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Posted by on Nov 2020 in All Stories, Features, Sector voices, Slider, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Operating safely during COVID-19

A man wearing PPE uses a fogger to disinfect a common area.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, one of the biggest concerns facing housing providers is operating safely, in a sustainable way, in the long-term. We recently brought together a group of ONPHA members and medical professionals to discuss how housing providers can keep staff, tenants, and contractors safe as the pandemic continues. 

Enhanced cleaning and disinfection measures

Close up of a worker wearing gloves while disinfecting an elevator button

Ron Rentola, Health & Safety Manager with Windsor Essex Community Housing Corporation and Scott Secord, Health & Safety Management System Advisor with Ottawa Community Housing Corporation share their experiences with choosing the right products and best practices for disinfecting common areas using fogging machines. 

Ron and Scott tell us that the first step in creating an enhanced cleaning plan should be to identify high touch points.  

In building common areas, they include:  

  • Grab bars/handles 
  • Accessibility buttons 
  • Elevator buttons 
  • Card readers
  • Mailboxes 
  • Laundry machine tops and handles 

In offices: 

  • Chairs 
  • Desks
  • Counters 
  • Taps/sinks 
  • Handles 
  • Grab bars/handles 
  • Accessibility buttons
  • Card readers 

In kitchens (where applicable): 

  • Fridges 
  • Microwaves 
  • Water cooler handles/spigots 

In developing a cleaning routine, Ron and Scott tell us that it’s important to schedule semi-daily disinfection for areas where there might be higher risk of COVID-19 transmission (including those listed above). An enhanced cleaning schedule can strain staffing resources, so they recommend redeploying maintenance staff in cases where some maintenance activities have been reduced due to restrictions, or bringing in contract-based janitorial staff to cover cleanings on evenings and weekends. They suggest using office staff to disinfect common areas within the office as a way to reduce the burden on cleaning/maintenance staff. 

When it comes to selecting a disinfectant, Ron and Scott suggest checking Health Canada’s list of disinfectants with a Drug Identification Number (DIN) that are likely to be effective against COVID-19 and checking the products Safety Data Sheets (SDS) to see if the disinfectants require that PPE be worn during application.  

They recommend the use of chemical disinfectant Oxivir, an odourless, broad spectrum, hospital grade disinfectant. To reduce costs, Ron and Scott suggest purchasing in bulk and using a concentrate dispenser that automatically determines the dilution ratio. 

When it comes to using fogging machines, Ron and Scott tell us that securing the desired equipment can be a little tricky, due to high demand. The various types of foggers they’ve tried have their pros and cons. 

120V fogging unit 


  • Covers a large area (6-20 feet) 


  • Consumes a lot of disinfectant quickly 
  • The electrical cord makes it difficult to use in long hallways and in stairwells 

High-end battery-powered unit 


  • Long battery life 
  • Electrostatic spray (mist wraps around objects, corners) 


  • More expensive 
  • Unit is a bit heavy 

Economy battery sprayer 


  • Suitable for use in small spaces
  • Good ergonomics 
  • Battery-operated, electrostatic 


  • Not as suitable for use in large areas 

As for technique, Ron and Scott have found that using a swift, sweeping motion with the fogging machines is the most effective way to disinfect spaces.

Unit entries 

A close-up of an apartment door handle and deadbolt

Charlene Thornhill, Chief Operating Officer with Victoria Park Community Homes (VPCH), tells us that they suspended all non-emergency access to units on March 18. At that time, VPCH created a task force to review, revise, and create new processes to update operations in-line with COVID-related restrictions. 

In May, VPCH started performing more maintenance, including urgent tasks that had started to pile up, as well as some capital projects and preventative pest control. They also proceeded with their annual smoke detector tests, but deferred general unit inspections until 2021. 

Charlene tells us that the need for a unit inspection policy was crucial in making tenants and staff feel safe, and to give direction to contractors once unit entries resumed. Their process focused on four main areas: communication, time spent in units, documentation, and screening. They created unit inspection processes for staff, contractors, and residents. 

