American Facilities Professionals
COVID-19 Emergency Services and Information
American Facilities is proud of the role we are playing in helping to mitigate the spread and transmission of COVID-19. In late February/early March of 2020 we began working with both state and federal agencies to help define a strategy to respond to this alarming pandemic. In the past two months we have been looked to as a thought leader on facility disinfection protocols and feel an obligation to share our own knowledge, as well as, the insights gained by working closely with the frontline leaders.
We will do our best to keep this website updated with the latest information. We also encourage you to follow our Facebook page as many of our quick updates will be posted there.
Our Team in Action
We are so very proud of our team of professionals! Crews have been out 'round the clock doing emergency disinfections, preemptively applying antimicrobial treatments to high touch areas, and augmenting grocery and retail store staff to help with routine "wipe downs". We proudly share some pictures of our folks caught in action.
COVID-19 Roundtable Discussion
Our CEO, Chris Bright, moderated a roundtable discussion with 3 experts working on the front lines of the pandemic. The panelists included:
Dr. Roscoe Moore - Former U.S. Assistant Surgeon General and current member of the Presidential Coronavirus Task Force
Mr. Jeff Gill - CEO of Germinator, a company manufacturing disinfection equipment and chemicals
Mrs. Rosemary Hash - A Public Health Expert who served in Africa during the Ebola Outbreak of 2016 and at one point led the CDC's in-country crisis communications team
Stay up to date!
American Facilities has been looked to as a thought leader in this space and is working with both state and federal policymakers on best practices for disinfecting.
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COVID-19 and Your Facility
Disinfecting Your Facility
We believe the gold standard for facility disinfection to be a 2-step process that includes a disinfection with Hypochlorous Acid (HOCl) followed immediately by an antimicrobial treatment. This process is approved by the CDC, EPA, FDA and USDA.
What is Hypochlorous Acid
Hypochlorous Acid (HOCl) is an incredible germicidal and anti-microbial agent that is SIGNIFICANTLY more effective than bleach or any of the other household chemicals being bought up from stores and stockpiled by a panicked public. It is not a common household name in the United States but is more prevalent in other countries and is widely used in Asia.
HOCl is produced by electrolyzing a solution of water and salt. It does not contain any harmful chemicals, does not require special licensing or permits to apply and does not require a technician to wear PPE when working with it (although, our best practices always recommend wearing basic PPE - eye protection and gloves - when working with any kind of chemical). After a disinfection with HOCl, occupants can immediately return to the area. There will be a slight chlorine smell that will linger for 20-30 minutes before dissipating. Many liken the smell to walking in to an indoor swimming pool.
Is HOCl safe?
The short answer is "Absolutely!". HOCl is actually produced in our own bodies by our white blood cells. While the chemical is devastating to viruses, germs and mold it is completely harmless to humans and pets. In fact, HOCl is used in ophthalmology surgery and is sprayed DIRECTLY into the eyes to prevent infection. Other uses of HOCl include wound care, neonatal, veterinary and food and beverage applications.
Another health benefit of hypochlorous acid is that after killing a virus it does not leave behind any organic residue like bleach or other cleaning products. This dead organic material is known to attract "Superbugs" which are resistant to antibiotics.
Is it effective against COVID-19?
We must be careful here. Due to the novel nature of this coronavirus strain no products have undergone the full testing normally required to definitively state efficacy. With that said, the CDC and EPA have authorized chemical manufacturers to state that they are effective against COVID-19 if they have demonstrated effectiveness against other strains of the coronavirus. Therefore, HOCl has been included on the list of approved chemicals that have been published by the federal government.
Coronavirus are enveloped viruses with a positive sense, single-stranded RNA genome. As far as viruses go, they are pretty easy to eliminate when the right chemicals and processes are used. At 200 PPM, HOCl has been 6-Log effective at eliminating the other strands of coronavirus (SARS, MERS, etc.) after 10 seconds of contact.
Why haven't I heard of Hypochlorous Acid before?
Most people haven't heard of hypochlorous acid which begs the question "If HOCl so effective why isn't more widely known?" There are several reasons for this. For starters, HOCl used to be quite costly to manufacture. Additionally, it didn't have a long shelf life. After a month or so, HOCl starts to come out of solution and reverts back to plain old salt water. For this reason manufacturing companies didn't waste time producing it because they knew the retail price would be much higher than other cleaning products and the shelf-life would prevent mass production and distribution. Now, when these big companies don't manufacture a certain product they don't pump millions of dollars each year into marketing them.
In the past few years significant improvements have been made to the manufacturing process which have lowered the cost of production. Still, the major companies producing household products haven't started manufacturing HOCl in bulk, if at all. So, despite its incredible effectiveness and being safe to the planet, humans and pets we don't see it on shelves in supermarkets or home improvement stores.
What is the antimicrobial process?
At American Facilities Professionals, we tell customers that if they ONLY do a disinfection, their "facility will be clean until it is reinfected". Sounds simple, right? The point, however, is an important one to consider. Basically, the moment someone carrying the virus comes back into contact with a previously treated facility, that facility could become reinfected. This is why we augment a disinfection with an antimicrobial coating.
When applied directly after a disinfection treatment, an antimicrobial treatment can provide up to 3 months of defense against reinfection. The product we use has demonstrated a 4-Log efficacy against coronavirus and other viral reinfections.
