Alongside other control measure, workplace cleanliness and hygiene are essential to reducing the risks of COVID-19.
To keep a workplace appropriately clean, SafeWork Australia guidelines recommend a combination of:
- Cleaning - removing germs, dirt and grime from surfaces using detergent and water solutions
- Disinfecting – using chemicals, such as bleach concentrates, to kill germs on surfaces AFTER cleaning
- Hygiene - everyone washing their hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and dry them completely, preferably with clean, single-use paper towel
What cleaning and hygiene is required will depend on your workplace, risk assessments conducted by your employer and any state or territory requirements. Any changes to cleaning and hygiene procedures must also be made in consultation with workers.
Below are some frequently asked questions about cleaning and good hygiene, but every workplace is different. Contact you union or the Australian Unions Support Centre if you have more questions about keeping safe at work.
What areas need to be cleaned?
Any hard surfaces that are frequently touched need to be regularly cleaned and disinfected. Depending on your workplace, this might include:
- door handles, handrails, trolleys
- light switches
- bench, desk and tabletops
- frequently touched handles on machinery, tools and equipment
- steering wheels, control panels
- washing facilities, taps
How often should cleaning take place?
Workplaces should clean surfaces at least daily or in between changes of shift or when new workers are entering other areas or using shared equipment or furniture. Once clean, surfaces should be disinfected regularly.
The disinfectant used should be one for which the manufacturer claims antiviral activity, meaning it can kill the virus (such as chlorine-based disinfectants). At least 10 minutes contact time is required to kill viruses.
Cleaning of facilities, such as tabletops and meal areas should occur after meal and break times. Areas where there is lots of pedestrian traffic or places where members of the public attend should be cleaned more regularly.
For many hard surfaces such as tool handles, the use of alcohol-based wipes before and after use will help decrease the chances of contamination.
Will washing my hands protect me?
Soap and water are the most effective method of removing the virus from our hands. It is recommended that you wash for 20 seconds. Alcohol-based hand sanitiser can be used at other times (e.g. when hands have been contaminated from contact with surfaces). Cleaning hands also helps to reduce environmental contamination.
What if I can’t access cleaning facilities?
It is the responsibility of your employer to provide adequate facilities for workers. These facilities need to be:
- adequate and accessible to achieve good hygiene
- in working order, safe and clean
- properly stocked with toilet paper, soap, water and drying facilities
Your employer has a legal duty to provide a healthy and safe workplace. If they have not taken the necessary steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 at your work, they may be breaking the law.
Talk to your union delegate or health and safety representative if you feel adequate facilities have not been provided. You can also contact the Australian Unions Support Centre for more information.
Funding for this factsheet was provided by:
- the Victorian Government as part of the uTech project; and
- the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Please note that the information given here is general information only and is not legal advice. For further assistance, it is recommended you speak to your union.