How to create a plan for environmentally friendly cleaning that is both safe and sustainable
Although infection control has always been a crucial component of the environmental cleaning process, it has become even more so in the last two years. While the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for infection control, it also precipitated a sharp increase in unsafe cleaning and disinfection methods that pose health risks.
Although disinfecting is commonplace across all industries, only a few have dedicated infection control specialists on staff who are knowledgeable about best practices for safer processes. This article will give readers an inside look at some of the risks posed by outdated procedures and suggest a path toward safer infection control methods.
Cleaning professionals reject the notion that conventional sanitization techniques are tried and true as hidden hazards are revealed. For instance, the long-held belief that sodium hypochlorite (bleach) or quaternary ammonium compounds (quats) are the most effective disinfectants is now viewed with caution due to serious health concerns and the likelihood of lower efficacy. Another way that conventional methods have unintentionally raised safety issues is by using too many different chemicals for each cleaning task. This practice wastes resources and is ineffective, but it also makes the work environment for cleaning staff confusing and increases the likelihood of mistakes.
The laser focus on maintaining more hygienic environments to prevent infectious outbreaks will remain long after the current pandemic subsides. The public will continue to expect higher cleanliness levels from every facility. Therefore, facility managers must take proactive steps sooner rather than later to establish responsible strategies for safer and more sustainable environmental cleaning.
Four key components contribute to safer infection prevention practices: chemistry, protocols, education, and sustainability. Chemistry is the first stop on the route:
Analyze cleaning agents and implement best practices
All products should be assessed against an ideal chemical profile based on seven criteria: range of use, safety data, registration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), efficacy, contact time, application, and cost. Chemicals are fundamental to almost every environmental cleaning process.
A facility can start to increase safety by evaluating all the cleaning products it uses, identifying those that don't fit the ideal profile, and then swapping them out for safer, multipurpose alternatives. Although still relatively new to the cleaning industry, the idea of chemical standardization is quickly gaining acceptance.
Imagine being able to clean, sanitize, and disinfect various surfaces, floors, windows, furniture, walls, restrooms, and more with just one set of chemical instructions rather than the customary seven to ten. Utilizing chemicals consistently reduces complexity and gets rid of failure points that have a direct impact on safety and effectiveness.
Low toxicity is the most desirable quality for safer cleaning chemical substitutes, and these days, some chemistries are both highly effective and safe. Finding products with triple-zero hazardous materials identification system (HMIS) ratings, neutral pH values and EPA category IV ratings for the lowest inhalation toxicity requires consulting product safety data sheets (SDS). Always put avoiding the use of products known to cause asthma and other health risks first.
Of course, effectiveness—specifically, resistance to a wide range of bacteria, viruses, and fungi—is the other major safety factor. Superior biocidal performance is essential, but only if the substance is EPA-registered as effective against the most common pathogens, such as C. difficile (List K), MRSA, and vancomycin-resistant enterococci or VRE, as well as multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs) (List H). Furthermore, the pathogens should be inactivated within a contact time of four minutes or less.
Consider a product with the highest level of emerging pathogen claim (EPC) from the EPA for protection against small, non-enveloped viruses that are difficult to eradicate. Although uncommon, some chemicals can eliminate the biofilm bacteria that cause many infections in healthcare settings (HAIs). The rarity of chemicals designated as Continuously Active Disinfectants (CAD), which can maintain residual efficacy for at least 24 hours, is even greater.
Several environmental factors also impact disinfectant efficacy. According to environmental staff, the chemistry should have been tested in the presence of soil and shown to be resistant to organic matter and sunlight.
The good news is that some chemistries can achieve maximum efficacy at lower concentrations, further reducing exposure risks. A small number of these chemistries also check all the boxes.
The final deciding factors are affordability and application ease. Staff are more effective and efficient if dilution is simple and precise. Everyone benefits from a product that is also inexpensive to buy, ship, and store.
Address protocols to mitigate cross-contamination risks
Cross-contamination is an important issue that needs to be addressed, but many facilities outside the healthcare industry are unaware of this. Even in clean environments, surfaces can become contaminated by viral droplets, sick people, or contaminated cleaning materials. Process optimization strategies are needed to break the cycle of contamination.
Follow three steps to limit the risks of cross-contamination:
Use touchless electrostatic sprayer technologies to quickly and thoroughly disinfect surfaces with no risk of cross-contamination.
Implement a disposable wipe system into current procedures to stop contaminants from spreading from surface to surface.
Follow the manufacturer's application instructions when using microfiber cloths, and swap out the materials frequently. Avoid using disinfectants like quats, which frequently adhere to microfiber cloths and expose surfaces to decontamination.
According to best practices for preventing cross-contamination in healthcare environments, an electrostatic sprayer and a sporicidal disinfectant should be used to pre-treat patient rooms and care areas. Following Joint Commission requirements for hospital accreditation, four minutes is the recommended dwell time for most pathogens.
Training the cleaning staff in appropriate usage and protocol
Plans for improving infection prevention will fail if staff members are not trained on proper usage and protocols, even when safer cleaning and disinfection products are added to the mix. Once more, infection control starts with an evaluation: Examine all current cleaning procedures to find any gaps, inadequacies, or mistakes, and then use the information to create training courses that are specifically designed to enhance processes.
Chemical differentiators, SDS, personal protective equipment (PPE), labels, dilutions, and applications should all be covered in targeted education. Along with pathogen training with appropriate dwell times, wipes program training, and best practices for enhancing disinfection to reduce cross-contamination, it should also include these. Signage can serve as a reminder of important safety instructions and education.
The staff should use all cleaning tools and substances safely, effectively, and efficiently.
Follow the directions for sustainability and safety.
Facilities will reap additional benefits once facility managers adapt products and protocols to achieve safer infection prevention. Ideal cleaning chemical properties naturally point to environmentally friendly alternatives that are more stable and long-lasting, reducing carbon footprints and promoting health and safety.
Even though infection control is necessary for every industry, effective alternatives can be used instead of putting staff and building occupants' health at risk. Though challenging, developing a road map for safer infection prevention techniques will result in a better, more sustainable future.