What are the best application methods?
If you do nothing else, avoid using hand methods (wiping down, spray bottles, etc.). These methods might work in your home to clean your counters but we discourage their use in commercial applications. Hand methods are inconsistent and prone to human fatigue, error and/or complacency. If you are going to use a "wipe down" technique as your sole mitigation effort (again, we strongly discourage this) provide your employees with a spray bottle filled with a product with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved disinfectant label with claims against emerging viral pathogens. Products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims are expected to be effective against SARS-CoV-2 based on data for harder to kill viruses. Also equip them with a bag of fresh rags and towels, as well as, another bag to discard used rags. Wipe in one direction only and discard the rag after using it on a surface to prevent cross-contamination.
A much better approach is to use some sort of mechanical disinfection. The best methods are those that create a mist, fog or fine spray. High Volume Low Pressure (HVLP) sprayers and foggers do a good job. The best sprayers are electrostatic sprayers. Electrostatic sprayers are just like they sound - sprayers that have a special tip that electrostatically charges the spray which makes it "stick" to all surfaces creating a covalent bond. Antimicrobial treatments applied with electrostatic sprayers create a coating that can only be worn off by continuous friction. Simply wiping down a surface that has been treated with an electrostatic sprayer will not remove the chemical.
WARNING - Be Careful of Where Those Sprayers Have Been!
Stories are emerging of untrained contractors - looking for new revenue opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic - performing unsafe disinfection work. Recently, a landscaping contractor was found to be disinfecting a facility containing food-contact surfaces with backpack sprayers that had previously been used for pesticide applications.
"If, God forbid, one of your employees contracted the coronavirus and became seriously ill, incurred steep medical bills and sued you for not providing a safe place of employment, how would your current disinfection and risk mitigation protocols sound to a jury from a witness stand?"
These are unprecedented times so, by definition, there is no legal precedent to reference. Our initial guidance to clients has been to start from the premise of taking care of employees and customers first and then build from there. Working from that baseline we then look to guidance from organizations like OSHA and the CDC.
Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) Guidelines
OSHA's general duty clause states that "each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;"
OSHA has released a publication called "Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19". It is important to note that this publication is not a mandate, regulation or standard and creates no new legal obligation. In the document they refer to the general duty clause stated above. We encourage all of our clients to read this document, understand your OSHA risk category as it relates to COVID-19 and take the applicable steps.
OSHA Occupational Risk Pyramid for COVID-19
To help employers determine appropriate precautions, OSHA has divided job tasks into four risk exposure levels: Very High, High, Medium, and Lower Risk. The Occupational Risk Pyramid shows the four exposure risk levels in the shape of a pyramid to represent probable distribution of risk. Most American workers will likely fall in the lower exposure risk (caution) or medium exposure risk levels.
Very High - those with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19 during specific medical, postmortem, or laboratory procedures. Examples include Doctors and Nurses treating COVID-19 patients, Laboratory Personnel, Morgue workers
High - are other, similar jobs to Very High risk with a small degree of separation. Examples include Healthcare delivery and support staff, ambulance operators, etc.
Medium - jobs that require frequent and/or close contact with people who are infected with COVID-19 and may not know it yet. Examples include educators, retail workers, manufacturing organizations, public transportation workers, etc.
Low - people with limited to no interaction with the public and other coworkers. Examples include remote employees (which now includes work from home employees), independent contractors, etc.
"Maintain regular housekeeping practices, including routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment. When choosing cleaning chemicals, employers should consult information on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved disinfectant labels with claims against emerging viral pathogens. Products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims are expected to be effective against SARS-CoV-2 based on data for harder to kill viruses."
- OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
So Are We At Risk?
A survey of legal experts
The COVID-19 risk pyramid does provide some clarity as to how OSHA classifies risk as it relates to COVID-19. However, they still, specifically, reference the general duty clause that states "each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;". To that end, we wanted to gain a better perspective from legal experts as to their interpretation of COVID-related risk.
We anonymously surveyed employment law, personal injury and health law attorneys to gain their opinions. 93% of the respondents believed that companies in the Medium Risk and higher categories COULD be legally exposed to potential lawsuits from employees claiming to have contracted COVID-19 while at work. As one respondent put it "if, God forbid, one of your employees contracted the coronavirus and became seriously ill, incurred steep medical bills and sued you for not providing a safe place of employment, how would your current disinfection and risk mitigation protocols sound to a jury from a witness stand...[At that time] will you want to be the CEO who did the bare minimum?"
Client Advocacy and Policy Work
Defining the Standards to Mitigate Both the Public Health and Corporate Liability Risk
American Facilities Professionals took the lead on this policy issue and approached State and Federal lawmakers about a proposal to benefit both the public in terms of mitigating the risk of COVID-19 transmission, and companies by insulating them against future COVID-related lawsuits.
At AmFacPro we are working with staffers from multiple congressional offices, as well as a few Federal and State agencies to draft a more definitive protocol regarding what employers must do to "furnish a place of employment free from recognized and known hazards" during COVID-19. We are proposing the creation of a baseline protocol that companies could adhere to which would adequately protect employees, customers and the general public. This program would be voluntary and companies would not be legally required to follow. However, if companies elect to follow, and subsequently document, the baseline protocol, we propose implementing new state and federal code that would prohibit anyone from suing the company for a COVID-related illness.