SEMA News—September 2020



A Guide to COVID-19 Workplace Cleaning and Sanitation Protocol Sources

By Douglas McColloch

Making hand sanitizer available at points of sale and installing protective shielding to minimize the transfer of airborne particles are two steps retailers can take to improve in-store sanitation.

As retail businesses reopen across the country and customers gradually return to stores, companies are rolling out new policies to adapt to the “new normal” business climate afforded by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Foremost among those are new protocols for workplace cleaning and sanitation.

While auto-parts sales enjoyed record growth in the first quarter of 2020, nearly all of the gains were realized online. Since brick-and-mortar transactions still account for nearly two-thirds of all auto-parts sales, retailers are working to go the extra mile to regain the trust of their customers, and one key component of that effort is the successful implementation of industry-leading cleaning and sanitation procedures.

To learn about workplace best practices, SEMA News looked at recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and checked in with retailers sharing their own experiences in planning and executing new cleaning and sanitation protocols.

The following recommendations are from the recent CDC document, “Reopening America: Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools and Homes.” That document and other key resources can be found by visiting and opening the frequently updated Coronavirus information compendium. Specifically regarding reopening, the CDC offers a multi-step process for assuring safety:

Planning and Preparation

Regardless of the size and scope of your business, the CDC recommends the following action plan when strategizing new cleaning and sanitation policies.

  • Evaluate the workplace: What kinds of surfaces and materials are most commonly found? Many surfaces will need only normal routine cleaning, but frequently touched surfaces such as light switches and door handles will need to be cleaned and disinfected to reduce the risk of contamination. On the other hand, if the workplace has been vacant for more than seven days, or if the workplace is outdoors and well ventilated, routine cleaning should be all that’s typically needed. (COVID-19 has never been known to survive on any surface for longer than a week, and it’s more easily transmitted in poorly ventilated indoor environs.)
  • Determine what needs to be cleaned and what needs to be disinfected: Some surfaces will require only routine applications of soap and water. Those would include objects that are not often touched, as mentioned. After routine cleaning, often-touched surfaces can be disinfected with products that meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for use against SARS-COV-2. They can be viewed under “List N” at
  • Determine the types of surfaces to be disinfected: This will help in choosing the appropriate disinfectants. Hard, non-porous objects or surfaces made of glass, metal or plastic (such as countertops, doorknobs and pay-station keypads) will require different disinfecting procedures than porous materials such as carpets, rugs and seat upholstery. Regardless of surface type, care must be paid to ensure that adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) is used throughout the disinfecting process. Again, the EPA and CDC websites can provide guidance.
  • Determine the resources and equipment to be used: Different levels of cleaning and disinfection will require different products and varying levels of PPE to perform safely. In certain instances, it may be necessary to enlist the assistance of outside personnel with specialized training and equipment to apply disinfectants such as fumigants or fogs. The CDC’s website on “Cleaning and Disinfection for Community Facilities” can provide further information.
Work surfaces that are touched frequently, such as shopping baskets and cart handles, should be cleaned and disinfected after every use whenever possible.

Implementation and Execution

Once you’ve formulated a plan, it’s time to implement it. Read all manufacturer instructions for the cleaning and disinfection products to be used. Wear gloves and other required PPE to initiate the process of cleaning and disinfecting.

  • Clean visibly dirty surfaces with soap and water: Clean surfaces and objects using soap and water prior to disinfection. Always wear the appropriate gloves, and follow directions on the disinfectant label for additional PPE needs. When finished, wash hands thoroughly. Clean or launder soft and porous materials such as seats, rugs and carpets using the warmest possible temperature setting. Dry items thoroughly.
  • Use the right cleaning or disinfectant products: EPA-approved disinfectants applied according to manufacturer recommendations are effective against COVID-19. Follow the instructions on the label for all sanitation products for concentration, dilution, application, contact time and any other considerations when applying. Make sure you have adequate ventilation, and keep all disinfectants away from children.
  • Maintain and revise your plan: Surfaces often touched by multiple persons, such as door handles and faucets, should be cleaned and disinfected at least daily; more frequent cleaning and disinfection may be required, depending on use. Certain surfaces and objects such as shopping carts and pay station keypads should be cleaned and disinfected before each use.

For some companies, implementing new cleaning and sanitation policies may require only increasing the frequency of existing routines. “Our retail stores have always taken great pride in their cleanliness and presentation to our customers by routinely cleaning shelves, products and displays weekly,” said Steve Kester, senior retail manager at Summit Racing Equipment, a mail-order parts company that operates retail stores in Ohio, Georgia, Texas and Arizona. “Now, with COVID-19, we do hour-by-hour disinfecting during all retail operating hours, focusing on high-touch-point areas.”

Some retailers may already have much of the needed sanitation infrastructure ready to deploy within their existing product lines. Jamie Ward, president of Tire Discounters, a regional retail chain that operates in six eastern states, explained: “Items other dealers had to scramble for were already in place and part of our day-to-day operations, such as steering wheel covers, latex gloves, seat protectors and floor mats, to name a few. It’s the little things that matter, so there were no major changes for us when it came to taking care of our customers’ vehicles.”

Because COVID-19 thrives in poorly ventilated environments, OSHA recommends that companies consider upgrading their heating, ventilation and air-conditioning filters and systems to provide optimal circulation of clean air in the workplace.

Next Step: Employee Behaviors and Customer Safety

Once the workplace is sanitary, the CDC recommends training the workforce in the proper ways to keep themselves sanitary throughout the workday. This begins with a daily—and perhaps hourly—personal cleaning regimen. Employees should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. If employees’ hands are visibly dirty, they should use soap and water over hand sanitizer.

