Cleaning Conversations: Jeff Hawkins, Provo City School District

Approximately 70-75 percent of the custodial team at Provo City School District is comprised of students, so when schools closed in the spring, that left Jeff Hawkins and his team with a massive staffing shortage. With all hands on deck, staff from other departments pitched in to learn the (OS1) System and clean schools.

With so much of the current conversation focused around disinfection, Jeff talks about how the (OS1) System has prepared them for executing cleaning during a pandemic situation, so his team has the training, tools and program to keep students, teachers and staff safe.

Cleaning Classrooms Safely: A Teacher’s Checklist [with infographic]

With the topic of reopening schools leading many conversations right now, we’ve had a lot of questions about how teachers and administrators can work with custodial teams to make sure classrooms and common areas to limit the potential for COVID to spread on hard surfaces.* 

Tips for helping teachers keep classrooms clean and safe.

Whether you work in a school or know a student who will be returning to the classroom this fall, these steps can help teachers keep classrooms clean and safe:

  1. Clean, then disinfect. Kids make messes. And with calls for students to eat lunch in the classroom, those messes will only increase. It’s important to know that in order for a disinfectant to work, you must first clean the surface to remove any foreign substances or barriers and then apply the disinfectant.  
  2. Focus on touch points. Little hands are constantly touching, but what are some of the most often touched surfaces within your classroom? Faucet handles, chair backs, keyboards, door handles and desks are all items that should be disinfected throughout the day to limit the opportunity for virus spread.
  3. Follow label instructions. Just like teachers need time after a long day, disinfectants also need time to sit and dwell in order to work effectively. How much time is indicated on the back of the bottle and can range between 2 to 10 minutes. 
  4. Launder cleaning cloths regularly. Disposable wipes are hard to find right now, so a lot of teachers will be using donated disinfectant sprays or spray from the custodial team. If using your own cleaning cloths, make sure to use a fresh cloth each day to avoid cross contamination.
  5. Safely store cleaning chemicals. Make sure curious hands don’t find cleaning chemicals and be sure to lock all disinfectant supplies in a secure area.
  6. Use bleach in a pinch. With wipes and ready-to-use disinfectants in short supply, the CDC recommends using a diluted bleach solution to disinfect appropriate hard surfaces. To make a solution, mix 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of room temperature water OR 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of room temperature water.
  7. Clear desks and tables nightly. Stack books, papers and supplies on desks to keep tables and other surfaces clear for custodial teams to disinfect in the evenings. A lot of custodial teams will be working with limited resources, so every little bit helps.

* As the CDC notes, hard surface transmission is not thought to be the primary way the virus spreads, but recommends several cleaning and disinfection protocols to maintain healthy environments. These tips are designed to supplement regular cleanings performed by custodial teams in a school. Clean schools are critical for learning both now and once the pandemic is over. 

The Case Against Spraying Disinfectant Everywhere

Raise your hand if you’ve seen a picture of a heavily suited worker spraying what’s assumed to be disinfectant on sidewalks and streets in the past four months.

It looks something like this:

For cleaning professionals, this image might be somewhat alarming. Mostly because it demonstrates what we already know—that the majority of people throughout the world have limited understanding of the science of cleaning. 

Yet, when the general public sees images like this, they assume it’s what’s required to protect them from COVID-19. 

This gap in knowledge has led to widespread use (misuse?) of chemical disinfectants. Unnecessary use of cleaning chemicals generates waste, cost and can lead to injury to both the people applying the disinfectants and the individuals in the buildings being cleaned in the wake of the current pandemic. 

In short, spraying disinfectant everywhere—throughout schools, daycare centers, offices, hotels and restaurants—is a bad idea. 

Let us explain. 

A Health & Safety Issue

If it were just a few images circulating that misrepresent what’s truly needed to stop COVID-19 in its tracks, that’d be one thing, but the lack of education around proper disinfection practices is leading to injuries. 

One recent report found that at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California, guards were “rampantly spraying [disinfectants]… every 15-30 minutes around housing units. The sprayed chemicals are coming into contact with individuals’ eyes, noses, mouths, skin, clothing, bedding, food and drinking water, on an ongoing basis.” 

From headaches and nausea too painful blistering of the skin and swollen eyes, noses and throats, detainees housed in these areas experienced a variety of physical reactions from the misuse of the disinfectants. 

