silhouette of a person mopping a floor with text Cleaning Conversations: Perspectives from the people who keep our buildings clean James Peel, Texas Tech University

Cleaning Conversations: James Peel, Texas Tech University

Looking for a way to schedule cleaning workers at Texas Tech University (TTU), James Peel reached out to the University of Texas at Austin to learn about (OS1), the System they follow for cleaning processes and measurement. They invited him down to see (OS1) at work and James jumped in the car with a few others on his management team.

It didn’t take long to see what the hype was all about—when James and his team saw UT’s custodians line up to receive their daily supply kits and keys to the areas they were assigned, they were sold on (OS1).

That was in 2019, and despite the challenges of the pandemic, Peel has continued leading the custodial team through the (OS1) transition process. They’ve held socially distanced boot camps, multiple workloading sessions (which, he says are his favorite) and inspired dozens of employees with a renewed passion for cleaning and a commitment to providing healthy buildings for students, faculty and staff. We talk to James about this process and more, during this episode of Cleaning Conversations.

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.

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?

Stopping the Spread of Infection: The Business Case for Standardizing Your Cleaning Programs

This year, the flu has already killed more than 10,000 people in the U.S. and hospitalized more than 180,000 others, according to early reports from the CDC. It started early and aggressively—affecting an estimated 19 million people across the country—and shows few signs of slowing down. 

With the threat of another virus—a potential pandemic—at our doorstep, more people are starting to talk about cleaning and disinfection, which is great! We like people talking about cleaning.

Looking for info on what to do and how to clean during an outbreak? We’ve got you covered: Check out this post for information and an infographic on how to clean to stop the flu.

The thing is, outside of encouraging building occupants to stay home when they’re sick and regularly wash their hands, cleaning and disinfection of surfaces throughout a building is an essential step in controlling the spread of a virus.

That’s why when a school closes because of a flu virus, custodial crews are called to thoroughly clean and disinfect the building before students return. However, without a standardized cleaning program in place, how cleaners approach this task can leave a lot of surfaces untouched.

Money Matters: How the Spread of Viruses Affects Business

In the past week, we’ve started to see the markets react to the coronavirus. The Chinese market just saw its biggest daily drop in more than four years. That’s because when people are sick and can’t come to work, business slows. 

A report published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health last year looked at the best ways to effectively stop the spread of infection in an office building.

A few key findings from the report: 

  • “Viral illnesses have a significant direct and indirect impact on the workplace that burdens employers with increased healthcare costs, low productivity, and absenteeism.”
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces on fomites leads to an average reduction in the concentration of a virus by 85 percent. 
  • In the United States, both influenza and non-influenza acute respiratory infections result in an annual economic burden of $87 billion and $40 billion respectively, although this may be underestimated (Fendrick et al., 2003; Molinari et al., 2007). 
  • “Although annual vaccination can help reduce influenza outbreaks, vaccines are not developed for many other pathogens, such as norovirus (Fiore et al., 2010). Therefore, the best defense for disease prevention is public health hygiene and sanitation interventions, such as the use of hand sanitizers, surface disinfectants, and behavior modification (Leon et al., 2008; Reynolds et al., 2016).”

That last point is critical. Stated simply, authors found that one of the best ways to prevent the spread of pathogens throughout a building is to step up your cleaning programs. 

Standardized Cleaning Programs Make Good Business Sense

In one of his recent articles for Facility Cleaning Decisions, Ben talked about the benefits of standardization. He shared how a standardized cleaning program eliminates waste. How it more evenly distributes workloads and promotes safety for cleaning workers and building occupants. He talked about how it creates progress and generates data. 

A standardized cleaning program is a best practice, because it promotes best practices. It makes sure that all surfaces get cleaned, because there’s a system in place for cleaning them. 

Of the reported 50 percent of a custodial manager’s budget that is labor, it offers a delivery system for the work performed. Rather than focusing on fires, it sets daily frequencies, tools and routes to not only remove dirt, but stop the chain of infection.

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Almost two years ago, Time Magazine published an article about how the world wasn’t ready for the next pandemic. But as many facilities work to stop the spread of the flu virus, one thing is evident: We need better cleaning systems. 

It’s not just essential for promoting the health of building occupants, but the vitality of our country’s businesses and markets. And because the coronavirus isn’t the last outbreak that we’ll experience, a standardized cleaning program will be an essential risk management strategy for businesses moving forward.