One of the most important functions of cleaning is to protect the indoor environment. The removal of dust particles, pathogenic microorganisms and other harmful materials not only prolongs the health of a building, but its occupants as well. Cleaning workers need to understand the following terms to ensure they are properly caring for their buildings: pathogenic microorganisms, fomite, cross infection and/or nosocomial infection.

Pathogenic microorganisms. A pathogenic microorganism is a bacteria, virus or fungi that causes disease. Pathogens enter the human body through mucous membranes. When a person who is sick sneezes, they release pathogens into the air and onto the surfaces inside a building. In order to remove these pathogens, workers need to know how they spread and where they can be found.

Fomite. A fomite is a carrying mechanism for pathogenic microorganisms. Faucets, doorknobs, walls and any other surfaces or objects are fomites. Water and dust particles also can serve as fomites because they can carry pathogens. If these fomites are not removed or disinfected on a regular basis, they are helping bacteria travel and grow inside a building. Using an effective disinfectant, clean cloths and mop heads, and changing cleaning solutions on a regular basis can greatly reduce the spread of bacteria via fomites.

If a building is not being cleaned properly and bacteria are not removed/disinfected, the effects can be quite problematic. A contaminated building can affect an occupant’s health and the quality of life inside the building. If your cleaning operation is responsible for a health-care facility, be aware that a contaminated environment may contribute to the incidents of cross-infections or nosocomial infections.

Cross-infection/nosocomial infection. A patient contracts a cross-infection or nosocomial infection while staying in a health-care facility. People often acquire these infections during or after surgery. Experts have estimated that roughly 2 million patients per year in the United States are infected this way. It is estimated that roughly 80,000 people die from infection complications. While this cannot be precisely linked to the cleaning functions, cleaning workers need to understand how their work may affect the building and its occupants. Ideally, cleaning operations should remove the pathogens. At the very least, cleaning techniques should be dedicated to preventing pathogen spread.

John P. Walker is the owner of ManageMen consulting services in Salt Lake City. He also is the founder of Janitor University, a hands-on cleaning management training program.