Preventing pandemic influenza, including the swine flu, requires the same techniques as fending off seasonal influenza, according to reports by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). According to many industry manufacturers, preventing infection includes disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, preventing cross-contamination, and promoting proper hand washing. However, this type of cleaning program would mean new techniques for many BSCs.

“Our industry cleans at a sanitary level or less,” says Dave Frank, president, American Institute for Cleaning Sciences, Highlands Ranch, Colo. “Cleaning for emergency preparedness would move it up a level to disinfecting.”

In his book “Protecting the Built Environment,” Dr. Michael Berry explains that sanitary is cleaning to the point that protects health in general, but surfaces still have some contamination. In order for environments to be disinfected, 95 percent of harmful substances must be removed.

Wiping contaminated surfaces with a disinfectant effective against Type A influenza viruses should kill the H1N1 virus, according to World Health Organization (WHO). Janitors applying disinfectant need to pay close attention to the instructions and allow the product enough dwell time in order to kill the virus.

Flu viruses can live on hard surfaces for up to 8 hours, so janitors should focus on surfaces that are frequently touched by hands such as doorknobs, countertops, desks, elevator buttons and panels.

Utilizing proper cross-contaminations techniques will also help prevent further spread of the virus. Mop heads should be changed after cleaning each room, vacuum bags should be replaced each day and tools should be color coded for use in specific areas such as restrooms and kitchen areas, recommends Frank.

The best way to kill flu viruses on one’s person is by cleaning hands several times a day for at least 20 seconds with either soap or hand sanitizers. It will be up to building occupants to ensure their hands are washed often and long enough, but cleaning crews can still encourage proper techniques. Posting signs in restrooms and kitchens serve as good reminders, says Sansoni. Supplying hand sanitizing stations to be put in hallways or cafeterias — places where it would be a little too much trouble to go to the restroom to wash hands — is also a good idea.

Installing the latest restroom technology such as touchfree dispensers and foaming soaps can help make restrooms more visually appealing to patrons and encourage hand washing, says Brian Sansoni, vice president communication and membership, Soap and Detergent Association, Washington D.C.

Protecting tenants from a pandemic flu is a major responsibility for cleaning crews, but they must also take caution to protect themselves from infection. When cleaning potentially contaminated areas, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing gloves and masks. In healthcare facilities, when cleaning rooms with infected patients, additional personal protective equipment (PPE) includes long-sleeve, cuffed gowns and protective eyewear.

Preparing now
Even though experts are uncertain if and when a pandemic will occur, cleaning professionals can at least be prepared for a crisis now by establishing emergency preparedness planning programs with their customers.

“Planning is worthwhile,” says Walker. “Most cleaning organizations won’t be ready for such a scenario.”

Being prepared for a worst-case scenario such as pandemic influenza is an opportunity for building service contractors to show their value to customers, says Sansoni.

But facility mangers typically don’t view their cleaning providers as a resource for preparing for emergencies, says Frank. Contractors will need to take the initiative and ask their customers if emergency preparedness is important to them and if they have a plan or committee if place. If they do, ask if cleaning is a part of it, continues Frank. If cleaning isn’t currently included find out how to get involved.

“Most customers aren’t as well informed about cleaning issues as their contractor,” says Steve Spencer, facilities specialist, State Farm Insurance, Bloomington, Ill. “I think customers would be interested in having BSCs on their committee or at least welcome input from them.”

Besides literature, periodically providing tenants with hand sanitizers or disinfecting wipes with the name of the cleaning company on it is another way BSCs can show customers they are prepared and educated about a pandemic, says Sansoni.

BSCs should also be sure that if customers agree to emergency preparedness planning that clients understand that cleaning frequency could increase by two or three times the norm during a pandemic, says Frank. Customers will need to have funding to cover that type of cleaning.

In return, BSCs need to ensure they are educated enough to provide such intensive cleaning and not make any guarantees, advises Spencer. If an outbreak still occurs despite the new cleaning measures, there is the possibility the BSC could be held liable for damages, he adds.

If BSCs have enough accounts interested in emergency preparedness planning, they should stock up now on PPE, disposable tools, disinfectants, soaps and sanitizers, says Frank. If a pandemic occurs, there will be a shortage of supplies.