Clad in white personal protective equipment (PPE) and carrying an electrostatic spray with disinfectant solution weighing 13kg on his back, Mr Mohamad Yazid Bin Jasnay goes to work disinfecting the technical room of a laundry plant.
His job is an unenviable yet crucial one in the pandemic. While most people try to steer clear of areas recently visited by Covid patients, Mr Yazid and his team are duty-bound to head there.
He is a member of the small unseen army of cleaners that spring into action whenever a place needs to be disinfected. They spray, wipe and scrub nearly every surface of an affected area - like this office in Jalan Bukit Merah - to make sure the place is safe for workers or patrons to return.
Mr Yazid has been working with facility management company CBM for 23 years. The 43-year-old essential worker is the operations manager of CBM’s environmental division, having worked his way up from a cleaning floater where he did all sorts of cleaning jobs from cleaning toilets to vacuum carpets in buildings, offices and companies he was assigned to.
Since the start of the pandemic, he and his cleaning teams also have to disinfect areas visited by Covid-19 cases.
100 staff are under his supervision, which includes the disinfectant cleaners. Besides disinfectant jobs, they also provide normal cleaning services. There are six disinfectant teams in CBM. He is in charge of two teams, each with four disinfectant cleaners.
His company is one of the many listed by the Ministry of Health and the National Environment Agency that operators of premises exposed to confirmed Covid-19 cases can contact to carry out disinfection and cleaning.
On top of disinfecting potential Covid-19 hotspots, he has 30 other cleaning sites to handle. But the Covid-19 work is different from the kind of cleaning Mr Yazid’s team did before the pandemic.
How to disinfect a site
For one thing, there is more equipment.
Here, Mr Yazid carries PPE and disinfectant supplies for restocking, at CBM HQ on August 27, 2021. Stock is replenished around every three weeks from the company's headquarters at Katong Shopping Centre.
The cleaning request is also more urgent.
Within about two hours of being called by a client, Mr Yazid’s team would be on-site. “As the team lead, I liaise with the client to get more information such as where the Covid-19 case had sat. From there, we cordon off the area before we do anything. I must be sure that the place is safe and nobody is around,” said Mr Yazid.
Cleaning equipment including an electrostatic sprayer, biohazard bin, mop, cloth and pails are unloaded from the company van that he drives. The van is kept stocked and ready so that the disinfection crew can be activated anytime through the team’s group chat.
The team members then sanitise their hands and don their personal protective equipment (PPE).
They also pull yellow rubber gloves over their surgical gloves. Red tape is then used to prevent water from seeping into the disposable gown from the yellow rubber gloves.
Surfaces are wiped down with disinfectant solution, while other areas are sprayed with disinfectant solution. The electrostatic sprayer holds up to 8.5 litres of disinfectant solution. Mr Yazid's team focuses on what are called “high-touch points”, surfaces that several people might come into contact with. At this Jalan Bukit Merah office, that includes the pool cues.
Doors, desks, phones and the armrests of office chairs also need to be cleaned.
Depending on the size of the area, the process can take an hour or more. Other teams are activated for larger sites, and Mr Yazid said his longest assignment took about eight hours. The disinfection of the office took about an hour from donning to doffing.
After each disinfection, the electrostatic sprayer, mop stick and pails are cleaned with disinfectant, and everything else, like the PPE and mop head, is thrown away as biohazard waste.
At the end of every disinfection assignment, every cleaner would be drenched in perspiration as the non-porous PPE traps heat and moisture, Mr Yazid said. Working in full PPE under humid and hot conditions is one of the many challenges the cleaners face.
Here, Mr Yazid is seen with fogged up eye goggles and Ms Nithya Balan, 29, a team leader in Mr Yazid’s team, breaks out in beads of perspiration on her forehead after carrying out disinfectant cleaning.
After each assignment, Mr Yazid will also disinfect his van to ensure that the vehicle is clean for the next job.
Staying safe at home
Since taking on disinfection assignments during the circuit breaker period in April last year, Mr Yazid makes sure he sanitises his hands thoroughly using the new sanitiser dispenser he installed outside his five-room HDB flat before entering his house.
He heads straight for the shower, and his clothes then go into the washing machine with detergent and disinfectant solution for good measure before spending time with his family.
The father of four daughters, aged seven to 19, said that his children would ask him, “Is this the way you do the disinfection”, whenever they see something similar or pandemic-related on TV.
They also tease him, saying that he looks like a Ghostbuster and ask if he shoots aliens in his safety suit.
While Singaporeans in the company are able to go home to their families at the end of the day, foreigners are housed in rented residential units instead of dormitories so they do not intermingle with staff from other companies.
Malaysian Nithya Balan, 29, a team leader in Mr Yazid’s team, has been working in Singapore for seven years. Her parents and two brothers live in Johor, and the last time she saw them was April 3 last year. Another younger brother works in Singapore as a delivery assistant.
As much as she misses her family, she is soldiering on here, as she hopes to earn enough to buy them a new house. She video calls her family after work and during mealtime breaks. “One hour is not enough,” she exclaimed.
She chats most with her mother, as the two are very close, talking about health, finance and daily life.
In line with government regulations, disinfection workers have to take weekly Covid-19 tests, and attend a disinfection services course.
The Environmental Infection Control and Management course was useful, said Mr Yazid. “I was initially worried, as I was not sure if I was carrying out disinfection works in a safe manner – especially as my guys are following my lead. I am also the first to face the virus in the course of work.
“I feel confident after we went for the course.”
He added: “We usually do normal cleaning, but this is a new challenge for us. Sometimes, my clients are around to thank us and give us support. They appreciate our work.
“It makes me feel a bit proud to be a front liner.”
Executive photojournalist Lim Yaohui was also required to suit up in full PPE to cover the story before Mr Mohamad Yazid Bin Jasnay and his team carry out disinfection works for a suspected Covid-19 case in an office of an industrial estate in Jalan Bukit Merah on October 9, 2021.