Cleaning For Health And Healthy Buildings: Customer Q&A
Building service contractors have a duty to ensure a safe and healthy working environment for the building tenants — even if their client is more concerned with appearance. The products and procedures a BSC employs have a direct impact on the well-being of occupants, as well as that of a BSC’s own employees. Contracting Profits interviewed industry experts to learn tips from their experience on how to provide the healthiest (and cleanest) environment possible.
Q Chemical use is a hot-button issue when it comes to occupant health. What types of chemicals can be used to promote a healthy indoor environment?
A Mickey Crowe, CBSE, member of Building Service Contractors Association International Supervision Seminar Committee: Always choose the weakest solution or product that is still effective, even if it needs a little longer “dwell time” to accomplish the task. Avoid products that stay suspended in the air. Choose chemicals strong enough to do the job while still being friendly to the environment. Chemicals should be without volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dangerous solvents and other elements that could cause harm to the environment or humans. A quick check of the label or material safety data sheet should identify the degree of safety.
Green and bio-based chemicals should be the first choice since they have usually been formulated to minimize the health risk and damage to the environment, but beware of “green type” chemicals that are marketed as safe for the environment, but have identifiable health risks.
Steve Ashkin, president, The Ashkin Group, Bloomington, Ind.: It is clear that disinfectants are essential for controlling harmful organisms. However, selecting the right disinfectant and using them only when and where necessary is critical. Unfortunately, we have found that disinfectants are often overused. For example, while it is essential to use an intermediary-grade hospital disinfectant in a surgical theater, that same disinfectant is unnecessary in the hospital’s administration area.
In addition, one of the biggest problems is that they are used improperly. All disinfectants have a required dwell time in which the surface must remain wet for the chemicals to work effectively. This dwell time is typically five to 10 minutes, but in many cleaning procedures, the disinfectant is not allowed this necessary time. In these situations, either the process needs to be changed to allow for extra time, or the disinfectant can simply be replaced with a spray-and-wipe general purpose cleaner.
Q How do you ensure proper use of chemicals?
A Crowe: Train, observe, re-train, observe and train again. Regular surveillance focused on correct, safe procedures is essential, since many people tend to let down their guard after a period of time. Properly installed dispensing systems that eliminate the need for mixing [or] measuring are a good choice. Also, portion-control packets that are pre-measured are equally effective, so long as a worker knows how much water to have in the bucket or container.
Q Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) can have serious effects on tenants, especially those with asthma and other illnesses. HEPA vacuum filters are the most common tool used to provide healthy IAQ, but what else can BSCs do?
A Allen Rathey, president, InstructionLink/JanTrain Inc., Boise, ID: Generally speaking, there are three ways to protect or improve IAQ, listed in order of importance:
- Using matting and vacuum filters to stop contaminants at the source.
Studies have shown that significant levels of toxic substances, such as pesticides, are tracked in on shoes, end up on interior floors, and can be resuspended into the breathing zone of building occupants. Simply wiping one’s shoes on entrance matting can greatly reduce these substances.
Regarding vacuum filters, studies show that released particulate can completely mix with ambient air in three minutes in normal air circulation. In a sense, released dust behaves much like an oil spill. In the ocean, an oil spill — driven by tides and currents — often disperses into and permeates the surrounding environment. Cleanup efforts are often ineffective, since the oil tends to fan out rapidly, preventing easy containment and removal.
Since released dust particles spread out rapidly into the ambient environment on currents of air, much of the “damage” is already done before remedial methods can have an impact. People inhale particles in the 10 micron and smaller range, and equipment and building furnishings are covered with settling particulate which must later be removed — to the extent possible — by cleaning personnel. Thus, source capture with effective vacuum filtration is key.
To conserve energy, in the 1970s ventilation rates in many cases went down from 15 air changes per hour to five. This proportionally increased the levels of pollutants present in the indoor air. Simply increasing ventilation can produce significant improvements in IAQ by diluting pollutants such as dust and VOCs.
- Air cleaning (HVAC filters, room air cleaners)
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, air cleaning may achieve an additional reduction in the levels of certain pollutants, especially smaller particles, when source control and ventilation do not result in acceptable pollutant concentrations. However, controversy exists as to the efficacy of air cleaners in removing larger particles such as pollen and house dust allergens, which rapidly settle from indoor air.
Crowe: Most vacuum cleaners have more than one filter, which helps with filtering the air. The HEPA filter is usually replaced on a regular basis, whereas the sponge type is usually washed, air dried and reused until it needs to be replaced. Proper maintenance of back-up filters can extend the life and effectiveness of HEPA filters and further reduce dust in the air.
Jim Thompson, owner, A-1 Building Services, Wyoming, Mich.: Microfiber cleaning cloths and produsters (covers for lambswool dusters) help tremendously to remove dust and fine particulate matter from facility environments.
Q Hand washing is the leading method of reducing cross contamination. How do you encourage occupants to wash their hands often enough?
A Ashkin: One way to encourage hand washing is to make hand washing convenient and enjoyable. Making sure that soap dispensers in restrooms are full and operating properly is essential. Also, the quality of soap, its fragrance and even the quality of paper towels for drying hands all contribute to whether or not people wash.
Placing bottles of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, warm towels or towelettes where people stand in line, such as by elevators and in cafeterias, can encourage them to wash their hands. From the perspective of protecting public health, these hand sanitizers are valuable, but should be used in addition to soap and water rather than as a replacement. Some leading experts have indicated that if we could get people to wash their hands just five times per day, we could cut the rate of illness by 50 percent. Thus, anything that encourages hand washing, including alcohol-based hand sanitizers, is a good thing when used correctly.
Thompson: We sell “cleaning for health.” We stress disinfecting and sanitizing of commonly touched areas such as phones, door knobs, light switches, handrails, etc. We encourage our customers to help us maintain a healthy work environment by occasionally e-mailing their employees (prior to flu season) and posting signs (sometimes with humor) to remind their staff that they play a big part in preventing cross contamination. We recently passed along articles to our customers regarding how many people wash their hands after using the restroom — some were quite shocked at the survey results.
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