Infection control is obviously a priority for building service contractors working in healthcare environments, but it is also important when working in other facilities including schools and office buildings. BSCs have an obligation to perform their role in maintaining a healthy workplace by stopping the spread of infection. Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and face masks, must be utilized to carry out that responsibility.

It is common knowledge that hands are the primary means of spreading germs. Frequent hand washing has been promoted universally by public health officials for many years; however, the importance of using gloves as an infection control tool goes along with hand washing. Hands are kept cleaner and do not spread harmful organisms nearly as often when protected by a glove barrier.     

Gloves should be worn by all janitorial workers when cleaning and handling chemicals. OSHA requires that gloves be worn when using almost every commercial chemical. Certainly this is a good practice from a worker safety perspective but it is equally important regarding infection control.

Vinyl, latex or nitrile gloves are acceptable for general cleaning but the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) recommends that nitrile gloves be worn for cleaning in healthcare environments because of its chemical and puncture resistance.

Nitrile gloves are manufactured without donning powder and do not contain latex. In addition, latex prices are up as much as 40 percent since last year. Nitrile gloves currently cost 30 percent less than latex options.
In a healthcare environment, changing gloves is vitally important after cleaning a patient room, or when they become torn or punctured. When cleaning non-healthcare facilities, janitors should change gloves when visibly soiled or damaged.

To protect the face and mouth, face masks provide double the infection-control coverage since they protect both the janitor wearing the mask, but also any building occupants in the vicinity of the janitor during cleaning.

The outbreaks of various strains of flu in the last few years have popularized face masks as a good barrier against airborne pathogens.

Workers cleaning in a healthcare setting should wear masks when near patients with compromised immune systems. This protects the patient from a potentially sick worker and the worker from a contagious patient.

Masks are also recommended when cleaning schools. Students often attend school when they are sick. Workers are exposed to harmful germs when working around the children as well as cleaning up after they are gone. During cold and flu season the problem is augmented because of the large numbers of students in tight quarters. So in this case, the mask protects the worker.

Without proper personal protective equipment, janitors may inadvertently be spreading diseases throughout the facilities they work in.

Louie E. Davis Jr. is a jan/san industry veteran and freelance writer based in Birmingham, Ala.

Click here for more information on an infection control wardrobe.

previous page of this article:
Getting Dressed For Infection Control