Employees should be instructed to clean their hands:

  • Before and after work shifts
  • Before and after work breaks
  • After blowing their noses, coughing or sneezing
  • After using the restroom
  • Before eating or preparing food
  • After putting on, touching or removing cloth face coverings

Employees should also avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and should cover their mouths and noses with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, or use the inside of the elbow. Dispose of used tissues in no-touch waste cans and immediately wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Employees should also avoid using other employees’ phones, desks, offices or other work equipment whenever possible.

Similarly, retail stores should encourage frequent hand washing and optimal disinfection practices for customers. Steps to achieve that could include installing cleaning stations that dispense hand sanitizer at entrances as well as on the sales floor and at points of sale; making face masks available to customers upon entering the store; ensuring that restrooms are regularly cleaned and well stocked with soap and fresh towels; and posting signs in restrooms advising customers on best self-cleaning practices.

Kester noted that Summit Racing’s restrooms have been additionally equipped with touchless faucets to further reduce high-touch surface areas.

Depending on the nature of the business and the configuration of the store, implementing physical distancing measures and uniform floor traffic patterns should also be considered for added customer security.

“Store aisles have been designated one way,” Kester said of Summit Racing’s retail stores. “Distancing dots were placed on the floor to encourage social distancing in areas where a customer may have to wait in a line.”

Similar measures are being taken by other retailers. Kathryn Reinhardt, senior marketing manager at 4 Wheel Parts, a chain with locations in 30 states nationwide, advised that sneeze guards have been installed at all of the company’s stores, along with stanchions and floor graphics to control customer traffic flow.

Another option for retailers is to consider removing or rearranging inventory to reduce the number of touch points on the sales floor.

“For example, we removed helmets from the sales floor,” Kester said. “When a customer wants to try a helmet for fitment, we bring it to them and provide a head sock to wear before they put the helmet on.”

Regardless of existing sanitation policies, a store’s employees—and customers, too—may face a steeper-than-expected learning curve in adjusting to the new realities of retailing.

“We’re a family-owned and -operated business, so holding open the door and shaking hands is second nature to the team,” said Tire Discounters Managing Director Anna Wood. “Adjusting to 6-ft. social distance meant breaking decades-long habits, and while the team is adaptable, it was hard for them at first to greet customers without offering a genuine smile and friendly handshake.”

Sometimes keeping abreast of changing state COVID-19 policies can pose a challenge to retailers that operate stores in multiple states.

“Having stores in almost every state in the United States made it difficult to prepare and predict each state’s assessment of the virus,” Reinhardt noted. “We made every effort to continue our communication with leadership conference calls, sharing regulation information and prepping each store with necessary policies to continue operations.”

SEMA COVID-19 Webpage ( The association continues to update its COVID-19 webpage to provide members with resources for addressing the coronavirus. The information is comprehensive and ranges from industry best practices for protecting employee health to tracking the states as they go through each phase of reopening. Members are encouraged to bookmark the page and visit often.

CDC Reopening Guidance Webpage ( The CDC has created a guide to the federal government’s reopening recommendations for businesses and other public places. The page includes links to EPA cleaning and disinfection guidelines as well as a cleaning and disinfection tool for determining what in your environment may be affected.

EPA “List N” Disinfectants Approved for Use Against COVID-19 (
The Environmental Protection Agency has created an online database of disinfectants approved for use against COVID-19 coronavirus. Items in the database can be searched by product name, EPA registration number, active ingredient(s) and other parameters. Detailed product information and recommended application times are also included.

Other Considerations

A clean workplace isn’t limited to clean surfaces and objects, however. COVID-19 is more easily transmitted in indoor environments with poor air circulation. A recent Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) document, “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19,” recommends installing higher-efficiency air filters in company air-conditioning systems, increasing ventilation rates in common areas, installing physical barriers such as clear plastic shields at points of sale or (where applicable) installing a drive-through window or offering curbside service for customers.

The OSHA guidance is advisory in nature and informational in content. It is not a standard or a regulation, the document advises, but it does include a link to state plans that may be applicable locally. For retailers in search of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning engineering and infrastructure solutions, environmental consulting companies such as U.S. Ecology ( can provide
expert assistance.

For stores that have implemented new protocols, the response from customers has been encouraging.

“Customers loved our new services so much, that we’ve kept them in place,” said Tire Discounters Chief Customer Officer and Senior Vice President Clarissa Niese. “They appreciated having the choice to come into the showroom or take advantage of new services like curbside drop-off, text-to-pay and online add-to-cart. We’ve seen a rise in the number of people choosing alternatives to in-store shopping, and we’re happy to accommodate
those needs.”

“From a customer-service perspective, the addition of touchless curbside pickup has been the biggest win both for our customers and Summit Racing,” Kester concurred, also noting how customer-centric policy initiatives such as these can help strengthen relationships. “The best way I can describe it is like having car trouble at a cruise-in or at the race track: There is always someone willing to help you out. That’s what it feels like—a real sense of
car community.”

The auto-parts retailing industry represents an enormous part of the American economy—a $62 billion market comprising more than 60,000 businesses and 380,000 employees, according to a 2020 survey published by IBIS World, a global market research firm. A thriving economy depends on an equally thriving retail sector, so there has never been a better time to follow some simple guidelines to implement new cleaning and sanitation policies that will win back customers and drive in-store sales.

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