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August 2014 Feature 1

Toss Away The Germs

Calling on disposable wipers to help prevent cross-contamination.

July 31, 2014
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Each year, businesses lose about $227 billion due to lost productivity from employee illnesses, according to a report from the Integrated Benefits Institute.

A seemingly trivial action, such as an employee sneezing into his or her hands, can be a cause for concern when it comes to employee interactions in a workplace environment.

Simply touching a doorknob after sneezing can spread germs, which can in turn cause infections and illness around any type of facility.

Thus, cleaning in a safe and efficient manner is paramount.

Traditional rental towels may not fit the bill, as they can increase the spread of germs from one hard surface to another and even between work environments.

Both in-house custodial professionals and building service contractors (BSCs) have a number of pain points related to cross-contamination, including health and safety issues, increasing efficiency and reducing costs.

While it can be complicated to find a one-size-fits-all solution to these challenges, disposable wipers can effectively help address these problems.

Addressing Health Issues

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common cause of skin infections in the U.S. is Staphylococcus aureus, or a “staph” infection, which can result in illnesses ranging from small pustules on the skin to pneumonia.

Although these infections occur most frequently in healthcare facilities, they can cause illnesses outside of these environments and are most frequently spread by direct skin-to-skin contact, touching shared items or touching surfaces that have been contaminated by an infected person.

Custodial professionals and BSCs must focus on the prevention of cross-contamination by ensuring that surfaces are thoroughly sanitized and disinfected — especially those surfaces that are frequently touched, such as doors and elevator buttons.

In addition, with the growing trend of open office floor plans and shared office spaces, employees are more frequently exposed to shared surfaces.

In fact, a study conducted by the Stress Research Institute at Stockholm University found that those who worked in offices with open floor plans took more time off for sickness.

Consequently, it is even more essential for BSCs and custodial managers to maintain high sanitary standards, as they adapt to the ever-changing work environment.

Another Option

While many facilities rely on the use of rental towels to clean and sanitize, BSCs and custodial managers may not realize that this practice could be exposing their colleagues and employees to outside contaminants.

When towels are sent off for laundering, facilities do not receive the same towels back from the laundry service.

In fact, most rental towels are interchanged between multiple settings, where they can become contaminated by bacteria from contact with other surfaces.

When those dirty towels are washed, the contaminants mix into the wash water and can be re-deposited into towels that are recirculated as clean.

These contaminants can then be transferred onto hands, and remaining bacteria can expose employees to various health risks.

The even bigger concern is in employees using the same cloth for cleaning numerous areas.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Charles Gerba, a University of Arizona microbiologist, examined microfiber and cotton cloths used to clean hospital rooms — which are similar to those used in office buildings.

What he found was that 93 percent of the laundered towels used to clean hospital rooms contained bacteria, including E.Coli.

He also found that 67 percent of buckets used for soaking cloths with disinfectants were contaminated with bacteria.

This study not only points to poor laundering practices, but also illustrates the need for managers to be even more vigilant about sanitation practices.

Cleaning staff may also mistakenly take towels from different environments — such as from the bathroom to the workspace — thus increasing the risk for workplace-spread illnesses, as highlighted in Dr. Gerba’s research.

While color coding towels can help to keep towels in their proper, designated environment, disposable wipers are a an efficient and task-based solution for the workplace.

A good solution is replacing rental towels with disposable wipers, which can mitigate concerns around repurposed towels as well as prevent bacteria from traveling from surface to surface.

“Using a disposable wiper is the most hygienic option,” says Trevor Kelley, product manager at Tork, an SCA brand. “You get a fresh towel every time and can be sure that no outside contaminants have come into contact with that product.”

Using disposable wipers doesn’t require specific employee training — just choose a wipe for a specific need, stock it in the proper environment and it’s ready for immediate, single use.

Improving Efficiency, Decreasing Cost

A key priority for managers is to maintain employee health and safety while improving efficiency and cost control.

Disposable wipers can help alleviate these pain points.

With one-at-a-time dispensing options, BSCs and custodial professionals can easily grab a wipe for the task at hand and not have to worry about taking time to sort through an array of towels to choose the correct one.

In addition, wiper dispensers keep the wipers clean, avoiding contamination from germs or liquids that could spill or spatter.

They also provide controlled dispensing, which will help manage costs, as staff can grab only one at a time.

“Task-designed wipers help create a more productive environment,” Kelley says. “When managers provide employees with quick, easy-to-use alternatives for cleaning, which require minimum training, they not only increase safety, but also improve their bottom line.”

Beyond health concerns, rental towels may not the best option for BSCs and custodial professionals in terms of cost efficiency.

There are hidden costs stemming from laundering, including inventory fees and accidental/loss damage fees.

In addition, incremental costs may result from the use of these towels.

Wipers have no hidden costs, and knowing the price upfront allows managers to choose the right wiper for the task and within their budget.

Since cross-contamination is a concern that can greatly affect employee health and productivity, BSCs and in-house custodial professionals need to understand and implement proper cleaning techniques.

For managers, this involves employee training and an overall awareness of market innovations.

Proper cleaning and sanitizing will address both the perceived and actual cleanliness of a workplace.

Ensuring a clean workplace in turn prevents illnesses and minimizes employee downtime.

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