Hygienically Speaking

Do you want to ensure park and recreation facilities are clean, sanitary and hygienic, helping to prevent the spread of disease? Let’s take a look at how one hospital ward in England and another in Scotland tackled this challenge in their facilities. By reviewing their success and the current industry research, and by implementing the latest cleaning methods, managers can provide sound hygiene for their own facilities.

A Look At The Hospitals

According to a 2004 study, the two hospitals were experiencing unusually high outbreaks of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), among other reported infections. The hospitals eventually concluded that “high standards of ward cleaning” would help stem the outbreaks.

However, instead of taking limited measures--such as using stronger disinfectants and bleach, which have several drawbacks, including harm to the user and the environment--the hospitals decided to substantially increase cleaning durations and frequencies.

Cleaning hours were almost doubled--from 66.5 to 123.5 hours per week--at the 37-bed hospital ward in England. In addition, both hospitals placed a greater emphasis on virtually all cleaning tasks--from vacuuming and dusting to the careful wiping down of all counters, floors and surfaces, including infrequently cleaned surfaces, such as radiators and ventilation grills. The study reported that “increasing the cleaning hours to [almost] double the usual level … finally terminated the [MRSA] outbreak.”

Outbreaks of MRSA at the Scottish hospital were attributed to “sub-optimal cleaning,” the report noted. This ward, which is smaller than the one in England, was cleaned by only one worker for two hours daily. Even for a smaller space, two hours of cleaning by one custodial worker was far from sufficient.

After both facilities implemented a major cleaning program, the MRSA problem--as well as other infections, including nosocomial diseases--declined dramatically. As a result, the study concluded that “in the long term, cost-cutting on cleaning services is neither cost-effective nor common sense.”

Similar studies and conclusions also have been reported. The National Institute of Infectious Disease in Spain found that the understaffing of cleaning workers in its hospitals “increases the risk of patients becoming infected with the Hepatitis C virus.” And in an American hospital, after a seven-year study examined the occurrence of patients becoming sick with a variety of hospital-acquired infections, “there was a substantial decrease when [more aggressive] cleaning was included.”

Is More Cleaning The Answer For Park Facilities?

Increasing cleaning frequency, labor hours and aggressiveness appear to result in cleaner, more hygienic hospitals, but can this same strategy work in park and recreation facilities?

The easy answer is yes. Of course, similar outcomes can be expected as long as the cleaning workers are properly trained and use satisfactory tools, chemicals and equipment. But a big problem for park and recreation facilities in the United States now is the availability of funds to cover the costs of increased cleaning hours.

At a time when the U.S. economy is teetering between recession and depression, state governments--which typically fund most public park and recreation facilities--are facing a horrendous fiscal crisis. At least 47 states have shortfalls in their budgets, ranging from $1 billion to $2 billion in some states to more than $40 billion in California. And these severe fiscal problems are likely to continue into next year as well, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Because the funds are not there, most park and recreation facilities managers concerned about healthy, hygienic conditions will have to reevaluate their current cleaning systems, look for areas of improvement, and investigate other options. A good place to start is for managers to identify their most contaminated areas. Then, based on these findings, they should implement cleaning procedures that have been scientifically proven to be more effective, while not increasing time and costs. In fact, some of these new strategies may actually reduce cleaning times.

Where The Germs Are

In 2003, New York-based writer Nicolas Bakalar wrote a book titled Where the Germs Are: A Scientific Safari (published by John Wiley & Sons). The book, which became surprisingly popular, pinpoints areas of the average home where germs and contaminants are most likely to grow.

Unfortunately, no such book exists for public buildings or park and recreation facilities. “However, pinpointing where the germs are is the first step in cleaning more effectively,” says Angelo Poneris, customer service supervisor for Valley Janitorial in Hamilton, Ohio. “The cleaning professional can then focus his or her time and attention on the areas where they are needed most. This is not only more effective cleaning, but it is cost-effective cleaning as well.”

Poneris suggests that park and recreation facilities investigate current scientific-cleaning measurement tools, such as ATP monitors. ATP--adenosine triphosphate--is an energy molecule found in all animal, plant, bacterial, yeast and mold cells. Its presence on a surface can be a warning that disease-causing microbial spores and other diseases may be present. By using these monitors on a regular basis, custodial workers can determine which areas of a facility, especially restroom areas, tend to be the most contaminated and thus where the greatest cleaning effort should be concentrated.

Cleaning Procedures

Through organizations such as the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI), a nonprofit research group formed to expand scientific research into professional cleaning, we now know that many traditional cleaning systems may not only be ineffective at removing contaminants and promoting hygienic cleaning, but actually may be a culprit in spreading disease.

For instance, “as a conventional cleaning cloth is used, it collects soils, germs and other impurities,” explains Poneris. “Essentially what is happening is the towel has become the conduit, spreading disease and contamination.”

Studies going back to 1970 find that the mop in a traditional mop-and-bucket cleaning method typically becomes contaminated as soon as it touches the floor. And as the mop is used, contamination is spread to other areas of the facility.

These older cleaning systems are slowly being phased out and replaced with industry innovations, such as microfiber cloths and spray-and-vac cleaning technology.

According to Poneris, one manufacturer now produces microfiber-cleaning cloths that can be folded into quadrants, allowing for the selection of a fresh cleaning surface. And there are color-coded microfiber cloths available, in which the user can designate a specific color to be used for each particular task.

Spray-and-vac cleaning uses specially designed cleaning equipment that applies chemicals to the areas to be cleaned. These areas are then rinsed, loosening soils and contaminants that are then vacuumed using the machine’s built-in wet/dry system.

CIRI reports that these systems, compared to conventional cleaning methods, are more effective at eliminating C. diff, MRSA and other germs and bacteria that may be found in public restrooms and locker rooms. “Further, cleaning work can be performed two-thirds faster than with conventional cleaning methods,” adds Poneris.

Park and recreation facilities obviously don't require a hospital’s level of cleaning. But because of MRSA and other infections, astute park managers must stay vigilant to keep their facilities as hygienically clean as possible. “After all, the goal of park and recreation facilities is leisure, fun, sports and promoting health,” says Poneris. “No manager wants anybody to get sick using his or her facility.”

Susan Moore is a writer for the professional cleaning, building, healthcare and medical industries. She may be reached at info@alturasolutions.com.