Reopening safely — Check out AIHA’s critical guidance for enhanced cleaning and ventilation

by Brianna Crandall — May 11, 2020 — The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), a professional association for occupational health and safety (OHS) science professionals who are committed to preserving and ensuring health and safety in the workplace and community, has published numerous resources in recent weeks on enhanced workplace cleaning to kill the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and help prevent the spread of COVID-19, including new free guidance for safely reopening facilities that have been empty or sparsely occupied. Several publications and initiatives are highlighted below.

Back to Work Safely initiative

On May 6, AIHA introduced the “Back to Work Safely” initiative to help employers and employees get back to work safely, with industry sector-specific guidelines and resources.

These free guidelines include recommendations on ventilation, personal hygiene, physical distancing and enhanced cleaning. Guidelines are available for the following industries:

  • General Office Settings
  • Gyms and Workout Facilities
  • Construction
  • Retail
  • Restaurant (helpful for cafeterias, breakrooms)
  • At-Home Service Providers (plumbers, pest control, etc.)
  • Hair and Nail Salon
  • Rideshare, Taxi, Limo and other Passenger Driver-for-Hire

AIHA President Kathleen Murphy pointed out:

Owners must not assume that they can walk back into a building that has sat unused or with low occupancy for weeks or months. Some of the hazards include HVAC systems with mold, and cooling towers and water systems that have developed Legionella bacteria in the water. These hazards could lead to serious illnesses including Legionnaires’ disease, an atypical pneumonia which has symptoms similar to COVID-19. As professionals committed to preserving and ensuring health and safety in the workplace and community, it is our ethical responsibility to develop science-based recommendations for limiting the transmission of COVID-19 as employers begin to reopen their workplaces.

Other industries will be addressed in the near future. All resources are available to download on the Back to Work Safely website.

Building closures guidance

AIHA has published a guidance document for facilities recovering from building closures. The “Recovering from COVID-19 Building Closures Guidance Document” points out that maintaining indoor environmental conditions is of primary importance, as building systems were not designed to operate under heat loads without occupants and running at abnormal temperatures and humidity levels.

With the (partial) shutdowns, there is a risk of mold and bacterial growth in occupied spaces and the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. Building water systems have similar issues if they do not have water running through them. Cooling towers also need to be operated.

Prior to reopening, and periodically thereafter, AIHA advises it may be necessary to clean and disinfect interior occupied spaces, furnishings, and mechanical systems, to reduce occupants’ risk of contracting COVID-19. Facilities managers (FMs) can prepare now by selecting and purchasing appropriate disinfectants and other supplies, and contracting with vendors for services.

Workplace cleaning guidance

On April 30, AIHA publicized a new “Workplace Cleaning for COVID-19 Guidance Document” for establishing enhanced routine cleaning and disinfection procedures in offices, factories, warehouses, call centers, grocery stores, and other non-healthcare workplaces as a critical step in reducing exposures and infections.

Among their recommendations:

  • Use only HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaners to avoid aerosolizing respirable dust that may contain infectious pathogens.
  • For deep carpet cleaning, use hot water injections that continually delivers water above 140ºF (60ºC). Be sure to use EPA-registered disinfectants approved for porous or upholstered fabrics, and not to do this during normal work hours.
  • Use of foggers is generally discouraged and should not be a substitute for applying disinfectant directly onto a surface. The EPA does not recommend fogging to control COVID-19.

COVID-19 Weekly Roundups

AIHA is also publishing weekly COVID-19 updates that include news, numbers and the latest guidance from the WHO, CDC, OSHA, EPA, NIOSH and other agencies and industry organizations, as well as the group’s own initiatives, how-to guidance, FAQs and resources.

AIHA joins National Safety Council SAFER task force

AIHA announced April 27 that it will join the National Safety Council (NSC) task force to support the SAFER: Safe Actions for Employee Returns initiative, a comprehensive, multifaceted plan developed to guide employers through the process of safely resuming traditional work and operations now and after the pandemic.

In partnership with NSC, the national nonprofit safety advocate, AIHA joins other Fortune 500 companies in leading safety organizations, public health professionals, and experts to prioritize worker safety and navigate the changed work environment.

Led by NSC, SAFER will issue recommendations and guidance for employers, including small and mid-size companies, across a variety of industries. From best practices to data-driven recommendations, the task force will provide employers the tools and solutions they need to act in complicated and challenging times, with simple, practical implementation resources.

AIHA/APIC COVID-19 response webinar

AIHA and the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) also hosted a 90-minute webinar on March 26 titled: “Ventilation, surface disinfection and PPE considerations for the IP and IH.” The webinar, designed for professionals who work in industrial hygiene, occupational health and infection prevention, addressed the gaps of knowledge of industrial hygienists and infection preventionists as it relates to ventilation, respirators, construction issues, occupational health and safety, and business.

The recorded webinar is available on APIC’s On-Demand Webinars page.

Coronavirus Outbreak Resource Center

For these and additional resources associated with COVID-19 and reopening the workplace, visit AIHA’s Coronavirus Outbreak Resource Center.