Louisiana Tech continues to work to be the cleanest, most efficient, and most student-friendly. These are already constant goals, and they’re ones the school has been especially conscious of during the pandemic.
The University’s Environmental, Health, and Safety (EH&S) department, Residential Life, Physical Plant, and Aramark nutrition services have each worked overtime and efficiently to ensure students, faculty, and staff have a safe place to work, learn, and live.
For some, it’s been just another day at the office.
“EH&S is considered an essential service to the campus, so the COVID-19 virus did not disrupt our schedule at all,” said Director Don Braswell. “We continue to go to work as if nothing has happened. Since there are employees and students still on campus, it is our responsibility to ensure their safety.”
EH&S has amped up employee training concerning safety and cleaning to meet all Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.
At the very onset of COVID-19, EH&S began researching preventative measures and disinfection procedures as called for by the CDC to continue campus operations. EH&S identified three main groups — Housing, Custodial, and Grounds — that needed additional information so they would be armed against the spread of the virus.
“Those groups are the heart of our ‘essential’ personnel,” Braswell said. “These employees are critical components in ensuring the campus is in a state of cleanliness when everyone returns.”
In order to protect these employees, he and EH&S safety specialist Brandon Kratzer held separate safety meetings with each group and provided both instruction and material that included a new Safety Manual Section 19 on infectious diseases, handouts on proper putting on and removal of nitrile gloves, hand-washing techniques, and a COVID-19 fact sheet. Also discussed were the virus, proper cleaning and disinfecting techniques per CDC guidelines, and proper personal protective equipment each group needed to prevent the transmission of the virus. Each session ended with a question-and-answer session to discuss any issues, concerns, or fears the employees had.
“These folks are already experts in cleaning and disinfection and probably knew more than we did in those areas,” Braswell said. “So, the Q&A time proved to be the most effective piece. It let the employees know that EH&S and University leadership had their best interests at heart. Talking through these issues can relieve tons of stress and put people at ease.”
In addition, EH&S researched effective chemicals provided by the Custodial Department to disinfect exposed surfaces. All chemicals and commercially purchased cleaning products used by Housing and Custodial are 100% effective against COVID-19. EH&S also researched alternative cleaning methods should commercial chemicals become unavailable.
Melinda Brazzel, Assistant Manager of Building Services for Residential Life, said that prior to the usual overall cleaning, each room is sprayed with Quatricide, a phosphate-free germ killer that has demonstrated effectiveness against viruses similar to COVID-19; it cleans, disinfects, and deodorizes.
“We wipe down all touchable surfaces with a disinfectant in every room,” she said. “These are the rooms that are empty at this time. In all the common areas in residence halls that are occupied, we do the same thing. We have masks and gloves for our staff to protect themselves and others they may come in contact with.”
About a third of the Physical Plant workforce is on campus each day. Some are not at work for personal reasons such as being at-risk or having health issues, and others have been directed to work only certain days to maximize distancing and minimize interaction between employees and the community. Tech also encourages the common personal precautions and maintains a standard of one person per vehicle.
“The workload has decreased some; we currently receive only a small fraction of the work order requests from campus that we normally do, because everyone is teleworking and the lack of students on campus,” said Plant Director Joe Peel. “With so few people in the buildings, this is really a golden opportunity as far as maintenance is concerned. But with limited workers available on a given day, there’s only so much we can tackle. We are doing our best to keep up with the essential maintenance.”
The athletic projects on campus — the baseball, softball, and soccer facilities — are continuing “full steam ahead,” Peel said, and often Tech employees help there, both regularly locating underground utilities on the project sites and offering solutions when other complications occur.
Food Service Director Robert Hoag said he and seven managers are doing all the cooking, cashiering, serving, and kitchen and dining cleaning for the approximately 325 students left on campus, something that generally requires 10-hour workdays. But there’s a bright side.
“We are all enjoying the more personal touch that we have with the students left on campus,” he said.
Of course, the “personal touch” is at a distance – at least for right now.