In this article
COVID-19 is an infectious disease that is caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. Coronaviruses themselves are not new and many types already exist, including the common cold.
COVID-19 stands for corona/virus/disease/2019, reflecting the type of disease that it is and the year in which it was first identified.
The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so it is important that individuals try to practise as much personal hygiene as they can, including regular handwashing, not touching the face and practising what is known as ‘respiratory etiquette’ such as coughing into a flexed elbow so that droplets are less able to spread into the air.
How is COVID-19 transmitted?
As COVID-19 is a newly discovered virus, information about how it is transmitted is still being uncovered.
Current evidence, however, suggests that it spreads between people through direct or indirect contact or close contact with people who are already infected via nose and mouth secretions, including saliva and secretions that are expelled when someone coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings. Those people who are within 1m of an infected person may become infected if the infectious secretions get into their mouth, nose or eyes. Infected people can pass on COVID-19, even if they do not have symptoms themselves.
Indirect transmission may occur when an infected person leaves infectious droplets on objects and surfaces such as door handles, handrails or taps. Others then become infected by touching these objects or surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth before they have had the chance to clean their hands.
Some medical procedures can produce very small droplets that are able to remain suspended in the air for long periods of time. Such procedures can take place in medical locations, including dentists, and so it is essential that all health workers are taking adequate precautions to prevent others from becoming infected with potentially infectious droplets that are ‘sprayed’ into the air.
Social distancing – how is this possible in the hospitality industry?
It is acknowledged that social distancing in the hospitality industry is challenging due to the fact that the services provided are social in nature; drinking in a pub and sitting near others when eating encourages interaction and it is hard to maintain this in a safe way without eliminating the enjoyment from using the services provided.
It has been recommended that organisations take into account the size and layout of their setting and calculate how many tables they would need to remove in order to maintain social distancing wherever this is possible. If the setting is small and the tables are fixed then there will need to be consideration of limiting how many people can be in the setting at any one time.
Where possible, a one-way system should be implemented and screens put up in potential direct contact areas such as in a reception or where payments are made.
There should be signs reminding people to social distance where they can and to wear a face covering unless they are sitting to eat or drink. Employees, unless exempt, should also wear face coverings and many will also choose to wear visors as added protection in settings where it is more difficult to maintain social distancing.
Adhering to all of these measures can be a challenging prospect in settings where people are used to being social and being close to others, and it becomes even more difficult when people have been drinking alcohol. With this in mind, it will be down to the setting’s management to ensure that they are doing everything possible to ensure that regulations are being adhered to and that everyone who uses their services feels confident that they will be safe whilst they are there.
Writing a COVID-19 risk assessment for use in hospitality
A risk assessment for use in hospitality will vary depending on the nature of the business but it should contain the following key elements:
- What are the hazards?: Spread of the virus by close contact.
- Who might be harmed?: Staff, customers, visitors to the site such as contractors or delivery drivers, vulnerable groups.
- Controls required: Handwashing, cleaning, social distancing, PPE, identification of people with symptoms, prevention of mental health issues.
- Additional controls: Guidance from local authority, encouragement of staff to report issues, rigorous checks to ensure that procedures are being followed, reminders to staff to wash their hands and wear appropriate PPE when needed.
Any form of risk assessment must be agreed with staff and it is vital that it is reviewed and updated regularly, especially in response to new government guidance or when there has been an incident or near miss.
Good levels of personal hygiene are important in the fight against infection, with the following being recommended to maintain levels of protection for the general public:
- Nails should be kept short so that they cannot harbour bacteria (and so that they do not scratch people).
- Hair should be tied back.
- Showering or bathing should be regularly carried out.
- Hair should be washed.
- Clothing should be freshly laundered.
- Hands should be washed frequently.
Handwashing is the most basic but important way of preventing cross infection from COVID-19. The NHS has a standard practice for the best way to wash hands to ensure that they no longer potentially contain harmful bacteria.
1. Wet your hands with water.
2. Apply enough soap to cover all over your hands. You can use alcohol-based handrub if you don’t have immediate access to soap and water.
3. Rub hands palm to palm.
4. Rub the back of your left hand with your right palm with interlaced fingers. Repeat with other hand.
5. Rub palms together with fingers interlaced.
6. Rub the backs of your fingers against your palms with fingers interlocked.
7. Clasp your left thumb with your right hand and rub in rotation. Repeat with your left hand and right thumb.
8. Rub the tips of your fingers in the other palm in a circular motion, going backward and forwards. Repeat with the other hand.
9. Rinse hands with water.
10. Dry thoroughly, ideally with a disposable towel.
11. Use the disposable towel to turn off the tap.
The ways in which a premises is disinfected will depend on several factors:
- The size of the area.
- How easily it can be sealed off.
- If it contains hard and/or soft surfaces.
- The type of business.
Fog, mist and vapour methods of disinfecting can be used ensuring that the correct concentration of the active chemical is used so that there is sufficient time for it to work properly.
The UV method of disinfection may be more suitable for some businesses as there is no chemical residue left behind. However, settings where there is complex interior design will not be suitable for this method and settings which are very small will also not benefit from this method and would be more suited to fog, mist and vapour methods.
Individual people should not be sprayed with disinfectants under any circumstances and nor should large outside areas such as streets and pavements as both can cause damage to health such as eye, respiratory and skin irritation.
