Techniques that keep hospitals and clinics clean apply to your business, too.
“Do you need to disinfect an office building as completely as you would a healthcare facility? No,” says Brad Winnie, president-elect of the Association for the Health Care Environment, a group for environmental services professionals. “But the health and safety of employees is critical no matter where you work.”
Cleaning staff can play a major role in reducing common illnesses like the flu, which can spread quickly through an office, hurting employees and hampering business goals.
Winnie, who has worked in hospitals since 2004 and owned a janitorial service before that, shares best practices from healthcare and how they can be adapted for any setting.
Sanitation is a first step, but aim for disinfection.
Sanitation is wiping down surfaces to reduce pathogens, but disinfection involves applying the right chemicals to eliminate bacteria and viruses, Winnie says. After all, infections in a hospital or clinic can be deadly.
Of course, infections also can spread in non-healthcare environments, especially during cold and flu season. That’s why disinfectants are critical to cleaning all types of workplaces.
“Illnesses travel quickly,” Winnie says, “so you want to ask, if you have a lot of people calling in sick, could it be something in your facility?”
It’s important to follow product instructions; if a disinfectant takes three minutes to work and you wipe it off after two minutes, you’re not getting the full strength, Winnie says.
Hit high-touch areas more often.
A cleaning professional is likely to enter a patient room two to three times each day to clean the bathroom, empty trash and pick up soiled linens. Cleaning around a patient isn’t easy, but it’s important to disinfect high-touch spots like handrails, phones, call buttons and mattresses.
Likewise, any workplace has spots that people use and touch more than others; focus the energy of cleaning staff on these areas, as they’re especially prone to germs. Research shows that office germs tend to congregate on door handles, kitchen sinks, elevator buttons and keyboards. You’ll also want to hit the high-touch areas of the breakroom and conference rooms: sink handles, microwave doors, phones and chair armrests.
Clean according to needs and risk.
It’s helpful to “triage” the places that must be cleaned by the risks they pose, Winnie says. In a hospital, operating rooms must be disinfected the most aggressively, followed by patient rooms, then common areas and finally staff offices. Floors should be swept, mopped or auto-scrubbed daily, but disinfecting floors is a waste of time, Winnie adds: “You can disinfect the floor, but shortly after it’s not going to be disinfected. Testing shows it’s not an area of the room that shows potential for cross-contamination.”
Outside of healthcare, it’s also possible to triage according to use and risk. Bathrooms and breakrooms, for example, need constant attention, while less-used conference rooms might not need as much upkeep. (An important note: Because of their chemical makeup, disinfectants shouldn’t be used on kitchen surfaces where people are eating.)
As an added protection against germs, it can be helpful to give employees disinfecting wipes to use daily on their desks, armrests, phones and keyboards.
Dedicate the resources.
It’s critical that the people cleaning and disinfecting a healthcare facility are properly educated in processes and given enough time and resources to do the job, Winnie says. This is also key to maintaining employees’ health. For example, staff need to know to wear personal protective equipment.
In a typical workplace, rubber gloves will suffice for cleaning staff, though cleaners should be aware when illnesses such as the flu, norovirus or pinkeye have spread in the office so they wash their hands more often and avoid touching their faces. It’s also wise to give cleaning staff and other employees the option to wear face masks during a cold or flu outbreak. And of course, any employee with a contagious illness should be encouraged to stay home.
People who clean non-healthcare workplaces don’t face the same threats as their counterparts in a hospital, but they’re still responsible for fighting pathogens that could make people sick. By adapting the tools of their colleagues in healthcare, they can help ensure that people and businesses stay well.