Infection control for cleaning staff, especially those working in the healthcare industry, simply cannot be overlooked. It is essential in keeping your staff, as well as the facility’s staff and patients, safe from dangerous illness and disease. Infection control involves the prevention of infection by controlling the spread of disease and bacteria. Here are some ways you can ensure your cleaning staff are ahead of the game in stopping infections in their tracks.
How infections spread
To properly safeguard against the risk of outbreak, it’s important to know exactly how infections spread. Pathogens, which are organisms that cause disease, can be shared between humans or through contact with contaminated objects. This can happen in a number of ways. It could be through sneezing, coughing, touching, saliva, contaminated water, blood, or mucus. These fluids can then transfer to another person through the skin, or through inhalation. Infection can also spread through food, eating utensils and insect bites.
The myriad of ways pathogens can spread means that once an infection is transmitted to another person, the likelihood of it spreading further is extremely high. For this reason, it is vital that cleaning staff – just like hospital staff and school teachers – must be very careful in protecting themselves against germs, and ensuring proper cleaning and sanitation of certain areas.
Without compromise, workers themselves should be heavily protected against infection. Because cleaning employees are regularly exposed to areas of contamination, it is essential your staff are wearing protective gloves at all times. In a hospital or healthcare setting, it’s a good idea to keep abreast of what’s happening within the facility, as extra precautions such as gowns, hair nets and face masks may be necessary in time of an infection outbreak.
As well as this, staff uniforms need to be washed regularly in water hot enough to kill any bacteria residing on the clothing. In extremely high-risk situations, it is a good idea to have a ‘dress up’ and ‘dress down’ protocol for your cleaners, to ensure the clothing and footwear they use for cleaning remain separate to their everyday attire to reduce the risk of contamination.
It only takes a small sample of microbes to cause a huge infection problem. Every surface should be cleaned and sanitised, with special attention to those places where bodily fluids are present, such as the bathroom and any patient eating trays.
It’s a good idea to provide staff with a checklist of everything that needs to be cleaned in a certain area, to make sure nothing gets overlooked. These checklists could be organised by surface type, to avoid cross contamination. For example a checklist of all the bench surfaces in the bathroom would ensure every bench is cleaned with the same level of sanitisation, before moving onto the doors and handles, etc. This type of system ensures every surface is cleaned, and also helps prevent the transfer of bacteria from one surface to another.
Materials and Equipment
Not only should surfaces be kept clean, but the materials used to clean them should be sparkling as well. Dirty tools and materials can cause cross-contamination. After using, all cloths should be sanitised or disposed of. Even mops and brooms should be well washed and bleached after using.
It’s a good idea to colour-code your equipment, so that certain equipment is only used in specific areas. This will also help prevent cross-contamination. Every mop, broom, bucket, and cloth should be coded. A good guideline is red for bathrooms, green for food and drink, yellow for infectious areas and contaminated fluids, and blue for general cleaning.
Needles can be very dangerous in not only spreading infection, but also transmitting other diseases like HIV and hepatitis. It is imperative for staff to follow proper practices for handling sharp objects such as needles, and it is important that the facility has clearly marked solid receptacles for the disposal of used sharps.
These bins should be yellow and have clear markings identifying their contents as medical waste. Sharps should be placed directly in the receptacle without any attempts to bend, break, or otherwise tamper with the integrity of the sharp. Once a bin is full, it should be immediately disposed of as medical waste. Needles can be very dangerous. They should be disposed of immediately after use, and never left lying around outside of storage.
It is important that all cleaning staff are up-to-date on their immunisations and vaccinations, including the influenza or ‘flu’ shot. If needed, vaccinations should be taken at least two weeks before starting employment, and flu shots should be received leading up to winter. These precautions will not only protect staff against the many infectious hazards with which they may come into contact, but it will protect the patients and public as well.
As well as this, staff members should not come into work if they have a cough, fever, or any other symptom of an infectious disease. It is much better to be short-staffed than risk an outbreak.
Infectious diseases can be incredibly dangerous to staff, patients and members of the public, particularly at healthcare facilities. It is critical that all staff follow impeccable cleaning and sanitising practices to avoid an outbreak that could lead to serious illnesses or even death. Sometimes it might seem like infection control practices are tedious or an over-burden – particularly when employers are the ones who have to invest in the adequate training – but even the smallest misstep can cause huge problems. For this reason, it’s important to make sure your staff have all the tools and know-how to keep everyone safe.