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What does it mean to disinfect the workplace?

August 12, 2020

Laura L. Rubenstein

As businesses return employees to work, there should be a clear regimen for cleaning work and break areas. This regimen should also be communicated to employees who may have questions about the safety of their work spaces. Businesses should plan for increased cleaning and disinfecting to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19. But failing to use cleaning products that are effective against COVID-19 or that expose workers to harsh chemicals can be a tricky balance.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)has recommended that companies clean in accordance with guidance developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The EPA and CDC advise that outdoor and indoor areas that have been unoccupied for7 days or more need only routine cleaning (i.e., soap and water or other products to remove germs and grime from surfaces). This is because the virus that causes COVID-19 typically dies within a few hours and is killed more quickly by warmer temperatures and sunlight. For indoor areas that have been occupied within the last 7 days, it is recommended to clean surfaces touched by multiple people using disinfectants, including electrostatic cleaning devices, that have been approved by the EPA. A list of approved disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2 is available on the EPA’s website. The EPA also recommends that businesses remove soft and porous materials, like carpets and rugs, in high-traffic and seating areas to further reduce the risks of a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace.

Importantly, be sure to use disinfectants in accordance with their labeling instructions and implement precautions to limit exposure to chemicals. For example, certain instructions recommend cleaners wear skin and eye protection, dilute the solution with water and have adequate ventilation. Failing to follow labeling instructions of disinfectants risks exposing individuals to chemicals beyond levels that have been deemed safe by federal and state regulatory agencies. Moreover, improper use of cleaning products and disinfectants may create indoor air quality issues. Though the EPA and OSHA currently do not directly regulate indoor air quality, OSHA regulations require that employers provide a safe workplace, which includes sufficient ventilation when using cleaning products.

For questions on how to protect your employees as they return to work, contact Laura Rubenstein at lrubenstein@RKWlawgroup.com.

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