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. In April, the CDC reported that calls to poison control hotlines for cases involving cleaners and disinfectants rose significantly over the previous two years. 

Insurance Journal magazine recently reports that in an average business, disinfectant overuse can impact up to 10 percent of people. 

“Asthmatics, migraine sufferers, those with allergies or immune disorders or suppressed immune systems may experience symptoms [resulting from disinfectant exposure] such as memory loss, trouble concentrating, mood swings, irritability, headaches, seizures, nausea and vomiting,” said Dr. Claudia Miller, an immunologist, allergist and co-author of Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes.

While there’s cause for concern, it’s important to recognize that disinfecting is important when it’s done properly using tested application methods. In pictures such as that shown above, spraying and fogging technology is used. However, emerging research has shown that these methods may not offer the efficacy of more traditional spray and wipe methods. As such, use of these methods should be reconsidered until additional testing is conducted. 

Citing ineffectiveness and health concerns, the World Health Organization recently recommended against the use of spraying or fogging disinfectants for use against COVID-19. In their guidance document, they wrote:

“In indoor spaces, routine application of disinfectants to environmental surfaces by spraying or fogging (also known as fumigation or misting) is not recommended for COVID-19… spraying disinfectants can result in risks to the eyes, respiratory or skin irritation and the resulting health effects. Spraying or fogging of certain chemicals, such as formaldehyde, chlorine-based agents or quaternary ammonium compounds, is not recommended due to adverse health effects on workers in facilities where these methods have been utilized.”

Similarly, the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) has also advocated against fogging and misting, in their recent recommendation, “Guidance for Decontamination of the Built Environment: Cleaning, Disinfection, Worker Protection and Post Cleaning and Remediation Assessment.”

Old Problem, Renewed Awareness

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a chemical handling issue on our hands. This post and infographic from a few years ago offers some important data around chemical accidents and injuries to workers. In pre-pandemic days, cleaning workers were experiencing an estimated 83,000  injuries from cleaning chemicals each year. Cleaning chemicals are a regular culprit in poor indoor air quality findings. 

But as businesses across the country begin the process of reopening, communication and  education around cleaning, cleaning science and cleaning for health is more critical than ever. Science must continue to drive our best practices, which we should regularly benchmark with other organizations and communicate with building owners and occupants. Cleaning workers not only tools to do the job, they need the education, training and personal protective equipment to use those tools effectively.

Here are five important things to remember when disinfecting any space, for COVID-19 or otherwise. Intensive disinfection efforts must be:

1) Conducted only after surfaces have been thoroughly cleaned.

2) Performed by trained staff.

3) Accompanied with the proper personal protective equipment.

4) Conducted in well-ventilated areas. 

5) Coupled with other mitigation strategies, such as social distancing and regular hand washing. 

If you use a systematic, engineered approach to cleaning like (OS1), there won’t be a need to spray disinfectant everywhere. And remember, effective cleaning contributes to a healthy indoor environment; it doesn’t pose additional health risks. 

What an Amazing Time to Be in Our Industry

You know the adage “hindsight is 2020”? I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. Ultimately, the saying speaks to the fact that it’s easy to see what the right thing to do was after an event happens, but difficult to predict the future. 

When we get to the other side of this pandemic and are five or 10 years in the future, what will the events of 2020 look like? Will the industry effectively have captured its moment, helping the public understand the critical role that cleaning plays in protecting public health? 

When people go back to work, will they start to look at the person cleaning the restroom or mopping their office lobby in the eye and possibly even say “thank you”?

When budgets are cut due to funding shortfalls, will cleaning be one of the last departments to feel the pinch, because there’s an understanding that cleaning is essential to helping stop the spread of deadly viruses?

Forced to show that they’re cleaning and not polluting the indoor environment, will more custodial teams put key performance indicators in place and do a better of measuring their efforts and possibly benchmarking them against other programs as we do in (OS1)?

Will janitors and custodians finally drop off the list of occupations with the most injuries, because there’s greater value for the work they perform and a desire to help people work more safely?

From custodial directors to distributor sales representatives, janitors to equipment salesman—when someone asks what we do for a living, will we proudly recognize our affiliation with the cleaning industry? 

Will hindsight truly be 2020?

From the Frontlines: Michigan State University

Keeping academics, students and faculty safe has always been a priority for Brandon Baswell and the custodial team at Michigan State University, but the coronavirus and COVID-19 have definitely impacted the way they clean, train, staff and budget. Brandon shares some excellent insights on what’s happening now, and how they’re planning for the fall, in our second episode of Cleaning Conversations. 

