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How to Clean to Stop the Flu Virus [with INFOGRAPHIC]

$9 billion: That’s the number experts predict this year’s flu season will cost employers in lost productivity, according to the Denver Post. While many employers are asking employees to stay home if they experience symptoms, this strain is particularly aggressive and lasts longer than strains we’ve experienced in the past—affected individuals can be contagious for up to seven days.

When it comes to dealing with the virus in the workplace, one of the biggest issues is that most workers are reluctant to take that much time off work—if any. In fact, an annual survey by Staples shows that nearly 80 percent of workers admit to coming into work when they’re sick. They fear falling behind and missing out on a promotion, or they simply can’t afford to take the time off, leading to “presenteeism” — something 67 percent of employers say is even worse for business than an employee who stays home.

So what does that mean for employers? Workplaces can quickly become a breeding ground for the spread of the virus, often through common surfaces or “fomites.” The Centers for Disease Control suggests that one of the most important things an employer can do is to maintain a clean environment—a critical step not enough businesses follow. But cleaning has long been key to stopping the spread of viruses and disease; it was Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the founder of modern nursing, who provided our initial understanding of the importance of cleaning to manage disease.

From the perspective of a cleaning professional, you might hear questions about how your employees clean, what they clean and how often they are cleaning.  Here are a few steps you should keep in mind as you develop a cleaning program to combat the spread of the flu (or any virus) in your workplace:

1. Communicate with business owners, property managers and/or other individuals responsible for health and wellness. Be prepared to discuss your current responsibilities and set expectations for what your department can and cannot do when it comes to cleaning. If you need additional budget to perform additional cleaning tasks or purchase inventory, let them know.

2. Conduct a staff inservice. While it might not seem like a priority during a busy period, good training is critical to effective execution. You can’t just hand a custodian a cloth and tell them to clean more often — cleaning workers must thoroughly understand the virus and requirements for disinfection. This includes basic principles such as the routes of transmission, dwell time and hand washing protocols. This training will help reinforce proper cleaning principles, allowing time for cleaning agents to work and effectively killing the virus as employees clean surfaces throughout the building. In addition to written instruction, training should include vivid illustrations (for those with reading difficulties) and hands-on training in handwashing, personal protective equipment and proper disinfection methods. Our Microbiology for Cleaning Workers can be an effective guide for you.

Training should include vivid illustrations for custodians with reading difficulties.

3. Increase cleaning frequencies. Depending on the size of your building(s) and the type of your operation (e.g. in-house department versus contract), one of the easiest things you can do to limit the spread of the flu is to increase cleaning frequencies. If your department typically cleans in the evening after the building is vacated, you can assign a day porter who is responsible for cleaning fomites, or high-touch areas throughout the building. These cleaning frequencies should be adjusted based on building occupancy, traffic and severity of the outbreak. For example, a restroom in an emergency room requires much more frequent cleaning than a restroom in a private office building.

4. Focus on fomites! Identify the most commonly touched areas in the building and make sure these surfaces are cleaned and disinfected regularly. Such surfaces might include door handles, light switches, telephones, microwave buttons, conference room tables and vending machines. We’ve developed an infographic you can download and print to share with cleaning workers and building occupants to help keep common fomites top of mind.

5. Emphasize hand hygiene. We’ve all heard that we’re supposed to say the “ABCs” or sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice while we’re washing our hands, but how many people really do it? During a flu outbreak, it’s critical to remind both cleaning workers and building occupants of the importance of hand washing. The CDC offers several downloadable signs you can place around your building as a friendly reminder. We also have a user-friendly hand washing coloring book for kids ages eight to 80-plus.

6. Prepare for what could come next. Leaders from the CDC recently reported that the flu season is “probably peaking” right now, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared if it takes a turn for the worse. As we highlighted in this post about pandemic preparedness, a playbook that identifies key responsibilities within your department and action plans for people to fill-in should custodial staff become ill. If you don’t have a playbook ready, we’ve got you covered.

The key is to be ready for whatever could come your way.

