multiply.
So, this being the case, what’s the alternative?
Paper, pure and simple. Provide paper towels, either in rolls or individual sheets, for customers and employees to use. These are more effective because they completely dry the hands and they are thrown away into a secure waste paper bin after each use, reducing any risk of germ transfer. You should always provide these via a dispenser, to prevent waste and customers touching more than just the items they intend to individually use. And this doesn’t have to be bad for the environment either, so long as you make sure that you utilise products that come from sustainable sources.
Signage has really two jobs to do, in the current environment: explaining and enforcing social distancing guidance, and educating customers and employees about good personal hygiene.
Whether you’re in the two-metre or one metre-plus camp (see our blog for some advice on how to decide) in terms of what’s right for your organisation, there are a multitude of options available that can be displayed on everything from internal and external floors, to walls and other surfaces.
However, keeping people far enough apart is only one of your challenges, here, and reminding them, in strategic places throughout your premises, to wash their hands or wipe down desks or equipment after using them, is the other half of the battle.
We can help you identify what you need to communicate and where it needs to be displayed, which is most effective for your specific organisation. And we also recommend switching things around regularly, so that those your messages are aimed at don’t become complacent, and can guide you on doing that effectively, too.
#10: Catering disposables
In busy restaurants, one of the greatest risks stems from equipment like utensils and condiments that multiple people might ordinarily use.
However, there are some clever inventions out there now, to help mitigate against this problem as we enter the new normal. These include a variety of disposable, single-use alternatives, and individually sterilised and packaged cutlery sets. Some of the newest and most popular items on the scene are our sealable cutlery pouches, ensuring that all cleaned and sanitised cutlery remains hygienic for up to 7 days (unopened).
Through our membership associations and other strong industry contacts, we keep a watchful eye out all the time for new innovations coming on-stream and we think this is one of the most exciting opportunities. So, if you would like an idea of some of the options available, we’ll be happy to share. We have eco-friendly products available, including the option to brand and colour code any new items required, a great addition to any catering business looking to truly put their own stamp on things.
If this blog has got you thinking and you could do with some no-obligation, expert advice on what’s going to work best for you and your business, don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing or calling us on 01482 327580.