When it comes to infection control, especially in schools and healthcare facilities, cleaning professionals can play a vital if not crucial role in helping to minimize infection and keep building users healthy.
This is a realization that both our industry as well as the general public have come to in the past decade or more and why we so often hear expressions such as “cleaning for health” in our industry.
However, for cleaning workers to have a significant impact on reducing the spread of infection, it is important that they use the right tools, cleaning products and equipment as well as follow some simple but specific guidelines when using them.
The Right Work
One of basketball legend Michael Jordan’s most famous quotes is “if you put in the work, the results will come.”
While this is certainly true, when it comes to cleaning and infection control, we want to make sure that the work we are putting in is the right work, by using our arsenal of tools and products along with our training accurately.
In order to accomplish this and proceed effectively, cleaning pros should be aware of the following:
Training. First and foremost is proper training. No effective cleaning infection-control strategy will succeed unless cleaning workers have been properly trained in the use of products and cleaning procedures. Fortunately, there are training options available in the industry through leading trade associations such as ISSA and BSCAI as well as JanSan distributors throughout North America.
Protection. Air travel rules and regulations always specify that in the case of an emergency where oxygen masks are needed, parents should always secure their own mask first before helping children or someone else put theirs on. This same principle applies to cleaning workers when it comes to infection control. It is important that cleaning workers protect their own health first by wearing gloves, and especially during the flu and cold season or when there is a public health scare, additional protective gear such as goggles and masks.
Hand washing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Prevention (CDC) cites that effective hand washing is the number one defense against cross-contamination. Cleaning workers should abide by proper hand washing techniques by washing their hands frequently, and for up to 20 seconds, throughout their work schedule, and most important, every time gloves or any other protective gear is removed.
Hot spots. Every facility has “hot spots,” areas where cross contamination can be a serious problem. One hot spot that is often overlooked is the floors. We have approximately 50 direct and indirect contacts with floors every day, and if the floor is contaminated, the potential for cross contamination can be considerable. Other hot spots include high-touch areas such as switches, door handles, keyboards and computer mice, as well as other commonly touched areas, which should be cleaned to prevent the spread of infection.
Clean tools. Such things as mops, buckets and cleaning cloths should be cleaned before use and changed after each room/area is cleaned; additionally, if cleaning tools are torn or damaged, they should be discarded.
Alternative cleaning equipment. Especially when it comes to infection control, alternative types of cleaning equipment such as spray-and-vac systems may prove more effective at removing microbes from surfaces and do not require the cleaning worker to actually touch potentially contaminated surfaces.
Color coding. While color coding seems to go in and out of style in the professional cleaning industry, when it comes to infection control, it is always in fashion. This is why many medical facilities have used color-coding systems for cleaning and a variety of other tasks for years. Color-coded tools help workers easily identify which, where, and how to use certain products and equipment. Red, for instance, is the color universally used to indicate products and tools to be used for disinfection or cleaning high-risk areas.
Disinfectants. Disinfectants should be selected carefully. Always use EPA-registered disinfectants and make sure that the disinfectant targets the types of germs and bacteria of most concern; also ensure that the disinfectant is diluted correctly and that it is allowed plenty of “wet” dwell time so it can work effectively.
More On Disinfectants
We need to spend a bit more time discussing disinfectants because disinfectants are the first line of defense when it comes to infection control.
However, and unfortunately, many cleaning pros do not always use these powerful but necessary products carefully.
The first word to the wise is to always read the use instructions fully and carefully before using the disinfectant.
Use instructions can vary from product to product.
Assuming that they are all the same and not following your particular disinfectant’s instructions may not give you the infection control the product was intended to provide, and in worst-case scenarios, can cause chemical burns and damage and irritation to skin, eyes, lungs and mucous membranes.
While green-certified disinfectants are not available in the U.S., for readers in Canada and other parts of the globe, we must emphasize that just because a disinfectant is green-certified does not mean it can be used with impunity.
In fact, just the opposite may be true.
Green chemicals, including disinfectants, are often highly concentrated to help reduce packaging needs.
Because of this, additional care may be required, especially when mixing these products.
MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) or the new SDS (Safety Data Sheets) should be readily accessible for all disinfectants used in a facility.
It is recommended that these information/warning sheets not be available only in a custodial or administrator office.
Instead, they should be placed in every janitorial closet.
Additionally, never mix disinfectants with other products when using or disposing of them.
If a disinfectant is poured down a drain, be sure to follow it with fresh water.
Harmful gasses can result if a disinfectant and another chemical product are mixed together after both being poured down a drain.
Along with these safety issues, we want to be sure we maximize our results when using disinfectants.
Ways to do this include the following:
As referenced earlier, make sure the disinfectant is properly selected and targets the microbes and pathogens of concern which might be present on a surface.
Again as stated earlier, the product must be diluted properly. Under-dilution increases the likelihood that germs and bacteria will not be eliminated; over-dilution does not make the product more effective and can harm surfaces where the disinfectant is used, as well as negatively impact the environment and the health of the user.
The specified amount of contact time, often referred to as dwell time, that a disinfectant should stay on a surface before being wiped or sprayed away must be closely adhered to; this can vary significantly depending on the product, from five minutes to more than 10 minutes. Additionally, the disinfectant must remain wet during this period. If it dries, it should be reapplied.
In general, most disinfectants work best at room temperature. Elevated temperatures may accelerate evaporation of a disinfectant, which can reduce contact time and decrease efficacy. Colder temperatures may also reduce the efficacy of some products.
We should also note that it is very important to not overuse disinfectants.
Only use them where and when needed.
Because of overuse, what is evolving is that some pathogens are becoming immune to some disinfectants.
This means that more powerful and invariably more costly and environmentally unfriendly disinfectants may be necessary to kill these pathogens.
This is something our industry must be aware of and take steps now to avoid.
However, if used properly, the steps addressed here can help significantly to reduce the spread of infection.
This will not help fight disease but once again will prove just how important and valuable our industry is for all to see.
Jennifer Meek is the director of marketing for Charlotte Products/Enviro-Solutions, leading manufacturers of conventional and green cleaning products.