Why Janitors Shouldn’t Use Bleach

Bleach-bottleIn the world of professional cleaning, greenhas become the norm. These days most facility managers base their cleaning product selection on whether or not products have a reduced impact on the environment (and for good reason).

However despite this massive shift within the industry, some cleaning professionals are still under the impression that harsher chemicals, like those found in bleach, are more suitable cleaning options.

The Problem With Bleach

Though bleach has remained a tried-and-true option in the professional cleaning industry for more than 50 years, it’s important to note that bleach isn’t actually cleaning agent — which is part of the reason it doesn’t belong in most routine cleanings. It does however, carry disinfectant properties which sometimes make it an appropriate option in health care settings (though broad spectrum disinfectants will work just as well).

Besides being incredibly toxic (especially when it comes into contact with ammonia), there are number of reasons to avoid bleach.

  • It has a short shelf life. Bleach has a “chemical shelf life” of 3-6 months, depending on the stored temperature. Whether you use it or not, it will quickly lose it’s potency over time. If you mix it with water (to lower its concentration of hypochlorite), it’s shelf life will be reduced even further.
  • It’s corrosive. Bleach is an extremely harsh cleaning product. So much so that it can destroy or damage metal or stainless steel. If accidentally spilled, it can even etch floor finish and sealed concrete, which can equate to significant repair or replacement costs down the road.
  • It contains zero surfactants. Though it doesn’t kill bacteria, a surfactant is one of the most important components of almost any cleaning product. When dissolved in water, they work to dislodge and remove dirt. Bleach alone is not enough to wash away dirt and grease.

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A Safety Checklist for Your Custodial Staff

custodianThe life of professional cleaner isn’t always an easy one. And though accidents can happen in almost any profession, custodial workers are more likely to be subjected to various physical and chemical hazards. These hazards can, and often do lead to injury and an increased risk of illness.

That being said, custodial safety should be a top concern for any employer.

Slips and falls can be caused by wet floors, uneven carpets, ladders and more. To prevent them, your custodial staff should:

  • Wear slip-resistant shoes
  • Keep an eye out for obstructions
  • Address spills immediately
  • Place hazard signs out before cleaning
  • Make sure floor mats lie flat

Cleaning chemicals can be extremely dangerous if the right precautions aren’t taken. To ensure the utmost safety, your cleaning staff should:

  • Always read their material safety data sheets (MSDS)
  • Make sure the area is well-ventilated before cleaning
  • Never mix chemicals unless instructed to do so
  • Wear appropriate safety equipment
  • Use green commercial cleaning products when possible

Heavy lifting and repetitive motions can result in back strains and injuries. To avoid strains and keep the muscles strong, your cleaning staff should:

  • Stretch before, during and after work
  • Take short breaks throughout the day
  • Understand proper lifting techniques
  • Ask for help when an item is too heavy

In addition to being trained in basic safety hazards, it’s important for your staff to have a thorough understanding of their specific working environment. Ultimately safety depends on your staff. Making sure they understand all of the ins and outs of your facility is the best way to protect them from injury.

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The Debate Continues: Antibacterial vs. Regular Soap

antibacterial soapWith the latest superbug scare sweeping the nation, the Centers for Disease Control is pushing for more stringent hand washing policies, especially in healthcare settings.

“The hands of healthcare workers are the way this spreads,” Dr. Tara Palmore, deputy hospital epidemiologist at the National Institutes of Health, said in a recent statement.

And from previous studies, it’s clear that Americans don’t care about hand washing as much as they should. While this is especially hazardous in healthcare settings, it’s also become a problem for regular old consumers.

Antibacterial Liquid Hand Soap Sales on the Rise

According to research firm Mintel, the U.S. market for shower, bath and hand soap (not including hand sanitizers, face wash and industrial cleansers) is expected to surpass $4.6 billion in sales this year, up 9 percent 2008.

With so many options available, it can be hard for anyone to determine which soaps are the safest and most effective. And a lot of controversy still surrounds the antibacterial debate (and the possible hazards associated with triclosan).

Many proponents feel there isn’t enough evidence to support antibacterial products, while the American Cleaning Institute, on the other hand, maintains that antibacterial hand soaps eliminate germs better than cleansers without triclosan — especially in healthcare settings.

“They are part of common-sense hygiene routines in homes, office and healthcare settings every single day. Of all places, there’s probably the greatest need for antibacterial soap in healthcare settings,” says Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute.

