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How effective is fogging in fighting Coronavirus?
Infections in care homes and other social care settings can adversely affect the most vulnerable in society including those who provide care and support for them. With a prevalent virus which scientists are still learning about and a vaccine promised but not yet available to combat the spread, what control measures can Managers put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19?
The spread of COVID-19
COVID-19 has an incredibly fast reproduction rate with the droplets from coughing, sneezing and saliva droplets from human mouths spreading onto anything the droplets have contact with. When a person who has COVID-19 coughs, sneezes or talks, they may spread droplets containing the virus a short distance, and these droplets quickly settle on surrounding surfaces. This is called fomite transmission and surfaces include door handles, computer equipment, touch screens and handrails. You may get infected by the virus if you touch those surfaces or objects and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes.
Research has found that the new coronavirus can last up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces and on cardboard for 24 hours. With this in mind, as we wait for the roll-out of the vaccines, the main advice to prevent COVID-19 is to practise stringent hygiene measures which include cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that people frequently touch.
Even when national restrictions are lifted, we are likely to continue to see waves of coronavirus infections for some time to come, particularly during winter months when people remain indoors for longer with less ventilation. It is therefore important to stay vigilant and continue using hygienic practices.
As part of the programme to stop the spread of COVID-19, frequent high-level cleaning must include basics such as regular handwashing with soap and water, to cleaning high traffic areas and contact surfaces.
The simplest way to keep areas clean is by washing walls, mopping floors and cleaning desks and workstations, door handles etc. with anti-bacterial spray. However, sometimes this is not sufficient and a thorough deep clean is needed, particularly in areas which have been quarantined.
There are several methods of deep cleaning. The most common is known as a TR19 compliant clean in kitchens for cooker canopies and ducting to remove grease build-up and remove other contaminants.
For deep cleaning within kitchens and extended to offices, care settings and industry, there is a method called fogging. This has been used in hospitals for dealing with MRSA.
Fogging is the work of a specialist contractor using specialised products and cleaning methods. Fogging uses an antiviral disinfectant solution (to BS EN 14476 standard) which cleans and sanitises large areas of a building quickly and effectively. It can kill off the virus and other biological agents in the air and on surfaces. The task involves spraying a fine mist from a spray gun which is then left to evaporate, usually for 6 hours. The task requires the contactor to wear a chemical suit, gloves and an air fed ventilator and sealed mask etc. If using the fog, mist, vapour method, the contractor will need to ensure that the correct concentration of the active chemical is used. This means there is enough for it to work properly, but not so much as to leave a residue which may remain at unsafe levels for some time after treatment ends.
The product used is safe on equipment such as printers, computers etc. as the mist is exceptionally fine but is still effective in penetrating all areas to kill off the virus. However, the contractor will discuss this with the client. It may not, however, be suitable for rooms that are difficult to seal.
The downside to this application, apart from the cost of a contractor, is the 6-hour downtime when a section of the building is not operational. Although it is costly, it worth considering the cost of not decontaminating in the context of the risk to vulnerable service users, the impact of the virus on vulnerable staff groups, wider community spread and reputational damage. It is worth noting that, where staff use their vehicles for work, some Local Authorities also have schemes where keyworker vehicles can also receive fogging though you would have to contact your Local Authority.
Electrostatic broad-spectrum antimicrobial spray
In addition to conventional fogging, there is also an electrostatic broad-spectrum antimicrobial spray process. Electrostatic spray surface cleaning is the process of spraying an electrostatically charged mist onto surfaces and objects. The electrostatic spray uses a specialised solution that is combined with air and atomized by an electrode inside the sprayer. Surfaces already covered will repel the spray, making the method extremely efficient. It is effectively like iron filings being attracted to a magnet.
Can UV light or a sunbed kill off COVID-19?
The simple answer is ‘no’, and rather than be a way to ’decontaminate’ and kill off the virus, it probably puts the person at greater risk of skin damage, including skin cancer, a high price to pay for a golden tan. Some providers have invested in UV arches in social care buildings which people walk through. However, there is no evidence to suggest that this is effective in combatting COVID-19. The World Health Organisation states, ‘Ultra-violet (UV) lamps should not be used to disinfect hands or other areas of your skin’. UV radiation can cause skin irritation and damage your eyes. Cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or washing your hands with soap and water are the most effective ways to remove the virus.
- Key to reducing the spread of COVID-19 is a high standard of personal hygiene through regular handwashing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Where soap and water are not readily available, a 70% alcohol-based hand sanitiser is to be used
- Key to reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace is the frequent cleaning of high contact areas and surfaces that are frequently touched with an approved disinfectant. A cleaning schedule must be maintained
- It is a legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive or are told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace. You could be fined if you do not self-isolate
- Sunbeds and UV light are not an effective method of killing off the virus
- For more information on disinfecting premises using fog, mist, vapour or ultraviolet (UV) systems during the coronavirus pandemic, visit the HSE website
What is my legal responsibility?
Providing a safe working environment extends beyond the environment alone and needs to consider other areas such as the use of biological agents.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 also places a legal duty on employers to protect employees from harm in their place of work and also to consider what can enter a place of work in terms of emissions into the atmosphere, such as a virus which is often unseen.
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