Business man with boxing gloves

Not since the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic has the United States undergone a crisis like it currently faces with the new coronavirus (COVID-19). That means that almost every American alive today has not experienced a public health crisis that impacts daily lives the way COVID-19 is currently. For many, the opening salvo to this crisis in America was the unprecedented cancellation of the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments and other major sporting events.

Then it spread — businesses have been shut down, causing personal financial hardships and widespread economic turmoil. Elderly husbands and wives have been barred from visiting their significant others in nursing homes due to the possible consequences of spreading the disease. Hospitals are overcrowded, putting in danger current and prospective patients, as well as the doctors and nurses that care for them. And then there’s the commercial cleaning industry. So often relegated to the shadows, this group of building service contractors and the janitors they employ are still doing life-saving frontline work. Only this time, it’s in the spotlight with much more at risk.

In many instances, the men and women on the frontlines have been swamped with work. Yes, many businesses are shutting down their offices in an effort to cut down on foot traffic, but many of these same places still need to be cleaned. And the offices that are staying open — the essential businesses — are in need of a heavy duty treatment.

“Since [the week of March 13], many of our clients have already requested increasing the frequency of cleaning, as well as special disinfection services,” says Bryan Lazorik, president, Bryco Facility Services, Merrillville, Indiana. “Prospective clients are calling to request full facility disinfection services because of COVID-19 exposure or potential exposure, and we are accommodating those as they come in. We have a dedicated COVID-19 response team.”

As a result of this influx of demand under such precarious circumstances, Bryco decided to launch a policy/statement specifically devoted to COVID-19. The statement, which Lazorik says was one of the first of its kind in the country, details exactly how Bryco is caring for its employees and clients in these unique times.

First, Bryco asks its clients to go beyond the proper handwashing recommendations by experts. They encourage keeping open communication with Bryco and notifying the company if any of its workers become sick. In return, Bryco promises to not price gouge clients. However, the company warns that it cannot control price fluctuations passed on by suppliers and wholesalers — which of course can eat into the bottom line of a BSC.

Bryco asks each employee to continue their normal practice of washing hands with soap and water before, during and after working at a client’s facility. All workers with respiratory illness or fever must stay at home for at least 24 hours after symptoms subside. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is to be worn throughout a shift.

These instructions are in line with what some other building service contractors have decided to do. 4M Building Solutions — a multi-state BSC headquartered in St. Louis — is telling all of its sick workers to stay home. Even some workers who show no symptoms are being asked to stay away from certain jobs. For example, when 4M goes into an area that is known to have been impacted by COVID-19, it will ask vulnerable people, such as those with pre-existing health conditions, to not participate in the job, says Steve Crain, 4M president and chief operating officer.

In some cases, BSCs are asking staff over the age that’s considered at-risk, or those with health concerns, to hold back from working altogether. However, not all at-risk janitors or their employers are choosing to bump staff from the job, says Ron Segura, president of Segura & Associates.

“Sadly, many companies are not big enough and are short on labor,” says Segura. “Plus, many workers need every paycheck to survive, so if there is no other form of compensation, they choose to work.”

To keep morale up, Segura encourages managers and executive teams at BSCs to be as present as ever, if not more. Frontline workers are in a real fight right now, and it helps for them to know upper management is there to wage a war on germs with them.

“Because of the size of their company, owners and management may need to be on the frontline,” says Segura. “At times like this, the staff wants to know that leadership has everything under control.”

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