Despite ongoing controversy, antibacterial liquid hand soap sales are up by more than 25 percent since 2008.

The CDC’s Recommendations

The CDC is currently conducting research on antibacterial chemicals such as triclosan. And as of right now, they do not recommend antimicrobacterial soap over any other kind of soap because there’s no actual proof it’s more effective.

What they do recommend however, is to purchase liquid hand soap instead of soap bars because there is less exposure to bacteria. To get the most out of your hand washing routine, the CDC also recommends washing your hands with warm water for 15 seconds or longer.

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CDC Calls for Stricter Hygiene and Sanitation Precautions in Healthcare Settings

healthcare standardsWith reports of a potentially deadly superbug spreading in healthcare settings across the U.S., professional cleaning, sterilization and infection control services are more important than ever.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rates of unusual superbugs known as Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE) have nearly doubled in recent months.

While still relatively uncommon, the CDC believes some alarm is warranted:

“This increase highlights the need for U.S. health care providers to act aggressively to prevent the emergency and spread of these unusual CRE organisms.”

CREs are a form of bacteria that has developed high levels of resistance to antibiotics — including last-resort carbapenems antibiotics (hence their name). They typically affect ailing patients that require ventilator or catheter devices, but they can infect almost any vulnerable patient.

The bugs are particularly prevalent in certain areas of the country, including the Northeast and long-term acute-care hospitals

CDC Recommendations

The CDC’s health advisory is calling for stricter hygiene and sanitation precautions, as well as increased patient screening.

CDC director Tom Frieden also offered some advice last week to healthcare providers via Twitter:

“Healthcare providers: Wash your hands before touch a patient everything! Prevent CRE.”

When it comes to cleaning and sanitation, the CDC also has some recommendations:

  • Using dedicated non-critical medical equipment
  • Assigning a dedicated cleaning staff to affected patient care units
  • Increasing cleaning and disinfection, especially on high traffic areas (e.g., bedrails, charts, bedside commodes, doorknobs)

The CDC’s 2012 toolkit also recommends that healthcare providers lessen their use of catheters, endotracheal tubes and other invasive medical devices known for spreading the infection.

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Hidden Dangers Associated With Triclosan

hand soapAs friends and family members suffer with cold and flu-like symptoms this spring, you might be tempted to reach for an extra handful of antibacterial soap.

But some scientists are growing increasingly concerned that a common antibacterial ingredient, known as triclosan, may actually do more harm than good for consumers.

So, Is Triclosan Safe?

The jury is still out.

Currently the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are studying the chemical’s potential danger to humans, animals and the environment.

However, several independent research studies have linked the chemical to a range of adverse health effects. Some researchers also believe that excessive exposure to triclosan may disrupt the body’s natural hormone production, interfere with muscle function and encourage the growth of even stronger bacteria.

Others worry that its buildup in the environment may pose serious consequences for wildlife ecosystems.

Minnesota First State Agency to Ban Triclosan

After Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton demanded state agencies reduce their environmental impact, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that the state will cease the purchase of all products containing triclosan beginning in June 2013.

Banning triclosan (which has been found in increasing amounts in the sediment of Minnesota lakes and rivers) is one of many environmentally friendly initiatives planned for the state. But so far, there is no pending state legislation eliminate triclosan from consumer products such as hand soap, cleaning supplies or tooth paste.

Should You Avoid Triclosan?

It’s hard to say. Currently, there’s little hard evidence suggesting that washing your hands with triclosan or other antibacterial ingredients offers health advantages over plain soap and water.

So if you’re concerned about your long-term health, you might want to reduce your exposure — just in case.

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Commercial Cleaning Linked to Increased Risk of Asthma

asthmaProfessional cleaners have an increased risk of developing asthma. Though this may not be news to the commercial cleaning industry, longitudinal research has finally confirmed it.

Asthma, a chronic lung disease, is characterized by recurring periods of chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing. Though asthma can affect both children and adults alike, it is more frequently experienced during childhood. Adult onset asthma is typically related to environmental factors.

Study Design and Results

The study, published last month’s issue of Thorax – a leading respiratory medicine journal, followed roughly 9,500 UK natives born in 1958. Not including those with childhood onset, 9 percent of participants developed asthma by the time they turned 42.

Risks in the workplace were found to be responsible for one in six instances, which was surprisingly more than the one in nine cases attributed to chronic smoking.

