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The Five P’s of Pathogen Cleaning

As any professional in our industry knows, cleaning isn’t just about removing dirt, but also stopping the spread of bacteria and infection in the buildings we clean. It’s not just about appearance, but also about health—the health of the people in the building and the people cleaning the building.

As we wrap up our safety series for National Safety Month, we’re putting the spotlight on pathogens. More than ever, educating our custodial teams about pathogens—what they are, how they spread and what cleaners can do to protect themselves—has become critical beyond the healthcare world. Cleaners in a variety of public and private settings are regularly exposed to biological hazards that carry risks and responsibilities. Equipping custodial workers with the education they need to effectively clean for health not only empowers them, but will also improve the health of our buildings.

When training custodial teams about pathogens, consider the Five P’s of Pathogens.*

The five P’s include:

  1. Pathogen types: Broadly speaking, a pathogen is basically anything that can cause disease. Different types of pathogens may include:
    • Bacteria: Bacteria are single-celled organisms that can thrive in extreme conditions. They do not require a living host, such as a human being, in order to reproduce. Salmonella, E.coli and MRSA are just a few of the types of bacteria that custodial workers would encounter.
    • Viruses: Generally smaller than bacteria, viruses require a living host to reproduce. Viruses are likely to produce an outbreak of illness, such as influenza or the common cold.
    • Parasites: Parasites live on or inside a living host. They can cause a variety of issues, including nausea and muscle pain. Examples might include headline or tapeworm, depending on the mode of transmission.
    • Fungi: As the name implies, fungi are molds and yeasts that commonly cause respiratory problems in humans.
  2. Pathways: The primary way a pathogen can enter your body is through inhalation, ingestion (in food or water) or through direct contact with bodily fluids or blood. Custodial workers with cuts or abrasions and who do not use protective gloves can be at higher risk of exposure.
  3.  Problems: If a pathogen enters the body, it can result in temporary illness to the custodial worker, such as influenza or a cold, to something more dangerous and deadly, like MRSA. Because custodial teams often touch many surfaces in a building, they also have the potential  or spreading the pathogen unknowingly, which is why proper hand washing is essential.
  4. Places: Pathogens can be present on most hard surfaces, but are commonly found on fomites, or high-touch areas, which include light switches, elevator buttons, telephones and door handles. Kitchen areas and restrooms can also provide hospitable environments to pathogens.
  5. Protection: Wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential based on the potential hazards that may exist. Protective gloves and hand washing between areas can be an effective way to break the chain of infection.

For custodial workers to take pride in what they do, they need to be educated on the importance of their work and recognized for their efforts. We have a quick reference guide to understanding all of the microbiology used in the cleaning industry that you can use in your educational programs. “Microbiology for Cleaning Workers Simplified” offers the basics to help cleaning workers understand the basics of sanitation, vocabulary and the history of cleaning for health. You can check it out here. 

*This is by not intended to serve as a comprehensive resource on pathogen cleaning, but a baseline primer you can use to help educate custodial workers.

Provo City Schools Research Part II: The Importance of Measuring Cleaning

In the first part of this series, we explored the definition of “clean.” Now that we know what “clean” is, how do we get there? Ah, the million dollar question.

Just as no single agreed-upon definition of “clean” exists, no single standard or process for cleaning exists. As a result, we measure janitorial productivity in a variety of ways, which is largely dependent on the type of facility being cleaned.

To understand the importance of measurement, we’ll first look ways cleaning programs are currently measured, and then we’ll review a few examples of the benefits of measurement through a standardized approach to cleaning.

Current Strategies for Measuring Productivity and Their Limitations:

Visual Inspections: A visual inspection may reveal if a surface looks clean (e.g. is free from dirt or dust), but it does not reveal what is invisible to the eye, such as bacteria or viruses. Visual inspections are most common in retail environments where the emphasis is on appearance.

Cost-Per-Square-Foot Method: Often cleaning professionals want to evaluate cleaning productivity by establishing the cost for cleaning their facility. This method can present obstacles because of different surfaces that may or may not be factored into the equation. For example, do you factor the tops of books on a shelf as cleanable square footage? Should table surfaces be included as well? Not all cost-per-square foot method evaluations are created equally.

ATP Meter Readings: One of the newer methods for measuring cleanliness is Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) Testing. ATP is an enzyme present in all living cells; ATP meters detect the amount of organic mater that remains on a surface after cleaning. This method can lead to discrepancies between testers and not provide a true reflection of the cleanliness (or dirtiness) of a surface.

When we look at cleaning in an academic settings, the need for effective cleaning and cleaning measurement becomes most apparent.

Why Clean Schools Matter

In Dr. Campbell’s Provo City Schools research, he states:

Standards set a level of safety and performance for most industries. Therefore, a cleaning standard that ensures the building’s air quality, safety and health of the people therein should exist. Research shows that students in K-12 schools have improved capacity to learn when school environments are clean.

He identifies a survey conducted by the National Parent Teacher Association that revealed that cleanliness in schools was so insufficient that more than half of teachers (56 percent) purchase their own cleaning supplies to clean their classrooms.

While the immediate response might be to look at the school janitor, Dr. Campbell is quick to highlight research from the National Education Association that supports the need for better job descriptions for janitors:

* 38 percent of janitors have no job description

* 32 percent of those who do have a job description feel it does not match the scope of their work

64 percent of janitors often or sometimes perform work outside of their job description

YIKES. So teachers are taking it on themselves to clean their classrooms, but janitors are left with their hands in the air, because they aren’t clear on their responsibilities.

Why does this matter? Because the confusion surrounding the issue and the absence of a standardized approach and effective cleaning measurement tool to cleaning goes beyond issues of infection control and cross contamination.

Research shows that indoor air pollution (resulting from cleaning chemicals, dust and other particulates that can be breathed in) can result in lower work performance and higher rates of sickness.

Dr. Campbell cites multiple sources, including this research published in Indoor Air, Dr. Berry’s study at Charles Young Elementary School and this study published in Indoor Air Journal — all offering conclusive evidence that indoor pollutants negatively impact student health and performance.

Clean schools are healthier and more productive. But how can we make sure our schools are clean if there’s difficulty measuring janitorial productivity and cleanliness?

In the part three of this blog series, we’ll review how a standardized approach to cleaning establishes measures for janitorial productivity and positively impacts health and the indoor environment, as evidenced by the study at Dixon Middle School.