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Disinfecting offices and facilities during the COVID-19 crisis

May 13, 2020

As employees return to work, a company's cleaning and disinfecting plan may require added attention to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Tips to consider.

Clayton Shoup

Technical Director, Large Casualty - Risk Engineering

Clayton Shoup provides technical support and strategic direction for Risk Engineering assessment and... About this expert

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The COVID-19 outbreak has brought a new sense of urgency to the role of cleaning and disinfecting business facilities, particularly as more companies slowly resume operations. It’s vital to have a comprehensive cleaning plan, tailored to your worksite, to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

A new report from Zurich’s Risk Engineering team, “Cleaning and Disinfecting Plans During COVID-19 Outbreak,” outlines steps to help companies navigate this challenge.

For employers that already have a cleaning program that addresses seasonal influenza outbreaks, planning for COVID-19 may simply involve updating those plans to address the specific exposure risks, sources of exposure, routes of transmission, and other unique characteristics of COVID-19, according to the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).1

Planning is a critical component to a cleaning and disinfection program. A strong plan should address four important components: the areas to be cleaned and disinfected; frequency of cleaning; the cleaning and disinfecting materials to be used; and material-specific cleaning procedures and techniques.

Targeting commonly used areas

Although the coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets in the air when someone coughs or sneezes, scientists have also determined that it can be contracted when someone touches a contaminated surface and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.2

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that coronavirus particles can remain suspended in the air for up to three hours. They can also live on various surfaces for up to 72 hours, including:2

  • Copper: Up to 4 hours
  • Cardboard: Up to 24 hours
  • Plastic: 2 to 3 days
  • Stainless steel: 2 to 3 days

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that routine cleaning should be appropriate for most areas of a facility. However, given the length of time the coronavirus can linger on certain surfaces, some commonly used items may require more frequent cleaning, as often as several times each day. These include:3

  • Doorknobs
  • Elevator buttons
  • Light switches
  • Faucet handles
  • Publicly used telephones
  • Computer monitors, mice and keyboards
  • Countertops and conference tables
  • Cafeteria tables, coffee pots and vending equipment

Additional areas unique to your facility may also require frequent cleaning. Include these in your company’s cleaning program. Remember, too, that your plan should match the significance of the cleaning and disinfection task. For example, the cleaning plan for a hospital emergency room may be different from that of an office or retail occupancy.

For extra precaution, consider providing disinfecting wipes to employees and have them available in shared spaces such as conference rooms, group workspaces, the cafeteria and other social gathering areas. The CDC also suggests temporarily removing items such as extra chairs, area rugs, etc., to reduce objects that require cleaning.3

Use the right cleaning/disinfection materials

Fortunately, “the virus that causes COVID-19 can be killed if you use the right products,” notes the CDC. Disinfectants registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are recommended whenever they are available and can be found here.4 The EPA also offers a searchable list on its website for products that can be used to fight COVID-19.5

Many, if not all, of these products indicate potency for several target pathogens on the label and should inactivate influenza and coronaviruses when used according to manufacturer instructions.

More tips on cleaning and disinfecting:

  • Keep housekeeping surfaces and countertops clean of visible soil by cleaning with detergents and water or proprietary cleaners, followed by rinsing with water.
  • Follow label instructions carefully when using disinfectants and cleaners, noting any hazard advisories and indications for personal protective equipment, such as gloves. Do not mix disinfectants and cleaners unless the labels indicate it is safe to do so. Combining certain products (such as chlorine bleach and ammonia cleaners) can be harmful, potentially resulting in serious injury or even death.
  • Clean and disinfect all bathroom surfaces on a regular basis using EPA-registered detergent and disinfectants. Alternatively, clean surfaces first with detergent and water and then disinfect with an EPA-registered disinfectant in accordance with manufacturer instructions.
  • If EPA-registered disinfectants are not available, the CDC suggests using a diluted solution of household chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) in water to disinfect surfaces: Add 1/3 cup bleach to 1 gallon of clean water (for a smaller amount, add 4 teaspoons bleach to 1 quart clean water). Bleach solutions will be effective for disinfection up to 24 hours.6 Apply to a cleaned surface, preferably with a cloth moistened with the bleach solution, and allow the surface to remain wet for 3 to 5 minutes.7

Working with janitorial staffs or cleaning services

Whether you have in-house janitorial staff or a contract cleaning service, it’s important that your cleaning plan helps ensure all parties understand their responsibilities. The CDC recommends including safety measures to protect these workers, who are at increased risk of being exposed to the virus as well as any toxic effects from the cleaning products.3

All janitorial staff or cleaning service providers should receive training on the proper use of any chemicals, cleaning agents and cleaning equipment. As appropriate, additional training should be provided on the use of appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves, goggles and hearing protection.

Service-level agreements are important for both the company and the cleaning service, to help avoid potential misunderstandings and disputes about responsibilities and expectations for each party. A written service-level agreement should include, at a minimum, the four key areas described earlier. Additional items should be added to the contract to address any specific situations as they apply to your facility. Legal counsel should review the terms and conditions of any service-level agreement.

Additional safety precautions

A strong cleaning and disinfection plan can be a critical part of minimizing the spread of the COVID-19 virus during an outbreak, but it cannot exist in a vacuum. It needs to be part of a larger initiative that includes social distancing and other behaviors followed by everyone in your facility. Adherence to good personal hygiene, proper hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette is especially important to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace and the community. Businesses may also wish to implement additional actions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Explore your options in the references/resources noted below.


Download “Cleaning and Disinfecting Plans During COVID-19 Outbreak.”

For more information and resources, visit our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Hub.

1. “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVD-19.” Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). 2020.
2. “Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1.” The New England Journal of Medicine. 16 April 2020.
3. “Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 28 April 2020.
4. “Antimicrobial Products Registered for Use Against the H1N1 Flu and Other Influenza A Viruses on Hard Surfaces.” Environmental Protection Agency. 2009.
5. “Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2.” Environmental Protection Agency. 30 April 2020.
6. “Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 4 April 2020.
7. "How to Clean and Disinfect Schools to Help Slow the Spread of Flu." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 13 July 2018.