According lead researcher Dr. Rebecca Ghosh of the MRC-HPA Centre for Environment and Health at Imperial College London, 18 occupations were clearly linked with an increased risk of asthma – and four of which were in the professional cleaning industry (and subsequently exposed to commercial cleaning products on a regular basis).

In addition to cleaning products, “flour, enzymes, metals, and textiles were among materials in the workplace identified in the study as being linked to asthma risk.”

The results of this study confirm that more must be done on behalf of employers to protect the long-term health of their employees.

“Occupational asthma is widely under-recognized by employers, employees and healthcare professionals,” said Ghosh. “Raising awareness that this is an almost entirely preventable disease would be a major step in reducing its incidence.”

Commercial Green Cleaning Products and Employee Health

Though the results of this study are certainly eye-opening, researchers agree that more study is needed to investigate the long-term health effects of green cleaning products.

“While the study did not note whether [the cleaning workers in the study] were using green or traditional cleaning products, we have known for more than two decades that exposure to cleaning chemicals on a regular basis can be a health hazard. This study now confirms this.”

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Social Media: Latest Flu Prevention Tool

sick office worker
No doubt, this year’s flu season has been one of the worst we’ve seen in years — but feeling under the weather hasn’t prevented many of us from logging into Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms.

In fact, we visit them just as frequently, or more so — according to the results of a new survey.

The nationwide survey, which was sponsored by Clorox Co. and conducted by Ipsos, received responses from nearly 1,000 men and women aged 18-29.

What they found was that 83 percent of people admitted to using social media as a source of entertainment when they were feeling sick, while a little over 9 percent said they used it to gain sympathy from friends online.

Enhanced Flu Prevention Behaviors

The survey also found that those who saw posts related to the flu were more motivated to step up their flu prevention behaviors.

Nearly 65 percent said they washed their hands more frequently after hearing of a friend or family member’s illness via social media, while 55 percent said they were more likely to use disinfectant on germ hotspots.

Cleaning and Hygiene for Flu Prevention

Fortunately flu season is almost over, but that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down quite yet. Remember to follow these important cleaning and hygiene tips.

  • Wash your hands often with foaming hand soap and hot water
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that may be contaminated with flu germs
  • Avoid contact with sick people
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tisue when you cover or sneeze and toss it in the trash
  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes, nose or mouth
  • If you do get sick, avoid contact with others for at least 24 hours

Image Credit: Flickr

Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Office

office spring cleaning
Maybe we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves (it’s still February after all), but we’re gearing up for some serious spring cleaning around the office.

In our opinion, a clean office is just as important as a clean home. If you sat down and actually calculated the number of hours you and your employees spend annually in the office, you’d probably be inclined to agree with us.

Additionally, numerous research studies have shown that a clean, organized office environment means a healthier, more productive workforce. To kick start your office spring cleaning, we thought we’d share some of our favorite tips below:

Encourage and promote healthy habits around the office.

According the 2012 study, 47 percent of working adults eat lunch at their desk on a daily basis. Though this might sound harmless, it’s not. Most workstations carry as much as 400 times more dangerous bacteria than the average public toilet seat. Not a very pleasant visual, we know.

There are several ways to minimize the risk of harmful bacteria:

  • Promote employee hand washing by keeping your restroom fully stocked with the right supplies (e.g., paper towels, foaming hand soap). A sign designed to remind employees to wash up can also be beneficial.
  • Make sure there are sanitizing/hygienic wipes available for employees to use throughout the office.
  • High touch points such as door knobs, light switches and bathroom surfaces should be cleaned on a regular basis to prevent the spread of bacteria. The same goes for communal areas such as fridges, microwaves, ovens and other shared equipment.

Be careful when cleaning up computer workstations.

Computer workstations are used for hours a day –which means they’re likely to collect a lot of dirt and dust. Unfortunately, they can be trickier to clean than most surfaces – and using the wrong methods can result in significant damage.

  • Use compressed air to remove dust from computer keyboards and CPU towers.
  • Clean monitors with wipes approved for use on LCD screens to avoid scratching screens.
  • Remember to dust each computer mouse and set of speakers before moving on to the next workstation.

Remove dirt and grime from your office space carpet.

A cold, snowy winter followed by damp spring showers can bring water, dirt and residue into your facility. Improve the look of your office and protect your carpet investment by initiating a carpet maintenance program.

  • A professional deep clean is the best first step, followed by regular vacuuming and spot removal. A successful maintenance program can extend the life of your carpet by three or more years.
  • Strategic matting is also a good way to prevent dirt and grime from entering the office. And the spring season may just be the perfect time to upgrade your current system.

