With the threat of the novel coronavirus, deep cleaning has taken on a public health urgency as schools, government offices, bars, restaurants, gyms and other businesses try to deal with the pandemic. This led to the emergence of dozens of new businesses offering sanitisation and disinfection services.
Workers in these newly formed companies—equipped with hazmat suits and respirators—have been sanitising, disinfecting, decontaminating and sterilising homes and businesses.
An employee at a company that specialises in high-level sterilisation said disinfection should not be taken lightly during a pandemic but wondered about the health and safety protocols at some of the newer sanitising companies, as well as at some that have been in existence for years.
“You have to test for the level of microbes using a digital kit. It is the only sure way,” said the worker, who did not want to be identified.
He said teams should also be fully trained in the use of chemicals and outfitted with the correct personal protective equipment (PPE).
“If you have not slept well, eaten properly, or are dehydrated you will faint and could possibly die. Workers are going into areas untrained, unprepared, uneducated and unequipped which puts them at tremendous risks.
“An untrained operator faces the risk of strong chemical exposure and biological threat. So, it is a double whammy. That is my biggest concern,” the worker said.
“They must know and understand the science of what they are doing.”
The worker expressed concern about companies discarding PPEs in garbage bags which are collected by sanitation trucks and taken to landfills for disposal.
“When these bags get in the landfills, scavengers would rip them open which also puts other humans in danger of possibly contracting the virus by touching these PPEs. These PPE should be incinerated.”
He said customers are within their rights to ask sanitising companies about their cleaning techniques.
Dealing with a biological threat
Sterilisation is the best method to kill the virus along with other biological pathogens and medical facilities have been moving away from using bleach which can cause respiratory fatigue, he said.
There are different mechanisms to sterilise a room or building “because there are so many resilient bacteria that are resistant to alcohol, steam, UV and even hydrogen peroxide.”
He explained: “We sometimes use seven mechanisms to destroy the virus. If you don’t understand the science of your enemy which are the microbes, you are spinning top in mud. This is a biological threat and people need to understand this.”
After the job is done, the company should present a full detailed report as well as a sterilisation certificate to the customer “because if my child goes into that space and gets sick you are accountable. I could take you to court for an improper job. The law is there to protect people. You have to defend what you are doing with a proper guarantee.”
The worker expressed concern about the number of sanitising companies with no track record that have sprung up in recent months.
“The flood gates were opened with the event of COVID-19. Some businesses have been digging out the eyes of their customers to make a fast buck. They look at cleaning videos on YouTube and social media and think they could do the job.
“I don’t think the system needs regulating. It is impossible to regulate a pandemic. What is required is education. We are glad to have more foot soldiers on the ground. We are happy that people are trying to get this virus under control but it has to be done in a proper way,” he said.
Companies are charging between 25 cents to $1.50 per square foot to sanitise.
In recent weeks, the owner of Klean Sweep Company Limited Darrel Dookoo has been bombarded with calls after advertising a “400 degrees heat steam blasting” to small businesses for $1,150. A month after the first visit, he provides a second sanitising for free.
Dookoo said it’s all part of attracting and pleasing customers.
A well-known PNM activist, Dookoo, said his business has been booked solid in the last few weeks. He said some companies have been charging “ridiculous prices” in the height of the pandemic.
Dookoo uses no chemicals but 11 steamers which he insists kills 99 per cent of the virus.
Dookoo: This is not
my field of expertise
Before the pandemic, Dookoo’s company provided janitorial services. After the lock down in March, he had to evolve to survive.
“I took a gamble and sold my Mercedes Benz,” said Dookoo who invested $121,000 in steamers.
“In a time where all businesses are complaining and some are shutting down, we tried something. This is not my field of expertise. I am a landscaper. We are blessed. We are able to keep going.”
He has had to increase his staff from ten to 15 to deal with his growing clientele. A few weeks ago, Dookoo sanitized ten floors of the TTPS Headquarters, Port-of-Spain, at a cost of $39,000.
