Over the past ten years, we’ve had several health scares around the world. For instance, SARS started in Hong Kong, spread to many corners of the world, and resulted in more than 8,000 people losing their lives. The H1N1 virus developed in 2009 and by the time it had run its course, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there were more than 60 million cases, about 274,304 hospitalization,; and nearly 12,500 deaths. And in recent years, we have to deal with Ebola and today, the Zika virus.
In all these situations, cleaning professionals have been and will continue to be on the front lines, helping to minimize the spread of these pandemics. And we can pretty well count on it that if and when another pandemic occurs, we will be called in and at the front lines once again.
However, what we realize now, especially in regards to the SARS pandemic, is that often too many cleaning solutions and too many powerful cleaning solutions were used to stop the spread of the disease. A lot of this was panic driven. To help prevent this reaction in the future, cleaning professionals should be aware that there is a different tack they can take to address another public health scare. We can refer to this as a Green Infection Prevention program.
Among the steps such a program would include are the following:
Getting the facts. To prevent another panic, always turn to credible sources for information about public health concerns. One of the most reliable is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Establishing a chain of command. Another way to avoid a panic is to ensure that one person is responsible for staying informed regarding the public health concern and for instructing and implementing the response to it. This will involve what cleaning solutions to use, how to use them, and what protective clothing cleaning workers should wear in an emergency, such as gloves and protective eye gear.*
Understanding the cleaning solutions we choose. While we use them every day, we may not be exactly sure what we can expect from the many different solutions we clean with. An all-purpose cleaner, for instance, is designed just to remove soils from a surface. It does not sanitize or disinfect the surface.
Increasing touch-point cleaning. One of the lessons we learned from SARS is just how many surfaces—touch-points—people touch in a facility just about every day. In addition to what we usually think of, such as light switches and doorknobs, we can add elevator buttons, vending machine controls, remote control devices, railings, copy and fax machine controls, straps and railings on public transportation, ATM screens and keypads, coffeepot handles . . . The list goes on and on, and each of these surfaces should be cleaned.
Cleaning in stages. In a health scare, there are typically three stages that impact cleaning. The first stage is when there is the potential for a public health concern in a community. The second stage is when there is a public health scare in a community, and the third stage, the most critical stage, is when the pathogen is infecting a specific property or properties. At each stage, cleaning frequencies are increased, and at stage two, sanitizers and disinfectants are introduced.
Sanitizers and Disinfectants
There is no question that sanitizers and disinfectants are necessary in a stage two or three alert. What we need to realize is that these are very powerful cleaning solutions and, in the United States, currently there are no EPA-registered disinfectants certified as Green. Because of this, we need to take the following precautions:
EPA Registered: Make sure the disinfectant is designed to kill the specific pathogens causing the health concern. These will be spelled out on the products label.
Understand the label: Check if cleaning personnel read and understand the label instructions including dilution rates and surface dwell time to maximize product efficacy.
Concentrates: Use portion control systems with concentrated disinfectants. This will help reduce environmental impacts and cost.
Color coding: Implement a color-coding system for all cleaning tools such as mops, sponges and cloths to reduce the potential for spreading soils and pathogens.
All of these measures are key to a Green Infection Prevention plan. But if I could single out the most important, it is to not panic. When we panic, we make mistakes, and when it comes to cleaning, especially during a public health emergency, there’s no room for mistakes.
*Some viruses and diseases can spread via transmission to the eye.