Don’t be so literal. “Spring cleaning” can also pertain to your technology.

Your computer probably has its own version of dusty shelves and leaky faucets that could use some attention, both inside and out.

  • Back up all of your important files (e.g., documents, photos, videos, web bookmarks, emails, and so on). There are a number of cloud services that will store this information for free (Google Drive, Dropbox, Skyline and others).
  • Update your infrastructure – this means removing unused applications and programs. It’ll clear up your hard drive, and possibly your icons from your desktop – which means you’ll actually be able to see your wallpaper again.
  • Download the most recent software updates for your operating system. It might also be a good idea to do this for your favorite programs as well.

Image Credit: Flickr


Flu Prevention: Hand Sanitizer vs. Hand Soap

In the midst of one of the worst flu epidemics in over a decade, many of us are still confused about the difference between hand sanitizers and hand soap. We know they serve as our first line of defense against disease, but which one works best?

Dr. Richard Besser, Chief Medical Editor for ABC News, along with six graduate students decided to put this question to the test in the University of Maryland’s Food Safety Lab.

To test to effectiveness of both hand sanitizer and hand soap, researchers coated their hands with a liquid form of E. coli bacteria (a harmless strain). Then they proceeded to conduct four different trials with the following:

In between each trial, researchers pressed their hands onto petri dishes and then placed the dishes in an incubator to allow the bacteria to grow for two days.

So what did researchers find?

Non-Alcohol vs. Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer

When comparing non-alcohol and alcohol-based hand sanitizers side-by-side, it was clear that alcohol-based sanitizers were dramatically more effective than their neutral counterparts.

Alcohol-based sanitizers work by stripping away the outer layer of oil on the skin – breaking up and killing bacterial proteins. Unfortunately, many individuals do not tolerate alcohol-based products very well and end up with irritated skin.

Regular vs. Antibacterial Hand Soap

According to the results, both regular and antibacterial hand soap were equally effective – and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says they work about the same when it comes to disease prevention.

Hand Sanitizer vs. Hand Soap

Though hand sanitizer might seem like a quick alternative to getting your hands wet, regular old hand washing is still the best way to prevent illnesses like the flu. However – it’s important to note that how you use hand soap (and hand sanitizer) is crucial to its overall effectiveness.

Hand Soap and Hand Sanitizer Best Practices

Hand washing statistics have shown that theaverage person only spend a measly five seconds lathering up at the sink. Study researchers looked at this factor and found that after five seconds of hand washing, bacteria rates were virtually the same before and after.

If you really want to stave off illness, you need to wash your hands for a full 20 seconds (the equivalent of singing “Happy Birthday” twice).

Washing with hand soap is always your best option, but when you’re in a pinch, hand sanitizers are better than nothing. Just make sure you choose a sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol-based and you allow it to dry for at least 15 seconds before resuming normal activities.

Special Signs May Encourage Better Hand Washing Practices

hand-soapAs U.S. officials declare flu emergencies across the country, hand washing hygiene is more important than ever. But if you saw our previous post on hand washing rates, then you know many Americans aren’t doing their part to stop the spread of influenza.

So what can we do to encourage better hand washing practices?

According to a new study – all we need is more relevant signage.

The Study

The study, which surveyed 252 college-men, posted signs in campus bathrooms that read, “4 out of 5 Males Wash Their Hands,” alongside pictures of students in University apparel and a guide to proper hand washing.

As men exited the bathroom, they were asked to fill out a questionnaire pertaining to the sign they’d just seen and whether or not they’d followed suit.

Of the men who saw the signs, 86 percent reported washing their hands. When compared to a baseline study conducted in advance of placing signs, there was a nearly 11 percent increase in hand washing rates (from 75 percent).

So what’s next?

Other factors such as whether or not participants were in the bathroom alone or in the presence of others may have affected their hand washing behavior, so more more research is definitely needed to confirm the effectiveness of these signs — especially in the hospitality and healthcare industry. However, lead researcher Maria Lapinski still feels the results have important implications.

“It is important from a public health standpoint, because quality hand-washing can prevent transmission of many diseases, and we have good evidence that people typically don’t do it as often or as well as they should.”

Other studies on the subject have shown that good restroom hygiene, as well as the availability of foaming hand soap and hand dryers have also been shown to increase hand washing rates in public restrooms.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons