As aquatic facilities across the US continue to plan for reopening, we have seen an added emphasis being placed on cleaning, sanitization and disinfection policies and procedures. As such, we believe it is important that we are all speaking the same language and that we use the correct terminology in our revised Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). It is also important that we understand the differences between the terms used.
According to the CDC website, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/school/cleaning.htm, cleaning and disinfecting are part of a broad approach to preventing infectious diseases…
- Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects - Cleaning is done with water, a cleaning product (soap or detergent), and scrubbing. Cleaning does not kill bacteria, viruses, or fungi, which are generally referred to as “germs.” Cleaning products are used to remove germs, dirt, and other organic material by washing them down the drain; this process lowers their numbers and thereby, the risk of spreading infection.
- Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects - Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection. Disinfecting chemicals are also called antimicrobial pesticides. According to the CDC and the EPA, a disinfectant must kill pathogens by at least 99.999%.
- Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection. A combination of cleaning and disinfecting will maximize the sanitization effort.
There is a seemingly endless list of products available that enable operators to keep their facilities “safe” with regard to sanitization, and they come in a variety of forms: sprays, fogs, foams, wipes, powders, and liquids. They also come in a variety of concentrations and efficacies. Containment of COVID-19 raises many concerns for operators, and it is important that any newly established policies and procedures are created appropriately to ensure the intended outcome. When operators are creating revised cleaning, disinfection and sanitization SOPs, they should consider (among other items) the following:
- Are we able to provide a safe environment using the same products we have always used, or is there a need to source new products?
- Do we need to alter the amount or concentration of the existing products we use to achieve the desired outcomes?
- Are the products we have chosen appropriate for the type of surface for which it will be used?
- Do we need to increase the frequency with which we are cleaning, disinfecting and/or sanitizing surfaces throughout the facility?
- Do we now need to clean, disinfect or sanitize surfaces that may not have been on a regular schedule?
- To what level of sanitization should we strive in order to provide a safe environment for our guests?
- Do we need to provide team members or guests with personal supplies and/or increased opportunity for personal hygiene throughout the facility?
- Are the products we have chosen to accomplish our objectives compatible with pool water?
- Do the products we have chosen create allergen issues, or are they incompatible with other products we, or our guests, may be using?
- Are the products we have chosen available through the supply chain in the quantity/concentrations that are necessary to execute our plan?
- Which product and process are the most cost effective?
- Are we able to safely and appropriately store the products we have chosen?
- Have we reached reportable quantities of the chemical products we have chosen to use?
- Have we updated our OSHA Hazard Communication Plan to include any additional products we will be using?
- OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard: https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.1200
- Have we addressed cleaning and disinfection after person(s) suspected/confirmed to have COVID-19 have been in the facility?
- Do we have the appropriate PPE for those who will be using the products included in our plan?
- OSHA - COVID-19 (PPE) Website: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/controlprevention.html#health
It is apparent that the “new normal” moving forward will require enhanced cleaning, disinfection and sanitation practices in the short-term, and that some of these practices may be longer lasting as part of a facility’s SOPs. As operators create these SOPs, the following guidance can be used as a best-practice approach to sanitation.
First, decide which products, policies, and procedures will achieve the desired level of sanitation that is sought. The following link will direct operators to the current list of products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2 (the cause of COVID-19): https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2
Again, be sure to answer the questions posed above with regard to the safety of each product, policy, and processes being considered.
Next, operators must develop training and implementation plans. Sell the new processes to your staff – it is important that they not only understand the what/why/how of what they are doing, but that they believe they are helping to create a safer environment for everyone in carrying out the plan. Policies and procedures are a great foundation, but without proper education and buy-in of the team members, execution will be lacking. Team members must be knowledgeable about the products they are using and the correct way to use them, the frequency for which they are expected to perform certain tasks, and any precautions that must be taken when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces throughout the facility. And, they must be held accountable for completing assigned tasks in a timely and complete manner.
Finally, educate the guests as they enter and at every opportunity during their time at the facility. Remind them of the new practices as often as you can via signage, audio messaging, and electronic engagements, but more importantly be sure that they see the plan in action. Perception is key here. Guests will appreciate the changes you have made and will feel “safer” if they see/experience the changes for themselves.
Developing new strategies to clean and disinfect aquatic facilities will be born out of necessity in the short-term, however, the benefits may far outweigh the effort of today. It is incumbent upon all aquatic facility operators to make the effort to create smart and feasible SOPs that will help to enhance the safety of both their team members and the guests who frequent their facility.