Perspectives on Mitigating Occupational Exposure to COVID-19: A Q&A with Shari Solomon, Esq.
WPM recently interviewed Shari Solomon, Esq., president and founder of CleanHealth Environmental, LLC. Ms. Solomon shared her expertise with WPM about how workplaces and residences can mitigate the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for their residents and tenants.
WPM: What can you tell us about the importance of industrial hygiene generally, before COVID-19?
Solomon: As an environmental consultant who specializes in industrial hygiene, I focus on occupational exposures to health hazards which pertain to safety concerns in working environments. For example, my colleagues and I may assess indoor air quality exposures, administer OSHA trainings, and/or provide infection prevention support to the healthcare field.
My area of expertise is infection prevention. When I first started working as an industrial hygienist for the healthcare industry nearly 15 years ago, the primary focus was on the level of radiation that technicians might be exposed to, or the chemical hazards that pathologists may come into contact with during medical processes, for example.
There is now a recognition of the safety hazards that may arise for environmental service technicians (the terminology we use for the housekeeping staff) in the healthcare field. For example, the average environmental services technician comes into contact with harsh disinfectants on a daily basis. We therefore assess procedures that help lessen their exposure. More recently, we have become more focused on biological sources of exposures, which is where our expertise can really help reduce the spread of the COVID-19.
WPM: How has COVID-19 changed things for multifamily real estate, commercial real estate, and those organizations who provide services to individuals living and working in these types of properties?
Solomon: COVID-19 has significantly affected many areas of our lives, which naturally will impact the “new normal” for where we live and work.
For commercial real estate, the stay-in-place mandates coupled with the public’s natural reluctance to venture out means commerce has been curtailed. As a result, one of the biggest things that commercial property managers can do to encourage re-occupancy is to create and communicate a re-occupancy program.
We can substantially mitigate the risk of infection by minimizing the opportunity for transfer. To do this, property managers should:
- Develop a policy that stipulates CDC guidelines, such as maintaining social distancing, wearing a mask, etc.
- Communicate the policy with occupants and tenants
- Continue to provide periodic validation that the policy is being followed and enforced.
For multifamily real estate, the focus is not on re-occupancy, but on maintaining occupancy. The three steps listed above will also provide reassurance to multifamily residents, encouraging them to maintain occupancy.
As for the guidelines that each policy should include (point number one, above), we recommend addressing the following:
- Adhere to recent CDC guidelines: As our understanding of COVID-19 evolves, it is important to follow the latest guidelines from the CDC. Each facility should appoint at least one person to regularly review these guidelines and update the policy accordingly.
- Mandate social distancing. Require that employees stand six feet apart and post signage to remind anyone who enters the building about this rule. Create visual cues to help people remember what six feet looks like. For example, one company drew circles around employees’ desks. Managers should also consider installing plexiglass or higher partitions.
- Require Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): PPE such as masks should be required in any indoor environment.
- Cleaning and disinfection: Create a cleaning schedule that includes frequent cleanings of the entire building, and in particular the high-traffic areas and high-touch surfaces.
- Hand hygiene: Encourage frequent hand washing by posting signage throughout the building and creating more wash stations. Create signage that discourages shaking hands and touching.
- Address indoor quality: Improve air quality by improving air circulation. Ensure your HVAC system is functioning well by continuing regular maintenance, which includes inspecting and changing air filters regularly. Also continue to look for ways to increase access to fresh air.
- Communication: It cannot be overstated that these safety procedures need to be communicated as the norm at frequent intervals. People get comfortable and will naturally slide into less strict adherence to the policy. It is up to property leadership to continue to communicate, monitor and enforce compliance.
WPM: What do you believe are the most important challenges around “re-opening”?
Solomon: I think maintaining vigilance about the health risk COVID-19 poses will be an ongoing challenge. It could be tempting to become relaxed about communicating and enforcing a building’s policies. We must not let this happen, but continually reference CDC guidelines to be sure we are offering the best in safety and compliance to our residents and tenants.
WPM: Are there any new opportunities or positive changes you anticipate coming out of the pandemic?
Solomon: I am glad to see industries more focused on infection prevention. This could be a positive shift toward a healthier lifestyle for all of us.
I also think the new flexibility that allows us to work from home could have positive repercussions for both people’s work/life balance and productivity.
WPM: What advice would you provide to multifamily and commercial real estate owners and related service providers as they begin to re-open?
Solomon: People have a lot of anxiety right now because they feel like they have no power to fight against the spread of this virus. But I want to empower them to know that they can protect themselves if they take right measures to minimize the opportunity for transfer of infection.
For example, I had a government client who was trying to figure out how to protect their employees when 90 percent of them arrived to work via public transportation. The manager felt powerless to contain the exposure. But I advised that there are six links in the “chain of infection.” If you break any one of those links, such as washing your hands to remove the pathogen or not touching your face, you can significantly reduce your risk. Or you can take ownership of sanitizing your personal desk space and requiring social distancing when talking to colleagues. You do have the power to reduce your risk!
CleanHealth Environmental, LLC offers comprehensive training and consultation services for industrial hygiene fields and infection prevention. These services can both satisfy regulatory compliance in the field and provide valuable risk management solutions. For more information about CleanHealth visit www.cleanhealthenv.com.