Preventing hospital-associated infections: Effective hospital cleaning is key

To attain high cleaning standards, hospitals need to make sure cleaning staff are well-trained, abide by the protocols and are equipped with quality cleaning tools

Hospital-associated infections (HAIs) are a serious problem. WHO data shows that of every 100 hospitalised patients, 7 in developed and 10 in developing countries will acquire at least one HAI. This in turn results in longer hospital stays, increased medical costs and even mortality.

What should hospitals do to guard against this problem? For starters, being aware of the pathogens and how they spread, ensuring proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and compliance with hand hygiene measures by all staff and patients would help.

However, on top of these solutions, hospital cleaning is the first line of defence, said Mr Herman On, Director of Commercial Operations at Rubbermaid Commercial Products (RCP). RCP’s healthcare arm works to provide durable, high-quality healthcare cleaning solutions for facilities of all sizes.

Mr Herman On

Mr On noted that while ensuring patient and staff safety is the top priority for healthcare providers, maintaining a clean, sterilised facility isn’t far behind on the priority list. “Doctors, nurses, and specialists simply cannot deliver the best possible healthcare if they’re practicing in a room that hasn’t been optimally cleaned or if a patient’s room gets contaminated,” he emphasised.

Key factors in raising cleaning standards

Mr On shared that there are three important factors that need to come together, to ensure high cleaning standards in a healthcare facility:

  1. Cleaning chemicals or agents – Cleaning agents should be carefully chosen. Cleaning agents should be mixed onsite carefully in accordance with manufacturers’ directions, and be in contact with the surfaces for the minimum contact time for efficacy.
  2. Cleaning Equipment – Cleaning equipment used should be those appropriate for use in a healthcare facility. All used equipment should be properly maintained, laundered, inspected regularly and changed by staff when required.
  3. Cleaning Techniques – Technique goes hand in hand with training. All housekeeping staff should be thoroughly trained on the recommended cleaning techniques, such as cleaning from left to right, clean areas to dirty areas, or from top to bottom. The wiping direction is important in ensuring the least risk of contamination.

“Hospital staff and janitorial services should work together on the above to maintain a clean environment, and reduce the number of bacteria and other infectious agents present on all surfaces through effective cleaning and disinfection,” said Mr On.

In addition, a key guideline to be incorporated within cleaning procedures is the need to clean, then disinfect. Cleaning, or the physical action of scrubbing with detergents / surfactants and rinsing with water, removes organic matter, salts, and large numbers of microorganisms from surfaces. If the surface is not cleaned in advance, disinfectants may not work efficiently as they are blocked from direct contact with the pathogens.

DOWNLOAD: The ‘clean, then disinfect’ guideline is a key component of any effective surface cleaning procedure. Download a whitepaper featuring research and discussion on this topic here.

Cleaning protocols should also allocate more rounds of cleaning for certain areas which carry more risk of germ spread. In identifying these areas, hospitals should consider:

  • Whether the surface is high-touch: Certain surfaces, such as patient-facing equipment, doorknobs, and washroom fixtures, see more frequent contact with people, and hence require more frequent disinfection.
  • The type of activity conducted: Areas where patients are treated, waiting rooms, and reception areas will need to get more attention, compared to rooms that receive less footfall.
  • Vulnerability of patients occupying the space: Patients with compromised immune systems, elderly patients, infants and other higher-risk individuals will need to have their environments cleaned at a higher-than-average rate.

In cleaning such higher-risk areas, housekeepers should consider using 16-split blended microfibre cloths, as the small split fibres have increased surface area to better capture debris and microbes, and better absorption of liquid. They are able to remove 99.9% of tested pathogens from surfaces.

The same goes for mops – those that come with disposable or reusable microfibre pads will ensure thorough cleaning or removal of microorganisms from the surface. Also, with little water used, microfibre mops allow for fast drying, thus addressing slip and fall hazards.

Amana Living, an aged care provider in Australia, has witnessed how microfibre equipment helped raise its cleaning productivity. Some of its facilities were able to increase the frequency of cleaning by 150 per cent – from one clean per week to 2.5 cleans per week, without any corresponding increase in labour cost.

Other benefits of microfibre equipment

With the right tools in place, comprehensive staff training on the protocols for proper usage of the tools will need to follow. In certain situations, failing to follow protocols will not only compromise infection control, but only lead to the injuries in the cleaners or others in the hospitals. Mr On pointed out that with ergonomic design, usage of RCP’s microfibre mops and cloths require less bending, twisting and manual handling, thus reducing the risk of workplace strain and injuries. In addition, the microfibre mops lead to a lower risk of slips and falls for improved occupational health outcomes.

There are also environmental benefits, as microfibre materials require less water – Amana estimates it saves 600 litres of water every day. The durability of microfibre cloths, which can withstand 500 commercial laundry cycles (at 71oC without bleach; 200 cycles with bleach) means there is less wastage and more cost effectiveness.

The importance of infection control, be in against HAIs or COVID-19, cannot be understated, with lives at stake. A well-trained team of cleaning staff, equipped with the best healthcare cleaning products and abiding by the appropriate protocols, will be critical in breaking the chain of infection and contamination, and ensure the highest level of hospital safety.