As featured in Facility Perspectives magazine, Bridget Gardner explains how an evidence-based cleaning program can help to prevent workplace absenteeism by improving surface hygiene.
For 90 years we have relied on antibiotics to kill harmful bacteria and viruses. But with the rise of so-called ‘superbugs’, we are being forced to take a more preventative approach.
Drug-resistant microbes, such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) and clostridium difficile (C. diff), caused an estimated 7000 deaths in Australian hospitals last year. The economic burden of the 165,000 annual healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) is staggering, yet the fastest growth rates of MRSA are now occurring in the community.
The workplace is at the frontline of this risk. Our heated, airtight, indoor environments, can become germ incubators in winter. In 2017, absenteeism cost the Australian economy about $33 billion, with the flu alone responsible for an estimated $90.4 million of that. 100 years after the Spanish Flu killed 15,000 Australians, experts believe that the next flu pandemic is a timebomb waiting to happen.
Focus on surface hygiene
While hand-hygiene remains the most important way to prevent germs spreading, hospitals are turning their attention toward the hygiene of surfaces that healthcare worker’s hands touch (called high-touch surfaces). And with good reason.
We now know that some germs can survive a long time on surfaces. Common cold and flu viruses are viable for up to 24 hours, while Norovirus, which causes gastro, can live for weeks. C. difficile was shown to survive for five months! Super-bugs colonise tiny crevices in the surface then exude a protective coating of biofilm. A quick wipe, or spray of disinfectant, simply cannot touch them.
Yet you don’t need a super-bug to get sick. Any organic soil left on surfaces that people touch may harbour harmful germs. If cleaning is rushed, these germs will be left behind. If cloths and hands are not regularly changed and cleaned, they will be spread around the workplace.
For too long, after-hours cleaning services have been out of sight, out of mind. Effective cleaning and surface hygiene is fundamental to improving worker’s wellbeing and preventing workplace absenteeism, but how do you ensure that it’s being delivered?
Visual performance auditing can assess the shine of a lobby floor, or spots on mirrors, but its capacity to measure or improve surface hygiene is limited for three reasons:
- Germs are invisible
- Perception of clean is subjective
- The process of cleaning controls the outcome.
‘Evidence-based’ cleaning means demonstrating that the cleaning methodology can effectively and consistently remove surface contamination. This requires the entire cleaning process to be evaluated and its performance scientifically tested. This is fine for a hospital, but too challenging and expensive for most commercial cleaning services.
So Fresh Green Clean has created a viable way for cleaning services to implement evidence-based cleaning. Called High Performance Cleaning (HPC) Solutions™, this program documents their cleaning plan, evaluates it against best practice standards, audits its implementation and scientifically tests it for cleaning effectiveness. Supported with training and auditing tools, cleaners follow an evidence-based cleaning plan that is tailored to your facility.
Four objectives of hygienic cleaning
The HPC Solutions criteria requires Healthy, Sustainable and Hygienic cleaning practices that comply with healthcare regulations and meet WELL, Green Star, and NABERS standards. There are four central objectives for hygienic cleaning practices, which are briefly listed below.
1: Supply effective cleaning products
Evidence for this criteria can include:
- Cleaning products are tested against ASTM G122 (USA)
- Hospital-grade disinfectants (for healthcare) meet TGO 54 Standard
- Chemicals are replenished and diluted as recommended
- Cleaning tools are supplied in sufficient quality / quantity
- Instructions for correct product / tool selection and handling
2: Prevent cross-contamination
In addition to colour-coding per area, protocols must ensure:
- Separate tools for toilet seats and washroom taps
- Soiled tools are separated from clean tools
- Cleaners are given hand-hygiene training
- Critical high-touch points (HTPs) are identified and sequenced
3: Maintain hygienically cleaning tools
- Damp, soiled, cloths and mops, draped over equipment or left inside buckets, are breeding grounds for germs – which are then spread around the facility the following night. On-site facilities (or external services) for laundering cleaning tools, are essential for surface hygiene.
4: Test surface hygiene levels
- The cleanliness of HTPs is measured with an adenosine triphosphate (ATP) testing device. ATP is a protein found in all organic matter, making it ideal for measuring surface contamination.
- Each HTP is swabbed immediately after cleaning to prevent recontamination, and the ATP reading indicates how effectively soil was removed.
- The auditor then re-cleans and re-tests the same HTP and compares both readings to validate the results.
With independent proof that these four objectives are being achieved, Facility Managers can go home confident that their cleaning service will be helping to prevent workplace absenteeism through better surface hygiene.
About the author
Bridget Gardner is Director of Fresh Green Clean Pty Ltd and founder of the HPC Solutions program.
Call us today on (03) 9481 2031 to book a free 1 hour consultation or contact us on line to find out how you can measure and improve the levels of hygiene in buildings you manage or clean.
This article was featured in Facility Perspectives magazine (Vol 12 No 3, Page 52).