March 25, 2020

Worker Protection for Maintenance Employees during the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the landscape for COVID-19 cleanup jobs progress, the most common question Essel Staffing has been getting is: how are workers being protected while cleaning areas that might be affected by COVID-19? The most common type of cleaning project Essel Staffing is working on related to the COVID-19 pandemic falls under the following three categories:
  1. Pre-emptive cleaning: Facility managers, owners, and tenants are asking their maintenance teams to do a pre-emptive cleaning of their offices. This does not take into account any chance of known COVID-19 cases that may be present in the building. Worker protection and training is critical for this stage of the cleaning process.
  2. Suspected cases: A suspected case is where one knows or has come into contact with a known case outside of the facility in question. Any type of cleaning on this scenario should be done by a 3rd party vendor, such as a restoration company or emergency response company. Although, this depends on the risk appetite for the client– the benefit of hiring a 3rd party contractor is from a liability standpoint as well as experience in decontamination scenarios, training in decontamination techniques, professional grade solutions, and using personal protective equipment (PPE).
  3. Known cases: The scope of work on known cases involves cleaning the areas that have been directly impacted by the known case as well as areas where the known case may have been present. The scope of cleaning in this scenario often evolves into a larger area because of the unknown factors involved.The primary responsibility for any employer, whether in California or in other areas of the United States, is hazard communication. Hazard communication requires employers to properly disclose and train employees on the types of hazards they can potentially come across in the work they are doing on a daily basis. Most employers may already have a communication program in place based on their IIPP (Injury and Illness Prevention Program).
For instances related to COVID-19, we usually find that the most common type of training to start with would be the Blood Borne Pathogen Training. The Blood Borne Pathogen Training program takes between 20 to 30 minutes, and includes a simple comprehension quiz at the end of the course. The training is typically pertinent for those working in health care settings as well as settings that may come into contact with pathogens, and in this situation, viruses such as the novel coronavirus. The training course has been adapted to be appropriate for COVID-19 decontamination. Even the potential of coming into contact with a virus or pathogen is enough to warrant the necessity of the BBP training program.

Another aspect of training that is useful for COVID-19 related issues are decontamination training. Decontamination training includes the donning and doffing of PPE. This type of training is important because it trains traditional workers that may not have experience wearing personal protective equipment on proper procedures for putting on and taking off PPE.  Decontamination is one of the most critical parts of infection control, and thus is a critical part of training for workers that may be working under conditions where COVID-19 has the potential to be present.

Anytime an employee is wearing respiratory protection, which includes N-95 masks, they should be trained on proper handling and management of the respirator, have medical clearance to wear the respirator, and be properly fit-tested while wearing the respirator. Based on CDC guidelines that include recommendations for N-95 or P100s, at a minimum this is the third type of training that should be performed.

Keep in mind that any time respirators are involved, the employer is required to prepare a respiratory compliance program. This usually documents the entire process, responsibilities, etc., of respiratory compliance.

Got questions about worker protection during the COVID-19 pandemic? Give us a call at 1-800-595-7616.
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