BSCs play a vital role in protecting the health of our indoor environments. As the primary stewards of a building’s cleanliness and safety, custodial workers are on the frontlines when it comes to battling the spread of infections. While in the past infection control was largely relegated to healthcare facilities, the much-publicized threat of illnesses, such as bird flu, swine flu, and MRSA, has caused an increased demand for more stringent cleaning practices in other built environments as well. What’s more, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that US workers miss up to 70 million days a year just due to the common cold—at a cost of some $8 million each year—so there is genuine cause for concern.
However, infection control can be a major undertaking, and it’s not practical for most BSCs to deliver hospital-grade cleaning services to all clients. That said, there are several practices that BSCs can adopt with relative ease and little expense that will significantly increase their level of infection control. By adopting these practices, you will not only help protect building occupants from harmful pathogens, but you can also help save your clients money from lowered rates of absenteeism.
To provide the best level of infection control, it helps to understand some key definitions. The process of “cleaning” removes dirt, germs, and other pollutants, yet cleaning doesn’t actually kill germs. However, by removing most germs, cleaning can dramatically lower their numbers and prevent the spread of infection. The process of killing germs is known as “disinfection” and involves the use of disinfectant chemicals. To properly disinfect a building’s indoor environment, BSCs should follow several guidelines:
• Carefully select EPA-registered disinfectants that target the specific pathogens, such as influenza A, you’re looking to eliminate.
• Thoroughly clean the surface before applying the disinfectant.
• Precisely follow the product’s label for proper dilution, application procedures, and contact/dwell times.
• Only use disinfectants on surfaces that are touched frequently by many people. These high-touch areas include door handles, stairway railings, elevator buttons, light switches, restroom fixtures, etc.
• Do not use disinfectants on large areas such as walls, floors, or ceilings.
• Do not mix disinfectants with any other cleaners, especially those containing ammonia, as this can cause a potentially fatal chemical reaction.
While BSCs can help prevent infections, they can also spread infections through cross-contamination. For example, you wouldn’t want to clean a faucet fixture with the same rag that was used to clean a toilet. To prevent cross-contamination, instead of using one cleaning cloth or mop head to clean an entire area, use new ones for each specific task. Tagging your cleaning equipment with different color codes can be an easy way to keep track of which ones are designated for certain tasks. Also, be sure to use fresh mixtures of cleaning solution, changing them at least once an hour, to prevent germs from thriving in the organic material that gets mixed in with the chemicals.
When it comes to preventing infection, a building’s occupants have a certain level of responsibility as well. That said, occupants mostly rely on the sanitary resources available in their building, so BSCs should make every effort to provide those resources whenever possible. To this end, BSCs can empower employees by taking actions, such as placing hand sanitizer stations throughout the building, installing motion sensor dispensers and fixtures, providing occupants with disinfectant wipes, and placing no-touch wastebaskets in easy-to-access locations. With such equipment available, infection control becomes a true team effort.
Develop and implement cleaning standards
In order to streamline your infection control practices and ensure they are correctly implemented, BSCs should develop a clear set of cleaning standards related to infection control. Such standards should include guidelines on the proper sequencing of cleaning steps, the appropriate cleaning chemicals/materials to use, the proper use of personal safety equipment, the frequency of disinfection, etc. Train new and existing staff on these standards and follow up with in-service training updates on an annual basis. Since different types of facilities will require different levels of cleaning and disinfection, offer site-specific training focusing on standards for the facilities where workers will be assigned. Finally, clearly post specific cleaning/disinfection procedures at each site where they can be easily referenced by staff.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.org), Green Seal (greenseal. org), World Federation of Building Service Contractor’s Cleaning for Health Report 2012- 2013 (www.cleaning-for-health.org).