“You can’t do ANYTHING if you don’t have a clean and healthy environment.”

Brandon Baswell, Michigan State University

From the Frontlines: Los Angeles Habilitation House Talks (OS1) and Cleaning for COVID-19

There’s no shortage of information and news available related to COVID-19 and steps individuals can take to reduce its spread through actions like hand washing, social distancing and wearing masks.

As businesses begin to reopen, we will be talking to the cleaning teams who have been on the frontlines throughout the early weeks of the pandemic. What challenges have they faced and how are they changing their approaches to accommodate both teams and their clients?

Our friends Nancy Albin and Guido Piccarolo from Los Angeles Habilitation House discuss how the (OS1) System prepared them for the current pandemic and the changing perception of the importance of cleaning in maintaining the health of people in a building.

Protecting Custodial Workers: What Every New Cleaning Worker Needs to Know

Long before COVID-19 infected patient zero, a large percentage of the 3.25 million cleaning workers in the U.S. received little job training. In some circles, the assumption is that most people know how to clean, so the absence of training might not seem like a big deal. Individuals in these groups treat it as an inherent skillset that people are either born with or learn at an early age. 

But the thing is, not everyone just “knows” how to clean. As a recent survey showed, the majority of Americans aren’t disinfecting properly. And the processes you would use to clean a building are different than how you would clean your home or apartment.

There are many issues with the lack of occupational training in the cleaning industry, but a primary issues is the increased risk and exposure to workers. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that cleaning workers suffer the second highest rates of job-related injuries of any occupation—injuries heavy lifting, overexertion, chemical exposure and slips and falls are most common.

Reducing Risks to Cleaning Workers Now and After the Pandemic

When it comes to COVID-19, cleaning and disinfection is essential in stopping the spread of the disease. Aside from person-to-person spread, COVID-19 spreads when a person comes into contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. So when businesses slowly begin to open again over the next few months, all eyes will be on cleaning workers. Regular, systematic cleaning and disinfection will be key to controlling the spread of the virus and limiting the additional waves of the pandemic. 

For these individuals to clean—and to not pollute the surfaces and buildings they are meant to protect—they need training. They also need training to protect themselves. 

During this period, we can expect to see a swell of new cleaning service providers. Many people who have been displaced from current jobs in the hospitality or foodservice industries may find themselves working in a position where they’re being asked to clean in a commercial environment for the first time. 

We’ve seen way too many headlines highlighting cleaning workers who are concerned because they don’t understand the routes of transmission or how they could become infected. Too many people who are asked to use new disinfectants and don’t have training to do so. Too many people who aren’t equipped with the right personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect their hands and faces from exposure. 

We need to reverse this trend and make sure ALL cleaning workers have the knowledge and training they need to clean safely and protect themselves.

If you’re new to cleaning, we’ve pulled together a checklist of things you should know before you start working.

This is not meant to replace any existing training programs, but rather serve as a supplement. Our hope is to help provide a resource for those individuals who may not receive any training from their employers. If that’s you, we’re here for you. Please feel free to reach out with any questions about what you can do to protect yourself during this time.

6 Easy Ways to Prevent Accidents from Cleaning Chemicals

After last week’s incident at a Buffalo Wild Wings when a young manager died following exposure to toxic fumes from a floor cleaner, we’ve received several calls and emails from organizations looking to prevent a similar situation from happening in their own businesses. 

Updates from the original story show that the manager died and at least 13 other individuals in the restaurant became sick after two cleaning products — Super 8 and Scale Kleen — were “accidentally” mixed.

As most cleaning professionals know, mixing bleaches and acids is a no-no, as bleach contains sodium hypochlorite, it can create a dangerous—and sometimes fatal — chlorine gas. 

In this incident, Scale Kleen, an acid based solution, was applied to the floor. Later, Super 8 was applied to the floor which mixed with the Scale Clean creating a reaction that “turned green and started to bubble,” the local fire chief told NBC. The resulting fumes killed the manager who tried to squeegee the substance from the floor and sickened others in the vicinity.

