The health and safety OF frontline cleaning staff is just as important as that of the patrons and building occupants they serve. And yet, pre-pandemic, the approach toward personal protective equipment (PPE) in many custodial departments was, at best, lackadaisical.

Even facilities that gave PPE the attention it deserved were sometimes met with resistance from frontline workers. It was not uncommon for custodians to shun protective gear because they found it uncomfortable or preferred to “tough it out.” According to cleaning distributors, PPE practices have not changed much as a result of COVID-19. What has changed is facilities’ attitudes toward them.

“PPE has always been necessary in custodial departments,” says Bill Allen, territory manager for Fagan Sanitary Supply, West Elizabeth, Pennsylvania. “It’s just that it’s been put under the microscope due to the pandemic and given the importance it always should have had.”

Laura Craven, vice president of marketing and communications at Imperial Dade, Jersey City, New Jersey, agrees with Allen’s assessment. She notes that custodial workers themselves are now more invested in following PPE guidelines — not only to protect themselves from the chemicals they use, but to reduce the transmission of illness.

“PPE was always a requirement for frontline cleaning staff, but it wasn’t enforced or given much attention,” she says. “What the pandemic did was shine a light on why PPE is important. Now, people are following the instructions on the products and equipment they’re using, which is going to result in more effective cleaning for health. And once the pandemic is in the rearview mirror, hopefully these better practices will stick.”

A Word On Gloves

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the use of gloves for all cleaning tasks — and today more and more custodial departments are taking this advice to heart.

“Gloves are the main staple that has become a priority and routine for departments,” says Garry Williams, president, Sanco Sanitary Solutions, Macon, Georgia. “Before the pandemic, the reason was to keep the chemical from getting on your skin. Now, gloves have been repurposed and are being worn to prevent the spread of infection.”

No doubt, supply chain issues impacted the availability of gloves and masks, resulting in shortages and skyrocketing prices. As a result, many facilities were forced to find alternatives or do without. Furthermore, initial panic and fear of the virus led some facilities to stock up on PPE that turned out to be unnecessary or unsuitable.

“Because of the pandemic, people are now using PPE that they don’t need to be using,” says Andy Attman, vice president of Acme Paper & Supply Co., Savage, Maryland. “For instance, a lot of people believe they need to use nitrile gloves, when in fact they don’t. Vinyl gloves are acceptable, unless you’re dealing with blood or heavy, corrosive chemicals.”

Indeed, wearing gloves is imperative, say distributors, as long as custodians are using the right type of gloves for the task at hand.

“When buying PPE, my main concern is that facilities buy the right product for the right situation,” says David Ashworth, vice president of marketing, Alabama Paper & Supply, Goodwater, Alabama. “If you’re in a situation where you need a general purpose glove, don’t buy a medical grade glove. And if you need a medical grade glove you shouldn’t use a general purpose glove.”

According to distributors, polyethylene gloves are best suited for food service applications while latex and vinyl gloves are appropriate for cleaning applications. Although latex gloves offer protection against chemicals as well as viruses, some custodians may suffer from a latex allergy. Vinyl gloves can serve as an alternative; however, they are less durable than latex gloves and are best used for cleaning in non-hazardous environments with a low risk of infection.

Prior to the pandemic, custodians typically wore gloves when cleaning restrooms, emptying trash or handling chemicals that specified their use. Now, distributors recommend frontline staff wear gloves at all times and change them out for each new task or area. Facility managers should also emphasize proper doffing and donning techniques, as well as hand washing procedures, and ensure that workers incorporate these practices into their cleaning routines.

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Facial Protection From Disinfectants