Staff and contractors 

  • Answer screening questions before entering a unit 
  • Be equipped with safety equipment and PPE, including masks and eye protection 
  • Maintain social distancing 
  • Sanitize high-touch areas before leaving
  • Take time to avoid mistakes that would necessitate returning to the unit 
  • Document time of entering and exiting the unit 


  • Given three days’ notice to prepare, plus reminders 
  • Answer screening questions prior to staff or contractors entering their unit
  • Open windows prior to unit entry to increase air circulation 
  • Sanitize high-touch areas prior to unit entry 
  • Remove as many personal effects from work area as possible 
  • Confine pets 
  • Wear mask during work and/or stay in a different room while work is being done (in some cases residents left the unit and VPCH worked with them to find a place they could go) 

VPCH took a proactive approach in communicated clearly with tenants, staff, and contractors. Thanks to staff and tenant compliance, thus far no staff have contracted COVID-19. 

Proper use of Personal Protective Equipment 

PPE must be used properly in order to be effective. Dr. Darvish-Kazem, Cardiologist with the William Osler Health System shares tips for proper PPE use. 

Medical masks with a loop on each side

A stack of three medical masks
  • Hands should be washed (ideally) or sanitized before putting on mask
  • Put the mask on by handling the loops 
  • Pinch the nose area to secure it (for masks that have a flexible reinforcement over the nose area) 
  • The mask should cover from the bridge of your nose to the bottom of your chin 
  • Wash or sanitize hands before removal 
  • Remove by handling the loops 

Respirator (N95) mask (elastic loops at top and bottom) 

N95 mask
  • Wash or sanitize hands before putting on mask 
  • Put the top loop over the head 
  • Pinch the nose piece to create a seal 
  • Hold the mask in place with one hand while bringing the bottom loop over the head and placing on the base of the neck
  • Wash or sanitize hands before removal 
  • Remove the bottom loop first 
  • Hold the mask in place while removing the top loop 

In terms of gloves, Dr, Darvish-Kazem tells us that they are necessary only in cases where you’re interacting with a person infected with COVID-19. In most cases, they do not provide additional protection; practicing proper hand hygiene is more effective. Moreover, using gloves can provide the wearer with a false sense of security. 

In cases where the presence of COVID-19 is confirmed, a face shield and/or googles are required PPE. Goggles must be closed on the sides. A face shield must cover up to where the mask starts.

Ensuring a safe return to work 

A man wearing a medical mask writes on a clipboard while talking to another man wearing a medical mask

Dr. Ali Kheradmand, Chiropractor and Consultant, Owner and Medical Director, Village Family Rehab Team tells us that his practice has recently seen a huge uptick in workplace injuries, specifically neck, lower back, wrist, and knee injuries. He says that people returning to work and to full duties without proper guidance or a period of adjustment are likely responsible for this. Dr. Ali Kheradmand shares tips for returning safely to the workplace. 

Sedentary workers 

When sedentary workers return to the office, they may find that they’re sitting for prolonged periods of time, which can cause injuries to tissues in the lower back and neck. Dr. Kheradmand suggests that office workers take micro-breaks throughout the day, every 20-30 minutes to get up, stretch, get some coffee or water, or go for a little walk. Even regular 30 second to one-minute breaks can help minimize many common sedentary worker injuries. 

Manual workers (construction, maintenance, etc.)

Dr. Kheradmand stresses that the simplest, most important thing that manual workers can do is to keep the spine straight. When lifting, squat or lunge instead of bending. Rather than crouching or bending to work on or examine something, laying down on one’s side to perform the task can help prevent injury.  

Dr. Kheradmand tells us it’s vital for workplaces to have guidelines, policies, and procedures in place to help their employees prevent injuries. He recommends employees conduct a Physical Demands Analysis (PDA) to prepare employees for the nature of their work, and, in the event of injury, to help plan properly for a return to work. 

It’s also important to remember that mental stress is skyrocketing at this time. Dr. Kheradmand explains that stressful situations can contribute to musculoskeletal injuries. He recommends that employers institute wellness and mental health initiatives to help employees prepare for the shock and stress of going back to work. 

Click here to view the webinar in its entirety and check out our COVID-19 Resources Hub to find policies and best practices enacted by community housing providers during the pandemic. 

Have a question about health and safety? Want to share your best practices? Contact us at We’re always happy to hear from you, and to help! 

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