While some have called for less “dangerous” chemicals to be used in commercial settings, we need to do a better job of training the people who use cleaning chemicals. Why? Because incidents like this can happen with household cleaning products. Even the most basic things can cause issues. Bleach (sodium hypochlorite), Ammonia (glass cleaner) and Peroxide (used as an alternative to a disinfectant) can cause reactions that damage surfaces —or even worse—death.

One of the most common OSHA violations is the lack of worker training and understanding on common SDS symbols.

Here are six easy ways to minimize chemical accidents such as these:

  1. Never mix chemicals. Need we say more? 
  2. Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when using any hazardous substances. This includes gloves, goggles, boots, face shields, aprons and any other material that can protect the user’s hands, eyes, face and skin from contact with the chemical. The PPE should be made of material specifically designed to resist penetration by the particular chemical being used.
  3. Read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS). In addition to listing the name, toxicity and hazard, the SDS also provides critical information about the chemical’s composition and physical characteristics. OSHA requires this information be available for employees to read and understand. 
  4. Follow instructions. Manufacturers include specific instructions for use of cleaning chemicals, which includes dilution ratios and where the product can safely be used. Read and take the time to understand these instructions before using any cleaning product.
  5. Use ventilation. The ongoing circulation of fresh air is critical in keeping concentration diluted and within safe usage levels. 
  6. Conduct ongoing training. Training—and the documentation of training—is critical when it comes to making sure workers safely handle cleaning chemicals. From online to classroom style training, there are a variety of resources to educate workers on how to properly handle cleaning chemicals.

When Benjamin Franklin made the famous statement, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” in 1736, he was encouraging the citizens of Philadelphia to be vigilant about fire awareness and prevention. 

He encouraged the formation of a brigade specially trained to fight fires, which led to the formation of the Union Fire Company later that year. He also urged that chimney sweeps should be licensed by the city and be responsible for their work. 

Thanks to his advocacy, Philadelphia became one of the city’s safest from fire damage. 

It is our hope that even today—almost 300 years later—we can look to the wisdom offered in Franklin’s axiom to prevent future chemical accidents from occurring, improving the safety of everyone who handles cleaning chemicals. Taking steps now to prevent an accident from occurring could quite possibly save a life.

How to Prepare for a Bad Flu Season with a Good Disinfection Program

So—do you want the good news or bad news first?

Bad news: Early reports show that this year’s flu season is not looking so good. There’s a particular strain—H3N2—which is said to be more severe.

Good news: With proper disinfection, cleaning teams can have a substantial impact on stopping the spread of the virus.

A few months ago, we talked about the “Hygiene Hypothesis” and how there’s no such thing as being too clean. Proper cleaning—and disinfection— is critical to preventing the spread of viruses and diseases outlined in that post. 

But contrary to popular practice, disinfecting is about so much more than just misting an area and wiping it down several minutes later. In most non-critical environments, low-level and intermediate disinfection will do. Summary: HOW people clean is much more critical than WHAT they use to clean.

As we head into cold and flu season, now is a good time to refresh these basic principles of disinfectants with your team to make sure they work as intended:

  1. Consider the Tools: It may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re cleaning to disinfect an area, you can’t use dirty tools. the tools you use can’t be dirty. And we’re not talking just “I can’t see dirt, so it must be clean” — freshly laundered cleaning cloths, mops and brushes must be used in order to prevent poor disinfection. Once the surface of the cloth has been used, fold it over to expose a clean side before wiping again.
  2. Follow Specified Dilution Ratios: We’ve all heard about the dangers of the “glug, glug” method where cleaners loosely follow dilution ratios by adding a “glug” of disinfectant to a few “glugs” of water. In some instances, cleaners may think that adding more disinfectant than called for is better.  This approach is not only be dangerous to the cleaner, it can result in  sticky or heavily soiled surfaces – which actually can become an even bigger breeding ground for pathogens . Always follow manufacturers’ directions when preparing  a disinfectant. 
  3. Clean, and Then Disinfect: If soil is present on a surface, it can cut down on the germicidal capabilities of a disinfectant. Use a one-step procedure to enable disinfectant cleaners achieve peak performance.
  4. Use Friction—and a Little Elbow Grease: According to the CDC, friction (e.g. scrubbing a hard surface with a brush) is an “old and dependable method for disinfecting hard surface. We’d go a step further and say it’s the most important component of a surface disinfection program. Cleaners should also put a little muscle into cleaning, as bacteria can mix with film and dirt on surfaces. When these are not removed, bacteria can also be left behind. 
  5. Wipe in ONE direction. Try sprinkling some flour on a tabletop and wiping it in a circular motion with a slightly damp cloth. What happens? The flour just spreads around the table. When you wipe in a singular direction and continue to expose a clean surface, you are able to move toward the edge of the table and remove bacteria more effectively.
  6. Change Solutions Frequently: As a best practice, cleaners should use a two-sided mop bucket system. To ensure cleaners regularly change disinfectant solutions, set a hard rule on frequencies (e.g. change solution once every five rooms). 
  7. Return Tools for Cleaning: After any disinfection occurs, it’s important to establish a protocol for cleaning equipment at the end of their shift so tools can be cleaned and dried. Mop heads should be returned to a designated barrel so they can be taken to a laundry and cleaned. Before each use, make sure mops are completely  dry. Bacteria are not destroyed by laundry chemicals, but by  the hot air of drying. Even slightly  damp mops will harbor dangerous bacteria. The same holds true for squeegees or any other tools used in the cleaning process—make sure they are properly cleaned and inspected for tears, which can create places for bacteria to hide. 

