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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. 


It’s Flu Season: Please Protect Your Cleaners

Last year’s flu season claimed the lives of 80,000 people, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, making it the deadliest season on record in more than four decades. Last year’s flu season was unique in that the virus didn’t remain isolated in a particular area of the country. A CDC spokesperson shared that for three consecutive weeks, “the entire continental US was affected by the flu at a very high level.”

November typically marks the start of flu season, so runny noses are already starting to fill classrooms, offices, hotel rooms and cafeterias everywhere. A few months ago, we shared information about how to clean to stop the spread of the flu virus, but it’s equally important to protect the people at the front line of flu prevention: your custodial staff. A kitchen staff wouldn’t come to work on a busy night without tools like gloves and knives, so your cleaning staff should be equally prepared when it comes to cleaning during flu season.

Here are seven easy ways that you as a custodial professional can make sure your team is protected:

  1. Make flu shots easy and accessible. Depending on the business type, a nurse may already be available onsite to administer flu shots to custodial personnel, but most times this is not the case. Make it easy for workers to get their flu shots by providing them with a list of nearby locations where they can get the flu shot and giving them time off work (just 15-30 minutes is all they need) to do so. If time off work isn’t an option, consider arranging for a professional to come to your facility and administer shots to staff during the start or end of their shift. The CDC offers this guide for promoting the flu vaccine within your business. 
  2. Educate workers on the differences between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing. Before the start of flu season, consider providing a short training session on microbiology basics. You know the drill—cleaning removes dirt and germs, disinfecting kills germs, sanitizing reducing germs to a safe level. Make sure your team understands the difference between each type of cleaning, along with how to disinfect properly by allowing disinfectants the proper amount of dwell time to be effective.
  3. Protect workers with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). From gloves to eye protection and face masks, equip workers with the necessary PPE to prevent them from coming into direct contact with airborne viruses or bacteria resting on surfaces being cleaned—or from exposure to quaternary-based cleaners. 

    Did you know? The average sneezing distance is anywhere from 3 to 26 feet!

  4. Implement hand-washing protocol. When arriving at work, one of the first things custodians should do is wash their hands to remove any dirt or bacteria they may have carried in with them. Even if they’ve used protective gloves throughout their shift, encourage them to wash their hands when they have completed cleaning responsibilities or before/after taking a break as they may have come into contact with a virus during that period. Regular hand washing not only helps protect custodial workers, it also helps prevent them from spreading germs as they clean.
  5. Encourage sick workers to stay home. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the average sneezing distance is anywhere from 3 to 26 feet—no one wants to be in the direct line of fire of that! Sick workers can not only spread viruses and bacteria throughout the building (and to others on staff), they can also become sicker. Reduce “presenteeism” by making sure employees understand what leave is available to them and encouraging a workplace environment that values health and wellness. 
  6. Reduce cross contamination with standardized cleaning processes. From dirty tools to processes driven by employee whim, a lot of cleaning programs lack standardization and leave the door open to issues like cross contamination, missed surfaces and ultimately polluting the indoor environment. Prevent this from happening by using an engineered, scientific approach to cleaning tasks that allows you to measure the work performed. 
  7. Increase fomite cleaning frequencies in custodial areas too. When the flu season hits, one of the first things many custodial workers do is increase the cleaning and disinfection of high touch surfaces such as door handles, hand rails, light switches and faucet knobs throughout the building. Make sure to include areas frequented by custodial professionals in this effort too, including custodial closets, break rooms and lockers. 

It’s estimated that the last flu season cost employers more than $21 billion in lost productivity. Because your team is on the front lines of preventing the spread of this virus that will inevitably appear in your facility at some point this year, make sure your team is prepared—and protected—in the fight.