Five Critical Elements of Better Infection Control for Your Cleaning Department
Whether facing a localized outbreak of MRSA, a regional outbreak of viral meningitis or a global outbreak of pandemic influenza, cleaners can play an important front-line role in containing the spread. But even more important than that, custodial and janitorial staff play an important daily role in health.
What Difference Can Cleaning Teams Make?
The answer: probably a significant amount. Hospitals have changed their approaches in recent years to fight superbugs like MRSA and C. diff, and with significant success in many cases. The same principles used by hospitals can be applied to offices, factories and school systems.
Some school system cleaning departments did not form a plan in 2004-2008 when concern over a global influenza pandemic was high. The assumption in some cases was that “the schools will just close down.” Perhaps your business made the same assumption.
In 1918, the period of greatest infection from the Spanish Influenza lasted for over a year. That pandemic killed more persons in several “waves” than did the fighting in World War I. Because of the length of time a pandemic covers, schools, businesses and many critical organizations will not be able to simply suspend operations.
Pandemic planning for influenza and everyday improvements that fight absenteeism, reduce health insurance claims, and improve worker or tenant productivity and comfort both have elements in common.
Five Key Elements
1. BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION – Meet to teach employees and students about the cross-contamination cycle and how influenza and other diseases are transmitted. Then suggest behavior methods at work, school and home that will reduce the likelihood of spread. For example, review how coughing or sneezing into the crook of your arm stops much of the aerosol cloud created,Â and is less likely to contaminate your hands.
2. TREAT COMMON TOUCH POINTS, OR “FOMITES” – Some transmission of influenza is through sneezes and coughing. Some is passed through contact with surfaces. A sneeze into tissue, for example, often leaves hands contaminated. Those hands touching a door knob can leave flu virus. For “virulent” strains, microbial life can continue for moments or hours until picked up by one or more subsequent doorknob users. Then a rub of the eye or nose (both “portals of entry”) may transmit enough live virus to infect a second host.
Stopping transmission of influenza as well as many other diseases by treating common “fomites,” or places people commonly touch, can reduce disease spread significantly. Using the right control agent for the infection (check labeling and “efficacy sheets”), treat those common points in your school, office or facility that everyone uses. Make an application schedule and list the specific touchpoints your janitorial staff must address. Some recent products provide on-going (“residual”) effectiveness for hours after application, and many modern disinfection agents are non-toxic or low in toxicity. Read labels and data sheets when planning your approach.
3. HANDWASHING AND SANITIZING – These are very important steps (however, not the only steps to rely on). Having hand sanitizing stations in front of meeting rooms, at break-room and cafeteria entrances, at building entrances, in every classroom, and outside or just inside restrooms is a good start. Studies by groups such as Boston Children’s Hospital have shown combinations of frequent hand sanitizing and desktop disinfection in classrooms can cut absenteeism in a normal school year by over a third.
4. PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT – Not only cleaning personnel, but general building occupants may need increased “PPE” in an outbreak. Gloves, splash shields and even body suits may be needed for cleaning personnel. Face masks may be needed for general employees or students especially in small areas like meeting rooms. Specially-rated masks (N95) are available for this purpose. Masks not rated for stopping infectious agents may act as a barrier and provide some protection from aerosolized droplets. Authorities differ in opinion as to the effectiveness that has been demonstrated by mask use.
5. STOCK UP – During concerns in 2008 about H1N1, hand sanitizer was just one infection-fighting product that quickly became in short supply. By the time manufacturers caught up the following spring, much of the immediate concern had passed. The concept of stocking up for a pandemic also applies to other important business supplies. They should be addressed in your organization’s overall Pandemic Plan.
There is another advantage to having a Pandemic Cleaning Plan for your cleaning staff. When an outbreak does occur, whether global or local, your department will have clear documentation showing how you thought through the process of protecting health well in advance of need.
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