2021 has been a tough year for the fitness industry in Canada. Gyms have been shuttered then required to work at reduced capacity. Members are frustrated, staff are hard to get and anxious about their work environment, and managers need to return the business to profit. Every day we continue to hear media stories about a pandemic resurgence. With an uncertain future and people finding “going-to-the-gym” alternatives, there needs to be a change in approach to combating germs if fitness facilities are to stay relevant and profitable in the era of pandemics. Here are some common myths and misconceptions that you should be aware of to get you started.
Sanitizing Is Not Enough
Promoting the practice of “sanitizing” in your facility is insufficient to address COVID. “Cleaning” removes physical debris. “Sanitizing” removes bacteria (like salmonella in food preparation), and “Disinfecting” kills viruses. The distinctions are important when communicating with staff and your members, as the procedures and products to be used will vary significantly. Coronavirus, flu, rhinovirus, MRSA, and others can thrive in warm, humid environments for several hours—even days. They must be disinfected (not sanitized) if their threat is to be eradicated.
No Disinfectant Kills On Contact
Disinfectants must be allowed a “wet” or “contact time” to kill germs, which can vary anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes depending on the product being used. That means simply spraying and wiping down a surface (removing the disinfectant in the process) does not eliminate all the germs and still poses a risk to users. Unfortunately, we see this bad practice often, leading gym or fitness equipment users to believe their efforts are making them safer when in fact, they are not.
Not All Disinfectants Are the Same
During the pandemic a wide variety of disinfectants have hit the market, including discount-store and retail-grade products; most meet the minimum requirement (Health Canada Registration); however not all are designed for professional use. Disinfectants, for example, contain an active ingredient that is responsible for killing or reducing the number of germs to a safe number. This component of their formulation will differ from product to product. As a result, disinfectants will kill germs at varying contact times, pose different health risks and impacts on the environment. It’s essential to read the label of the products you’re using and be familiar with all SDS (Safety Data Sheet) warnings and directions.
The False Security of Gloves
Gloves are a great way to keep germs from coming in contact with your hands and then inadvertently entering your body when touching your nose or mouth. However, this practice frequently results in staff encountering multiple sources of germs, which then get spread from surface to surface as they go about their day. Regular hand washing is a better practice, but if your staff prefer wearing gloves, they should change them often and limit their use to specific areas or tasks to avoid cross-contamination from one location to another.
Relying on Gym Members for Infection Prevention
You don’t expect your members to wash their towels, top up shampoo dispensers or replace toilet paper, so why do fitness facilities expect them to disinfect their workout machines, free weights and equipment? While gyms provide disinfecting wipes and spray bottle disinfectants for public use, there is no assurance that they are being applied correctly, consistently and willingly, especially during a pandemic. Simply wiping away sweat, doesn’t make a surface safe for the next user. Fitness facilities should be responsible for providing a safer workout space for staff and members alike.
There are a few pro-active measure fitness facilities and gyms can adopt now to take control of their infection prevention strategies.
- Know the basic principles and communicate what steps you are taking to clean, sanitize and disinfect your facility to staff and members.
- Review the products you are using now to determine their efficacy against coronavirus as well as other harmful pathogens. Check for expiration dates, contact times, use precautions, dilution rates and any environmental impact.
- Make staff aware of the dangers of cross-contamination when wearing gloves. A low-risk area like a staff room can quickly become a breeding ground for germs when they hitch a ride from elsewhere.
- Start taking a more proactive approach to infection prevention within your facility, relying less on your members and more on your strategy, protocols and communications. Let your staff and members know what you’re doing to keep them safe through your website and digital communications to reassure them and give them the confidence to make a safe and lasting return to your facility.
New Technology to the Rescue
Up until now, performing a deep-clean and disinfection of all machines, equipment and free-weights was a painstaking task that involved manually wiping down hundreds if not thousands of surfaces. Depending on usage, it was a labour-intensive task that needed to be repeated every day, if not several times a day. Fortunately, one Mississauga-based company, HyPACE Professional, has addressed this problem with a turn-key solution that combines electrostatic sprayers with hospital-grade disinfection. What used to take hours can now be performed in minutes by your staff to achieve full germ-kill coverage, with the requisite dwell time and disinfection efficacy. The savings in time and labour cost is the leading advantage clubs are realizing. Still, it’s the adherence to best infection prevention practices that is the principal benefit of fighting against this pandemic.