“The mathematics of uncontrolled growth are frightening. A single cell of the bacterium E. coli would, under ideal circumstances, divide every 20 minutes. That is not particularly disturbing until you think about it, but the fact is that bacteria multiply geometrically: One becomes two, two become four, four become eight, and so on. In this way it can be shown that in a single day, one cell of E. coli could produce a super-colony equal in size and weight to the entire planet Earth.” — Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain.
We now face the cold reality that germs once thought of as being scarce or isolated in select areas are now with us in the workplace.
Thanks to increasing news coverage, the public is now aware of some of these germs.
As just one example, community outbreaks of Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) are now a weekly headline.
Once known primarily in health care circles, Staph has gone public, becoming a household phrase.
This community-acquired strain is found on hard surfaces throughout society.
Indeed, 30 percent of all adults carry colonized Staph on their body at any time.
This pathogen is spread through person-to-person contact or person-surface-person contact.
A 2004 study at the University of Texas, Austin found 36 percent of men’s bathrooms and 30 percent of women’s bathrooms tested positive for Staph.
Infected surfaces were the “active-touch surfaces,” such as door and stall knobs, faucet handles and push plates.
Certainly, there are engineering solutions for limiting human contact with these and many other surfaces.
Unfortunately, placing electronic sensors on doors, faucets, and dispensers can be prohibitively expensive.
Going clean and green
Expand the thinking to general workplace surfaces and you get the idea: We now have to sanitize as we clean.
This awareness has led our industry to look for strong and effective chemical solutions in the face of mounting pressure to “go green” with alternative practices and products.
Sometimes, it feels like we’re being pulled in two directions at once.
Compounding this dilemma is the fact that commercial cleaning programs, in general, continue to suffer budget cutbacks.
In an industry that routinely sees 100 percent turnover rates, teaching adequate cleaning techniques is challenging.
With limited human resources, every cleaning cycle must be done right the first time.
How do we balance the demands to go green, with the necessity to be effective against invisible colonies of germs?
First, it is important to perform a site survey.
For most cleaning and maintenance professionals, this is nothing new.
The staff is familiar with the nature of the challenge area and thus key in identifying such variables as surface textures, equipment, environmental conditions, traffic habits and yes, cleaning cycles.
Hard surfaces are the easiest to keep clean, and free of dirt and germs.
Use cleaning and disinfecting agents appropriate to materials without damaging or discoloring the surface.
Textured surfaces pose a challenge due to their porosity.
Flooring and furnishings usually fall into this category and must be cleaned using specialized cleaning and extracting equipment.
Here, you may investigate cleaning chemistries that offer antimicrobial additives.
High-value, sensitive equipment usually has control surfaces that present a challenge.
Smooth control and display surfaces are easily treated; however, open-architecture equipment, such as keyboards, telephones, switches, etc., require vacuuming and careful moist wiping.
Temperature and humidity play an important role in providing a host environment for pathogens.
Ambient warmth and elevated moisture conspire to effectively create a petri dish environment in the workspace.
Your physical plant equipment must be surveyed for conditions that may contribute to supporting mold, bacteria, viruses — an alphabet soup of germs.
Cleaning routes and cycles need careful planning to reduce labor costs.
Staging and dispensing adequate supplies throughout your facility will greatly reduce the need for replenishment during cleaning.
Taking advantage of the limited time in a given area suggests that your sanitizing routine is conducted at the time of cleaning.
Vector habits in your facilities are easily established.
By vector habits, we mean any process whereby germs are moved from one locale to another.
In other words, if it moves, disinfect it.
Special attention must be paid to those items that transit and touch multiple surfaces, such as supply carts, janitorial and maintenance equipment, waste receptacles, and personnel.
Other key culprits are textile wipes, mops and brooms.
Used from surface to surface, room to room, these simple cleaning tools can carry complex organisms to new breeding grounds.
Imagine how many surfaces can be cross-contaminated in a single shift.
After a comprehensive site survey, the second step is to identify compatible supplies.
For many, this step is a new and sometimes confusing area.
With an eye toward green compliance, we have to become students of the literature and labels directed our way by countless vendors.
Learn to filter the legitimate claims from those using wiggle-words, such as new, improved, and planet-friendly.
All these pronouncements look good, but low-impact, low-toxicity claims must be real and substantiated.
Working closely with a trusted vendor, ask about equally effective products containing less-harmful chemicals.
Product labels can be full of information, or not.
In both cases, work with your supplier to identify signal words, exposure hazards, and materials compatibility.
Can the manufacturer back up its claims? What surfaces can this product be used on? Does this provide a less-toxic alternative?
Thirdly, retool the cleaning guidelines.
Armed with new chemistry and protocols, your workers will require training on proper dwell times for disinfecting, direction on which vectors to target, and a plan to manage cleaning tools.
For example, treating a soiled area, such as a restroom floor, will require adhering to label guidelines on the sanitizing chemistry followed by proper sanitization or disposal of the applicator in order to limit spreading pathogens to the next area.
Also, establishing coordinated team cleaning where possible will limit overlaps and improve cycle times.
Remember, your employee burden has a direct impact on the bottom line.
And, lost productivity costs from workplace-acquired illnesses figures are in the billions.
Keep in mind that levels of efficacy can be distinguished by words such as sanitizer or disinfectant.
Both are classified as pesticides by the EPA and their manufacture and labeling is closely monitored.
According to the EPA, sanitizers reduce, but do not eliminate microorganisms from the surface.
Disinfectants, according to the EPA, offer a higher level of protection by eliminating microorganisms.
While the EPA does not allow green claims for these products, signal precautions or the absence of signal words will allow you to place each disinfecting product’s level of toxicity.
Please familiarize yourself with the information in Table 1: EPA Toxicity Category (Sidebar at right).
Use it as a guide when reviewing product labels and MSDS.
A few minutes spent deciphering the label will yield valuable gains, lowering workplace hazards.
Michael L. Krall is CEO of PURE Bioscience. PURE’s silver dihydrogen citrate (SDC), is an electrolytically generated source of stabilized ionic silver leading the trend toward industry and consumer use of “green” products while providing advantages in efficacy and safety. For additional information about PURE Bioscience, visit www.purebio.com