Flu and cold season is right around the corner. It used to be that the season was Dec. 1 to March 1. That is no longer the case.
We are now seeing two waves of the flu each season now. Many times, there is a mutation from the flu species seen in Australia by the time it gets to the United States. This is why flu season is now considered to be as early as October and as late as May – so half of the year.
In recent years there have been record flu seasons with the most deaths in the United States since recorded history of flu statistics. In 2017, there were more than 82,000 deaths in the United States from the flu or flu-related respiratory illnesses.
Due to this change in infectious outbreaks, it is more important than ever that building service contractors have an actual public health infectious outbreak program set up for clients in the contract or as a stand-alone program they can sell. Have such a program will separate one company from the rest.
No one can promise any customer that they will be able to keep the facility from experience infectious outbreaks. It isn’t realistic. People come and go from facilities and that means germs. It’s the difference between having a program set up to deal with infectious outbreaks on a daily basis or waiting and dealing with the hysteria, the news coverage showing the facility being closed and doused with nasty chemicals in response to contractors not providing a program.
An infection control or mitigation program for public health is mainly how and where janitors use sanitizers and disinfectants every day. It also incorporates schedule flexibility and communication with the customer during cold and flu season.
To start a program, BSC’s need to ask themselves a few questions in order to understand what processed and procedures they actually have set up and what they need to add.
• What infectious diseases occur every year in the facility (cold, flu, MRSA, Norovirus, etc.)?
• What disinfectants and sanitizers are used now?
• Is everyone trained in how to use disinfectants, dilute them, and what they kill?
• Do all janitors know what added tasks they should be performing to deal with an outbreak?
• Does the company have good communications with the client so that supervisors are informed when infectious disease symptoms start to show up?
• Does the janitorial team have clear and concise instructions on what to do when flu season starts, or occupants start getting sick?
If the answer is “no” to many of these questions, the BSC’s should work on turning those answers into “yeses.” Again, if this process is in the current contract, then BSC’s’ should be doing something. If it isn’t, then it’s time to educate clients on why they need this extra service for the health of their occupants—and upsell them an infection prevention program.
Knowing what product to use on what pathogen and how to use these products correctly are the main pieces to the puzzle along with training, education, and proper written procedures.
Cleaners clean and remove soils. They do not kill. Sanitizers and disinfectants kill germs. Cleaners and disinfectants are two separate types of products and should be used in a two-step process to be most effective. The two-in-one products that say they clean and disinfect do not do either well. It is generally more costly to use these products and if BSC’s do not have a two-step, clean and sanitize/disinfect culture, t hen one should be adopted immediately to best protect janitors and clients.
Chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide products, and quaternary ammonium compounds (aka quats) are the three most used disinfectant chemical classes right now in commercial cleaning.
For anyone running a contract cleaning company, the idea is to separate oneself from many others in the crowded commercial cleaning market. One way to do this is to have a public health infection mitigation program in place. Another is to use the latest cutting-edge equipment and sanitizers and disinfectants on the market to make these programs healthier and easier to accomplish.
Hypochlorous acid (HOCL) is considered part of the engineered water category of products and can be used to sanitizing and disinfecting. HOCL is neutral in pH, which makes it much less hazardous to skin, eyes, and respiratory systems in hu mans as well as aquatic species. HOCL also does not cause or make respiratory illnesses worse. They are also less dangerous to materials in facilities. A fact to help understand why HOCL is much less toxic (even though it is an EPA-registered disinfectant like quats and chlorine bleach (is that humans’ own white blood cells make it in their bodies as part of the immune system.
HOCL needs to be made from a machine that is purchased so BSC’s can make the product on-site and on-demand. It can also be purchased in a NaDCC tablet that once diluted in water makes any number of concentrations of HOCL to kill specific pathogens.
Electrostatic sprayers are a new way to apply disinfectant. As the disinfecting solution leaves the sprayer, a charge is put on each droplet. By just walking and essentially waving the sprayer towards a surface for disinfection, the droplets move through the air to where they are attracted. The droplets, since the are charged, lay in a thin layer and avoid pooling and soaking surfaces. The charged solution also wraps itself around a surface, covering all areas including the backsides and undersides of objects. When used with a product that does not need to be rinsed, electrostatic sprayers can make disinfecting quick.
Plasma and ultra-violet technology are for air disinfection throughout the day. Germs can travel on particles in the air due to their small size and this means they can move through the HVAC systems as well. Having an air handler in the room that zaps the air with UV light to kill germs in the air can be useful to prevent infections and make janitors’ job easier.
Plasma and UV systems can also be used in HVAC systems to kill anything in the air exchange that may be going back into the building. As soon as janitors finish cleaning, the air starts to deposit soils and germs on the surfaces they just cleaned again. The only way to combat this is to clean the air as well. This is the next step of cleaning services.
Putting it Together
An infection prevention program does not need to be complicated. It is about picking the right chemicals and tools and writing down and training janitors on what to do on a daily basis. Once BSC’s pick their chemicals and know the facility, it is a case of setting up a plan.
For example, during non-flu season months the facility may have high-touch points such as railings, door handles, and light switches sanitized each day. Then higher-risk areas such as restrooms can be disinfected at the lowest level allowed daily. This is a protective plan.
This system allows janitors to work with the chemicals daily, do the processes daily, and gets them ready when the flu season strikes. When it does, communication between the BSC and its client becomes most important. If facility executives can tell their contractors daily what floors, classrooms, cubicle areas, etc. are seeing outbreak symptoms of coughing, sneezing, and absences, then janitors can focus on these areas at night to hopefully mitigate the spread of germs and prevent an outbreak.
When a supervisor is told that illness is appearing in a section of the client’s building, they can then increase the level of care given to these areas for a few days to hopefully stop the spread of the pathogen and the illness and symptoms. This can mean that if supervisors know someone has had influenza or Norovirus, they can have their team concentrate on that area at night and switch from sanitizing to disinfecting to kill anything left behind on surfaces. During the day, the day porter can be wiping down railings, elevator buttons, handles, and water fountains multiple times throughout the day with a disinfectant to keep the spread of germs at bay.
Starting is the main priority. BSC’s shouldn’t wait or an infection outbreak can turn into a nightmare for them and their clients. If BSC’s have the opportunity to add this process to the current contract, they should do it. Ask for a meeting and present the case to facility executives on why they should add this service to their facility during could and flu season and for other infectious outbreaks.