Always remember: the best disinfectant is a clean, dry surface.

For more information on disinfection, sanitization and best practices for cleaning, check out our book “Microbiology for Cleaning Workers Simplified” in the ManageMen store. 

Is There Such a Thing as “Too Clean”?

A report released earlier this week by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), a London-based independent, multi-disciplinary charity dedicated to the improvement of the public’s health and wellbeing, affirmed that the there is no such thing as being “too clean.” According to an article in the Telegraph, the report came after organizers of a prominent festival encouraged attendees to conduct “strip washes” rather than take full showers in order to reduce the environmental impact of the festival. 

So, is there such a thing as being “too clean”? A lot of this goes back to the British epidemiologist David Strachan, who, in the late 1980s, developed what was called the “Hygiene Hypothesis.” His hypothesis suggested that exposure to infections during childhood would amplify defenses against allergies as the child grew older. In short, the dirtier the environment growing up, the better chance the child stood later in life to ward off allergies. 

It’s easy to see why there’s some pushback—the business of “clean” is a booming industry. The most recent data available forecasts that the household cleaning products generates more than $61 billion each year. We’re continually being sold on hand sanitizers and all-in-one products that promise to “kill 99.9% of germs and bacteria.” 

While some see that as more of a marketing strategy than reality, readers of this blog know that cleaning — and hygiene — are critical to controlling the spread of dirt, bacteria and infectious diseases.

Professor Sally Bloomfield, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that much confusion exists as to the difference between cleaning and hygiene—cleaning your hands after touching a dog or pet is different than cleaning out the pet’s living areas.

“Whereas cleaning means removing dirt and microbes, hygiene means cleaning in the places and times that matter—in the right way—to break the chain of infection whilst preparing food, using the toilet, etc.”

Professor Sally Bloomfield, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

So is there such a thing as “too clean?” The answer is no—the reality is quite the opposite. The absence of thorough and proper cleaning can have catastrophic results under the right conditions.

According to the World Health Organization, infectious diseases kill more than 17 million people a year. And the Texas Biomedical Research Institute reports that 30 new diseases have emerged in the last 20 years. 

So not only is the act of cleaning important, but HOW we clean and disinfect is equally as important in helping improve health outcomes for both cleaning workers and building occupants. There are different levels of cleanliness, and it when it comes to protecting people who live, work and visit buildings, one cannot be “too clean.” 

We’ll dig more into the importance of microbiology training for cleaning workers in our next post, but for now, here are the 27 of the Most Common Diseases Related to Cleaning:

Amebiasis

Botulism

Campylobacter

Chickenpox

Cholera

Cryptosporidiosis

Diphtheria

E.Coli

Hantavirus

Hepatitis

HIV/AIDS

Influenza

Legionellosis

Malaria

Measles

Meningitis

Meningococcal

Pertussis

Plague

Polio

Tuberculosis

Rotavirus

Rubella

Salmonellosis

Staph/MRSA

Streptocucucua

Typhoid Fever

Want to learn more about training workers on microbiology fundamentals? Check out our comprehensive reference guide “Microbiology for Cleaning Workers Simplified” by John Walker and Jeffery Campbell, Ph.D. 

Further Reading: If you’re interested in how cleaning has shaped modern culture, you might want to check out “Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Cleanliness” by Suellen Hoy.