Why Frequently Touched Objects (FTOs) are Affecting Your Health

community-acquired-infectionsIn the age of MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Community Acquired Infections (CAIs) can be more serious than just the common cold.

CAIs can result in serious illnesses. Visits to the doctor’s office, hospital stays, and even more extreme circumstances like amputation and fatal infection can occur from the aggressive and treatment-resistant staph germs like MRSA.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that several bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to current antibiotics. Many of these infectious bacteria can now not only live on hard surfaces, but thrive on them for months, making them easily transferable.

Acquiring CAIs

So how are CAIs most commonly spread and acquired? Frequently touched objects (FTOs) are often to blame. FTOs include hard surfaces such as restroom faucets, counters, soap dispensers, and toilet seats. They also include door knobs, desks, chairs, and computer keyboards.

FTOs are exactly what their name implies: items that are handled frequently throughout the day. The more frequently they are touched, the greater the chance that they will end up harboring infectious bacteria and other germs.

The reality is that bacteria can live on FTOs for long periods of time, sometimes for several months. Cleaning them at least daily can help reduce the spread of infection and illness in public spaces and work environments. Providing a cleaning program for your clients that includes FTO cleaning procedures can be a value added service that sets you ahead of the competition, and you are backed by research that shows healthy employees are more productive and happier.

Preventing CAIs

How can CAIs be prevented? The first step toward reducing infections in public spaces, office, and work environments is to practice effective and frequent hand washing with a good quality hand soap. Good hand washing (thorough scrubbing with soap and water that lasts at least 20 seconds) is your first and most effective defense against infection from bacteria that dwell on FTOs.

The most attentive hand washer is still at risk of picking up germs from their environment, however. Clean hands in a dirty environment will only get you so far, however. Hand hygiene is just one piece of the puzzle. Data is revealing that more and more germs can survive and thrive on hard surfaces, making CAIs from FTOs a greater health concern than ever before.

Beyond personal hygiene and hand washing, the next step toward preventing CAIs is to establish an effective and sustainable cleaning program. Cleaning staff that are trained to clean FTOs and who are equipped with effective tools, materials, and cleaning supplies can help reduce the spread of infection in public spaces, hospital and health care facilities, and work environments.

Working with a building service contractor to develop a specific cleaning plan for FTOs will also help. Spot cleaning throughout the day, scheduling cleaning staff to be on duty during business hours, and incorporating sustainable and effective cleaning products are all parts of a comprehensive approach to cleaning solutions.

What is your protocol for cleaning FTOs? Many times these surfaces are overlooked in training sessions because they are conspicuous. It is important to directly address cleaning procedures for FTOs so that you don’t have to assume they are cleaned: you will know that they are being cleaned.

Addressing FTOs

FTOs are often overlooked, and germs have been found to survive and thrive on them. Developing a system for cleaning and disinfecting FTOs is critical to public health. Here are tips for addressing FTOs:

  • Create a comprehensive cleaning program that addresses FTOs. Janitors and sanitation technicians and distributors should give input while you design a program. The addition of FTOs in a cleaning program may require increased labor, training, supply purchasing, etc. Take the whole picture into account.
  • Define your FTOs. Each building and facility will have its own unique list of FTOs. You and the building service manager know the space better than anyone. Work together to create an exhaustive list of FTOs. Some common examples include door knobs and handles, hand rails, keyboards, computer mice, window blind adjustors, push plates on doors, light switches, restroom surfaces, and desk drawer handles. Make sure you discuss how to handle more personal FTOs like computer accessories and components with each client.
  • Create a written procedure for each cleaning site. Having an easy to understand and clearly written document that explains FTOs, how to clean them, and why is an important part of your cleaning program. You can also make it a part of your procedures manual for each cleaning site.
  • Determine the cleaning frequency for FTOs. FTOs should be cleaned at least daily. Spot cleaning is recommended in order to keep surfaces free of infectious germs and bacteria.
  • Train your staff. It is important to tell your staff about FTO cleaning procedures, and to give them documentation, but it is also vital to actually train them, answer their questions, and formally introduce them to the concepts behind frequent FTO cleaning.

The Importance of Cleaning FTOs

Cleaning FTOs is more than a matter of value added service. Creating a cleaning plan that addresses FTOs can reduce the spread of infections, improve public health, and prevent illness. Including FTO cleaning procedures in the scope of work of employees, and making FTO cleaning a matter of policy will create a culture of FTO cleaning in your staff. The health and safety of building occupants relies heavily on the care and attention given to cleaning FTOs.

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