How FOD Control Help Fight COVID-19

Did you know that practicing foreign object debris and damage (FOD) control at your facility can help protect your workers and visitors from the coronavirus pandemic?

FOD Control Worker Cleaning Floor

When SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes the illness called COVID-19) spreads through a community, it can infect airports, repair shops, factories, warehouses and other industrial facilities just as easily as homes, schools, offices and houses of worship.

Even in the best of times, FOD prevention plays a critical role in workplace safety and quality assurance. During the current crisis, maintaining a clean and safe industrial environment takes on an outsized importance.

Enhanced Control

While airborne droplets are the primary source of infection, it is possible to catch the coronavirus by touching a contaminated surface. SARS-CoV-2 can survive on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours, 24 hours on cardboard, or 4 hours on copper, according to highly-cited study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This means that any potentially contaminated debris poses a risk to anyone who has to pick it up, largely because you probably won’t know the health status of the person who dropped it. Take special care when encountering food and beverage containers, personal items or hand tools. Everyone at your facility needs to make a special effort to prevent FOD by properly handling any items under their control.

After collecting debris or cleaning surfaces, don’t touch your face and do wash your hands immediately afterward. If available, wear disposable gloves and dispose of them after one use. Catalog and store or dispose of any FOD promptly in a FOD disposal container or other appropriate location.

“Clean-as-you-go” has long served as a mantra for FOD control in workshops, factories and warehouses. When cleaning surfaces that humans touch regularly, such as workbenches and storage cabinets, use cleaning products that can remove SARS-CoV-2; not all of them have that capability. The American Chemistry Council has published an extensive list of suitable, EPA-approved cleaning products that you can download as a PDF file.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also offers general advice for cleaning surfaces; while focused on household environments, you can still find useful information here.

Adapting Procedures

With some creative thought, you can adapt existing FOD control systems to reduce the possibility of people at your facility becoming infected.

For instance, consider that the action of coughing or sneezing propels tiny droplets of bodily fluid into the air. If those droplets contain SARS-CoV-2, the virus can remain alive and airborne for at least three hours before falling to the ground, according to the New England Journal of Medicine study. If a potentially infected person sneezes in a confined workspace or waiting area, it places everyone at risk.

Now consider that some workshop activities also create airborne particles, such as sawdust, metal dust or liquid sprays. One strategy for controlling them involves placing protective screens next to the emitting point (such as a power saw) to catch or contain the particles.

Placing similar “anti-sneeze” screens at strategic points might lower the chance of viral contamination within the same shop. A person walking down a factory aisle, for instance, would pass by a makeshift screen strung across the front of a work bench, separating the person at that station from the person walking past it.

Another common concept in FOD control is tool control. When a worker brings a tool into or out of a FOD-sensitive area — such as a workbench where machinery housings are left open — they must inventory that tool’s location on a form. This way, nobody forgets where they left their screwdriver at the end of the shift.

This concept can be expanded from tool control to sanitation control, especially in shops where workers regularly share tools. All that’s needed is an upgraded version of the “keep your tools clean” principle.

Next to the storage cabinet where your facility keeps shared hand tools, place a washing station with appropriate cleaning products, disposable rags or towels, a disposal container, and the inventory log. Before a worker returns a tool to the cabinet, they must wash it, dispose of any used rag or towel in the container, and check off on the log that they did so.

New Ideas

Going beyond basic FOD concepts, clean room technology is the gold standard of contamination prevention. Although not all clean room systems are designed for virus protection, browsing through the literature might give you some ideas.

For more accessible information, the CDC has advice for cleaning and disinfecting community facilities, including businesses, that are suspected of contamination.

Long after the current pandemic has passed, infectious disease control is likely to remain as an important health and safety consideration. Likewise, it should also become a permanent part of your FOD control program.

Please contact us to discuss your FOD program.