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“On a big job we can go as low as $5,000 depending on the square footage,” he said.
A representative of Fuenteclean Limited, which provides ULV atomising to eradicate viruses, germs and decontaminate highly touched surfaces, insisted that the chemicals he uses have been effective against the coronavirus.
“Our products have only been formulated in the environmental remediation industry that was tested and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) USA registered,” he said.
He added that the company’s research has shown that “the two most used approaches are electrostatic spraying and atomising” with the latter being more effective.
“To me, the safety of our client and citizens is a priority.”
Insisting the company has successfully sanitised banks, supermarkets, funeral homes and private residences, the representatives said: “I had to double up on my sanitation crew because we have two and three jobs per day now.”
“We have done jobs for between $1,000 to $1,500,” he said.
A three-storey funeral home was recently atomized at a cost of $5,000.
A money scheme
Founder and managing director of Daiwa Environmental Services, Govinda Sieunarine, said he knows of five newly formed companies offering sanitising services to businesses and home owners.
Sieunarine, whose company has been operating for the past decade, said he recently submitted a quote) to a large firm that was interested in electrostatic fogging. However, another company offered to do the job “for 50 cent per square foot which is ridiculous” and way less than his proposal.
He said 25 gallons of quaternary ammonium which he uses to destroy the virus costs $1,500.
“They have been cutting up businesses on the side, so it tells you one time that people are not following the procedures. They are going out there on a money scheme.”
Sieunarine has fogged police stations, corporations, insurance firms and residential properties.
He wondered how many of the new companies are registered with the Ministry of Legal Affairs, pay National Insurance for employees and follow proper guidelines.
According to Sieunarine, a company can “say they have a fogging device but it can really be a spray can. Some customers will not know the difference.”
Century 21 Janitorial Services business consultant Shelley Boo asked whether the new cleaning companies have health, safety and environment certification and are safe to conduct work.
“If they were interested in sanitising, then they would have sought to achieve certification in cleaning. We have heard of companies not using the approved chemicals and not sanitising but maybe, that is their protocols or standard operating procedures.”
Boo said their company has adopted guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), and the Ministry of Health.
They sanitise using Calla 1452 and hydrogen peroxide.“Our company has been in business for over 40 years. Our clients are banks, ministries and Caribbean Airlines.”
She said their staff has been highly trained and they are thorough in what they do.
EMA director: Companies
should act responsibly
The Environmental Management Authority’s (EMA) managing director Hayden Romano said the use of chemicals does not fall under their remit but he hoped companies providing such services act responsibly.
He said when there is a challenge, “there is always room for opportunities.” However, T&T has a good “health, safety and environment” record
In response to questions from Guardian Media, the Occupational Safety and Health Authority and Agency (OSHA) said employers have a duty to comply with the OSH Act and its requirements “to manage and control workplace risks, including protecting workers and others from risk of COVID-19 infection in the workplace.”
OSHA said it is always concerned when people’s safety or health is compromised because of work activity and recommended that employers conduct suitable and sufficient risk assessment of disinfection activities and possible COVID-19 virus exposure.
“If persons have a concern that they are being exposed to safety or health hazards because of unsafe workplace practices they should report their circumstances,” the agency said.
OSHA promised to maintain regulatory oversight of how employers meet their responsibilities in the context of the public health risk.
“Our regulatory approach will continue to take proportionate accounts of the risks and challenges arising from the pandemic,” said OSHA which has adopted protocols recommended by the Ministry of Health for the pandemic.
The agency has worked collaboratively with the ministry to produce OSHA guidelines.
“Section 6 of the Public Health (2019 Novel Coronavirus) (No 25 ) Regulation 2020 make the guidelines set out by the Ministry of Health with associated penalties and fines” OSHA said, adding that it would “take this into account when conducting enforcement activity.”