It’s that time of year when students are heading back to school. For custodial managers, that means creating and maintaining a clean and safe environment for students, staff and visitors. And with that, perhaps the added challenge of reduced resources, as many U.S. schools suffer from annual budget cuts that affect custodial services.
Regardless of budget cuts, facility managers have the responsibility of ensuring a properly cleaned school campus for everyone to enjoy. Before schools and universities open their doors each school year, it’s a good idea to re-evaluate current procedures and processes to maximize your facility’s cleaning program. Following are best practices to provide a safe and hygienic learning environment.
Assess the Risk of Your Facility
Custodial managers should perform risk assessments to help identify high and low risk areas of the school building(s). In high risk areas, there is more concern for possible transmission of disease. These areas need more frequent cleaning and disinfecting, as they can be a breeding ground for germs and viruses. High risk areas may include: restrooms, classrooms, locker rooms, kitchens, cafeterias, nurse’s office, gym mats, exercise equipment and showers. Conversely, low risk areas need less frequent cleaning and may include hallways, offices and windows. Facility managers can assign the priorities and frequencies to both area types to help prevent the spread of bacteria and illnesses from one student or staff member to another.
Identify High-Touch Surfaces
Surfaces that are frequently touched by many different hands are considered high-touch surfaces, and should be cleaned and disinfected for infection control. High-touch surfaces could include: shared computer mouse(s) and keyboard(s), doorknobs, elevator buttons, stair rails, faucet handles, toilet levers, towel dispensers and vending machines, to name a few.
Cleaning and Disinfecting Processes
Once high and low risk areas and high-touch surfaces have been identified, it’s important to develop proper cleaning protocol for staff to clean and disinfect these areas. Additionally, make sure to educate staff on the importance of these tasks and how to perform them properly, as many are unaware of the difference between cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning is the process of removing the soil from a surface, as soil can harbor germs such as Influenza. Disinfecting is the process of killing these germs. Cleaning well allows the disinfecting agents to work more effectively than disinfecting alone.
The cost of daily cleaning and disinfection can be reduced by streamlining the number of cleaning products used. With multipurpose products, custodial staff can clean and disinfect in a single step. Look for professional multipurpose cleaning products that have been formulated to remove a broad range of target soils and disinfect simultaneously. Multipurpose products can reduce cleaning supply costs without compromising quality. Because the cleaning process has been simplified, there is a reduced need for rework which translates to a reduction in product usage and labor time. This also allows for a simplified training program because workers only need to be trained to use a handful of products.
Hygiene for Infection Control
Students and staff can also do their part to fight the spread of germs, bacteria and viruses that can circulate on campus. Hand washing is one of the most important steps that individuals can take to avoid getting sick and, in turn, spread the illness to others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), students should wash their hands with soap, warm water and friction for 15-20 seconds. If soap and clean water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub that contains at least 60 percent alcohol content to clean your hands. Alcohol-based hand rubs significantly reduce the number of germs on skin and are fast-acting. Hand sanitizers should not be used as a substitute for washing, but instead used as a supplement to a proper hand washing regimen.
It’s also a good idea to post reminders for students and staff to wash their hands frequently, especially after using the restroom, before meals or whenever they become soiled. And, make sure your facility’s soap and paper towel dispensers are regularly stocked for daily use.
Norovirus Outbreak Management
Schools are a common setting for norovirus, a group of viruses that cause the stomach flu or gastroenteritis. School and office staff should be aware of norovirus and vigilant in preventing it. Symptoms to look for include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping, which can typically last one to three days. Norovirus is very contagious and can spread rapidly from person to person, which is why this is a significant health concern for cleaning professionals at schools and universities.
In the event of an outbreak, the CDC recommends excluding and isolating infected or potentially infected persons and immediately removing and washing clothing or linens that may be contaminated with the virus after an episode of illness occurs. Also, thoroughly clean and disinfect surfaces that have been contaminated by vomiting and diarrheal events.
By assessing your facility, establishing protocols for cleaning and disinfecting, properly and continually training custodial staff and knowing how to prevent and respond to an outbreak, facility managers can help protect against the spread of infectious disease on their campus. Even with a decrease in resources, the responsibility of custodial service managers is to maintain a clean, hygienic and safe facility for everyone. Fortunately, in many cases, this is a manageable task, but it requires a re-evaluation of procedures, processes and products to ensure maximum efficiency.
About Dave FrankDave Frank is the president of the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences and is a member of the P&G Professional Expert Advisory Council. With more than three decades of experience, he is a leading industry authority, serving facility service providers, building service contractors, distributors and manufacturers.