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Haz-Mat Suits in Cleaning – Due Diligence or Scaremongering? 

Haz-Mat Suits in Cleaning - Due Diligence or Scaremongering? 
28 August 2020
 

The image of cleaning operatives in full hazardous material whole-body PPE has become a familiar one in 2020 - but are there occasions where we should question its use?

A hazardous materials suit, (haz-mat suit) is something that consumers have become used to seeing in advertising and in the media when buildings are being deep cleaned after a COVID-19 outbreak. Headlines such as “Cleaner in haz-mat suit and Star Wars-esque helmet disinfects inside a GP surgery after a coronavirus patient turned up” are not uncommon. 

This particular type of PPE has also begun to be used more widely in preventative cleaning when opening up workplaces.

Some have questioned the legitimacy of cleaning companies using PPE in this way. Whilst some argue that it’s a diligent pre-cautionary action, others feel that its use when cleaning and disinfecting as a proactive measure is inappropriate and leads to unnecessary fear amongst consumers.

ThisWeekinFM spoke to representatives from the commercial cleaning sector to get both sides of the story, as well as a spokesperson from the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc).

 


 

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Susan Bartholomew – “I do not Believe That Haz-Mat Suits are Overused"

 

Susan Bartholomew, Technical Director at Birkin Cleaning Services, gives an account of her experience of specialist PPE throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: 

“At the outset of the pandemic back in late February early March 2020, no one knew what they were facing, clients were concerned about how it would affect their business and employees were concerned about contracting the virus and the impact that this would have on them and their families. 

“At the time some cleaning companies did step up and review their Risk Assessment Method Statements (RAMS) to ensure that they were using an appropriate chemical to clean and sanitise and, as very little was known about the virus, all precautions were taken to ensure the safety of the cleaning operatives that were performing the decontamination clean.  

 

"As long as the company employed to complete the clean can demonstrate that their team are trained, qualified and using appropriate methods, chemicals and effective application and they are clearly not profiteering then I believe we should continue to provide the client with this reassurance.”

– Susan Bartholomew

Technical Director, Birkin Cleaning Services

“Since those early days, within the industry, we are more informed now, however, our clients, who for many have not been in their offices since March or dropped their children off at school since March are not. They have all seen the news reports about schools reopening, beaches being packed, restrictions on numbers allowed in shops, gyms, event venues, and they need to be reassured.  

"We are advised (only advised there is no confirmed proof) that after 72 hours on a hard surface the virus has died as it could not find a host to replicate on, however, has that area been sealed with no one going in it?  How do we know that someone who is asymptomatic has been in the area and sat down to take a call touching desktops, door handles, light switches etc? 

“The answer is that we do not. Therefore if the client asks for a full precautionary decontamination clean including electrostatic fogging then so be it.”

“No, I do not believe that haz-mat suits are overused as they are both a reassurance for the wearer and also for the user – it is all about restoring confidence.  As long as the company employed to complete the clean can demonstrate that their team are trained, qualified and using appropriate methods, chemicals and effective application and they are clearly not profiteering then I believe we should continue to provide the client with this reassurance.”

 

Pathogen Graphic

Picture: A graphic of a pathogen 

 

Richard Felton – “We Have to Stop Dealing in Fear"

 

Richard Felton, Corporate Development Director at Purgo Supply Services explains his point of view:

“PPE is obviously required where the operative is dealing with dangerous substances or working in an area where there is a risk to their health.

“I’m focusing on companies that parade operatives in germ warfare suits undertaking what amounts to general deep cleaning tasks, preparing workplaces to re-open by giving them a deep clean to provide confidence to employees that their workplace is clean and safe.

“Unfortunately more unscrupulous companies are using these images to justify astronomical prices - using this as a marketing tool which simply plays on the fears of employers which instead of making employees feel safe and secure, makes them wonder what sort of dangerous place they are going to work in that requires operatives in haz-mat suits to clean them in the first place.

We have to stop dealing in fear, our industry has an obligation to deal in facts and educate clients on what’s actually required, an approach that would have built trust.

 

“Unfortunately more unscrupulous companies are using these images to justify astronomical prices - using this as a marketing tool which simply plays on the fears of employers which instead of making employees feel safe and secure, makes them wonder what sort of dangerous place they are going to work in that requires operatives in haz-mat suits to clean them in the first place."

– Richard Felton

Corporate Development Director, Purgo Supply Services

“I was amused to see comments saying that companies and operatives do not know what kind of dangerous and contaminated workplaces they are walking into and that they cannot trust their clients to tell them if there has been a confirmed case of COVID in the setting

“When dealing with a biohazard that requires use of such specialist PPE then there is a requirement for a risk assessment, to make sure that operatives absolutely know what they “are walking into” – kind of defeats that argument.”

“I’d like to believe the majority of cleaning businesses have taken the right approach and will reap the benefits of being seen as a trusted advisor – its interesting though that these tend to have been the smaller SMEs rather than the faceless “big boys”.

“The understanding of the difference between cleaning and disinfection is slowly being understood and robust cleaning regimes that deliver what an environment needs rather than working to an ever decreasing budget (the race to the bottom) will hopefully become more commonplace.”

 

British Institute of Cleaning Science Statement

 

ThisWeekinFM spoke to a representative from the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc) to ask about the issues raised.

A spokesperson told us:

“Haz-mat suits are a form of PPE. BICSc states that any PPE requirements should be strictly adhered to when the requirement is identified, such as when using a specific product and identified within the Safety Data Sheet or when carrying out any physical task or cleaning process that demands it.

“In the current COVID-19 environment the need for the level of cleaning and enhanced cleaning should be identified as part of the building risk assessment which would be dependent on the type of environment you are operating within.  Any PPE requirements will be identified as part of that risk assessment dependent on the tasks required to apply enhanced cleaning.”

“BICSc only use haz-mat suits when cleaning and dealing with a confirmed presence of a bio-hazard. The PPE requirement for this process is identified in the Risk Assessment/COSHH assessment/POW assessment for the Cleaning Professional Skills Suite Specialist Skill SU2 which is Bio-hazard decontamination cleaning (hard surfaces). This level of PPE will only be used when there is a confirmed bio-hazard.

“The use of haz-mat suits should only be considered the norm in environments where there is a confirmed bio-hazard case.  It should not be part of everyday PPE as this is not a requirement and any overuse of PPE could potentially lead to product shortages which could impact on service users where it is a requirement.”

Picture: A photograph of an operative wearing a haz-mat suit and face mask

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 28 August 2020

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