Face coverings including exemptions and safe disposal
For the general public, the use of a face covering is mandatory inside public areas including hospitality settings such as pubs and restaurants unless someone is sitting to eat or drink.
Limitations to the use of face coverings include several factors, for example not everyone will be able to wear one safely as they may exacerbate existing conditions. Those people to whom the following apply need not wear a face covering:
- Children under the age of 11.
- The existence of a physical or mental illness or disability, for example asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
- Emergency workers if this impedes their ability to serve the public.
- If putting on, wearing or removing a face mask would cause severe distress such as to someone with claustrophobia, severe anxiety or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
- When providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate.
The safe disposal of a face covering is essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and so individuals must ensure that their used face coverings are disposed of in a rubbish bin and not in the recycling, and that after a face covering has been removed that the individual must wash their hands thoroughly and not remove the face covering from the rubbish bin. Anyone using a cloth face covering that can be reused should ensure that it is washed at a high temperature after use before being used again.
Individuals should also be mindful of the fact that face coverings should never be shared between people and should not be touched when they are on the face.
Providing safe and hygienic premises
The Health and Safety Executive has some pertinent recommendations for cleaning a workplace so as to retain optimum standards of safety and hygiene. In places where contact with someone more likely to have COVID-19 is increased, there are some general factors to consider:
- Keep surfaces clear so that cleaning can be carried out more effectively.
- Areas should be regularly cleaned in line with a cleaning plan.
- Set clear guidance for the use and cleaning of toilets, showers and changing facilities to make sure they are kept clean and social distancing is achieved as much as possible.
- Clean work areas and equipment between uses.
- Frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly.
- If equipment like tools or vehicles are shared, then clean them after each use.
Identify frequently touched surfaces:
- Work surfaces like desks, platforms and workstations.
- Handles on doors, windows, rails, dispensers and water coolers.
- Common areas like toilets, reception, changing rooms, corridors and lifts.
- Vehicle handles, steering wheels, seat belts and internal surfaces.
- Control panels for machinery, control pads and switches.
- Computer keyboards, printers, touch screens, monitors and phones.
- Taps, kettles, water heaters, fridges, microwaves and cupboards.
- Post and goods coming in or being shipped out.
Where possible, surfaces and objects should be cleaned after each use but if this is not possible it should be ensured that they are cleaned often and the setting’s usual cleaning equipment should be effective. If there comes a time when an outbreak is identified then a specialist deep clean will be needed.
Cleaning effectively in the kitchen
The Food Standards Agency maintains that normal cleaning schedules should be in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, as this would usually ensure that cross contamination was prevented within the setting, which includes:
- Cleaning and disinfecting food areas and equipment between different tasks, especially after handling raw food.
- Cleaning as you go. If food is spilled, clear it up straight away and clean the surface thoroughly.
- Using cleaning and disinfection products that are suitable for the job and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Disinfection products should meet the BS EN standards. Check product labels for either of these codes: BS EN 1276 or BS EN 13697.
- Not letting food waste build up. Disposing of food waste suitably.
- Using a cleaning schedule to make sure that surfaces and equipment are cleaned when they need to be. It can also help to stop cleaning products being wasted or used incorrectly.
In terms of a cleaning schedule:
Work out what needs cleaning or disinfecting every day, or more than once a day, and what needs cleaning less frequently. A schedule should show:
- What needs to be cleaned.
- What needs to be disinfected.
- How often it needs to be done.
- How the cleaning/disinfecting should be done.
- Cleaning procedures.
- What cleaning products should be used.
- How the products should be used, including how much they should be diluted and how long they should be left in contact with the surface, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
- How the products should be stored – in a special place, not in food areas.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was recommended that any delivery from any source was isolated and not touched for 48 hours after it had been received in case there were any traces of the virus that may have remained on it. However, it has been recognised that transmission of the virus in this manner is extremely unlikely and so many settings no longer adhere to this practice.
It will be up to the setting to determine if they want to isolate packages upon receipt; however, it is recommended that any deliveries be thoroughly wiped down and that where possible gloves should be worn when opening a delivery, where the gloves should be disposed of immediately afterwards (before touching anything else) and the person who has accepted the delivery, thoroughly wash their hands immediately afterwards as well.
Staff and customer toilets
Toilets are places where face coverings remain mandatory, as these are communal areas. Settings should be aware of increased need to clean toilets but must ensure that employees who carry out cleaning are adequately protected when doing so, which may mean the use of extra PPE and training in effective cleaning measures to help to protect everyone who uses the toilets.
Special attention should be paid to ‘high touch’ areas such as taps and door handles and an easily viewable cleaning schedule should be put up inside the toilets, which is updated regularly.
The following can act as a checklist to ensure that toilets for both staff and customers remain safe:
- Identify all surfaces that require additional cleaning in bathrooms and toilets.
- Make sure there is running water and soap to enable people to clean their hands properly.
- Provide hand drying facilities – paper towels or hand dryers.
- Empty bins frequently to safely dispose of waste. Where possible have open-topped bins or foot operated lids.
- Use signs and posters to increase awareness of good handwashing technique.
- Decide how and when handwashing facilities will be cleaned and when bins will be emptied.
- Decide who will replenish soap, paper towels and hand sanitiser.
Also, in toilets, there should be adequate ventilation and there should be increased signage reminding both staff and customers about the importance of frequent and thorough handwashing.