 

Experts Warn That a Global Pandemic is Around the Corner, but are Cleaning Departments Ready?

The cover of this week’s Time Magazine will likely to grab your attention.

In the article, “The World is Not Ready for the Next Pandemic,” journalist Bryan Walsh chronicles the latest pandemic percolating across China—a new strain of the bird flu called H7N9. While it “mostly” affects poultry, the virus has jumped to humans, resulting in pneumonia (88 percent) and the death (41 percent) of its approximately 1,500 victims.

Experts say that the virus can only be transmitted from poultry to humans at this point, but that’s likely to change. The potential for the virus to evolve and become transmittable between humans is so great that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranks H7N9 as the flu strain with the greatest potential to cause a pandemic.

The author notes:

And while a mutant bug that moves from chickens in China to humans in cities around the world may seem like something out of a Hollywood script, the danger the world faces from H7N9–and countless other pathogens with the potential to cause enormous harm–isn’t science fiction. Rather, it’s the highly plausible nightmare scenario that should be keeping the President up at night.

Scary stuff. But it’s even scarier for custodial workers who will be on the front lines of the battle, should the virus evolve. While we can’t know exactly how, when or even if it will spread, there’s a good chance that if it’s not H7N9, another virus will come along that will threaten our health and security.

This isn’t the first time that custodial workers have been challenged with the important job of preventing the spread of infection outside of healthcare facilities. It happened in 2009 with the H1N1 (Swine Flu) outbreak, in 2014 with the Ebola outbreak—it happens each year during cold and flu season.

Because many viruses can live on hard surfaces for several hours, it can spread “like crazy” between unknowing building occupants. That’s why effective cleaning and disinfection is an essential step to keep high-touch fomites, such as door handles and light switches, free of these viruses. That’s why planning to systematically address cleaning operations in an emergency situation like a pandemic is essential.

If you’re even peripherally associated with the cleaning responsibilities in your business, now is the time to start asking questions about how cleaning will be handled during an outbreak or pandemic situation. Is the custodial staff in your facility equipped with the right tools and knowledge to clean during an outbreak situation?

To help custodial teams prepare, we’ve identified the essential components of an effective pandemic preparedness plan. Your pandemic preparedness plan should include:

  1. A Playbook. Custodial teams must have a clearly defined action plan for how to respond in an emergency situation. This playbook will offer different scenarios and action plans depending on the virus at hand. In addition to instructions, the playbook should also include emergency contact numbers for key individuals in the building, suppliers and staff.
  2. Ongoing training for custodial workers. Even before an outbreak occurs, cleaning workers need to have a clear understanding of their responsibilities in an emergency situation. Training should include the following:
    1.  A disinfectant overview: The curriculum should include a primer on the specific viruses the disinfectants are designed to kill and the amount of dwell time required for the virus to be effective. You can’t just spray a disinfectant on a surface and immediately wipe it clean—this will make it completely ineffective. Workers need to understand what to use and how to use it.
    2. Steps for protecting workers: When custodial workers know and understand the risks, they will be more likely to take precautionary measures. This includes donning specific personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks or gloves.
    3. Action plans: Custodial personnel should have a clear understanding of their responsibilities during an outbreak situation. Using a systematic approach to cleaning is an essential step in making sure that surfaces are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
  3. Plans for inventory supply shortages. Supply shortages of commonly used items such as PPE, chemicals, tissues and hand sanitizer are likely to occur during an outbreak situation, so make plans for how to address shortages or stockpile items accordingly.
  4. Signage. Effective handwashing is key to eliminating potential pathogen encounters. Place signage around the building to remind building occupants to regularly wash their hands to reduce the opportunity for the virus to spread. Signage can also be used to remind custodial workers of their responsibilities, or  encourage building occupants to assist with cleaning efforts in their personal workspace.

Custodial workers play a key role in protecting the health and safety of building occupants on a daily basis, but even more so in an outbreak situation. Preparing them with the knowledge and tools they need will go a long way in stopping the spread of an infection.