Permanent Laundry Changes Due to COVID-19

The July edition of American Laundry News’ Panel of Experts has been released, and our own David Bernstein weighs in on the topic of the permanent changes in processes and best practices we are likely to see in laundries as a result of COVID-19. Read his and the other Experts’ comments on the American Laundry News web site, or see below for David’s contribution.

First and foremost, I hope that you, your families, your colleagues and team members, and their families are, and have been, safe and healthy throughout the past few months as we have endured this pandemic separately but together.

The phrase, “we’re all in this together,” has been repeated so many times over the past few months that it sounds cliché, although I think truer words have never been spoken.

That is why, as we work to reopen our local, state, and national economies, it is so important that we take care to ensure the safety, health, and well-being of our team members, customers, and the communities we serve. As with all things, this begins at home which, in this case, means our laundries.

Industry publications, trade associations, safety experts, consultants, insurance companies, governmental agencies, certifying bodies and your own team members have for years made the safety of personnel a value and a priority, but if we are being honest with ourselves, we know that lapses have occurred.

With time, people naturally become comfortable in their work environments; comfort leads to complacency, and complacency leads to diminished adherence to safety rules, including hygienic practices.

Pre-COVID audits of every size and type of laundry bear this out, with consultants taking pages of audit reports to remind management of their own safety rules and those of local, state, and national governments.

As laundries around the world re-open, team members have a greater respect for these rules and compliance is near 100%. We hope it stays that way.

Beyond the pre-COVID rules for personal protective equipment, considerations for bloodborne pathogens and the like, the “new normal” for the foreseeable future requires operators throughout the industry to find new, innovative and important ways to keep their team members and their customers safe and healthy, starting with the arrival of employees to work each day.

Interim guidance from the CDC for critical infrastructure operations like laundries is to do all that is possible to ensure that only uninfected workers come to work each day. This means that only those who are asymptomatic and have not had a positive test result for COVID-19 can begin work.

In many cases, laundry operators are checking the temperatures of employees before they begin their workdays; however, it must be stressed that those who are infected but asymptomatic may not have an elevated temperature. With this in mind, additional precautions are being implemented in laundries to protect all workers and their customers.

Laundries have always been places where employees are supplied with and trained in the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand hygiene, but whereas PPE for hygiene was primarily employed in the soiled areas of the laundry, we are now seeing the use of face masks, face shields, barrier garments, gloves and other PPE expanded throughout entire facilities.

There is also an increased and enhanced focus on hand hygiene throughout laundry facilities. Additional handwashing and sanitizing stations are being added throughout plants, with an increased emphasis on touch-free sanitizer and soap dispensers as well as faucets, toilets, light switches and even areas where employees clock in and out for their work shifts.

Once workers enter the facility, social distancing must be maintained. According to the CDC’s web site, “current information about the asymptomatic spread of SARS-CoV-2 supports the need for social distancing and other protective measures within a work environment.”

In other words, areas throughout a laundry and the production methods employed are being changed as much as possible to ensure the maintenance of appropriate distancing between workers.

We are seeing this throughout laundries including, but not limited to, soil reception, soil sorting, the washroom, finishing and folding areas, storage, and pack-out. A variety of means of reminding workers of these distancing requirements are being implemented, not the least of which is the use of signs and floor markings.

In areas where distancing is difficult, we have seen a number of innovative ways of trying to decrease or eliminate the possibility of the asymptomatic spread of COVID-19. This includes the use of plexiglass, strip curtains and other physical barriers between workers, as well as requirements for workers to wear masks over their nose and mouth and/or face shields.

In some cases, this also means that personal cooling fans are being removed and ventilation systems being modified to minimize the risk of virus spread.

In addition to the modification of work areas, emphasis must also be placed on ensuring that break rooms and cafeterias do not become vectors for the spread of the virus.

One way to keep this from happening is to stagger break times, but it may also be necessary to remove some tables and chairs from a break room to ensure proper distancing or to provide temporary break rooms in other areas (e.g. conference rooms, training rooms, etc.) or by using temporary tents, outside tables and chairs, or other measures.

Just like in work areas, the use of signs and visual indicators will help remind workers to be vigilant, even during break times.

There are likely myriad other ways that laundry operators are trying to ensure the safety of their employees and their families, but the previous are some of the measures that seem most prevalent, and perhaps permanent, as we continue to navigate our way through these uncharted pandemic-infested waters.

Stay safe and healthy, my friends.

The above article originally appeared in American Laundry News.