Environmental cleaning in aged care: it’s the little things

Environmental cleaning is achieved with simple tools and products, but is it really that simple? 

We know environmental cleaning is not a simple task. It has evidence-based science behind it and its significance is often lost in the hurry and demand of a busy environment. Our cleaners are responsible for much more than meets the eye and their role is crucial.

Here at Bug Control, July's focus is environmental cleaning, so we have some fresh reminders of the little things that make a big difference in your facility.

Empower your cleaners to deliver

Is the cleaning equipment clean? Do a review. Is it functional and fit for purpose? Are the cleaning trolleys in good working order and do they have regular cleaning and maintenance? You cannot clean with dirty tools.

Equipment that is old, dirty or deteriorating will not be effective and will act as a reservoir, transporting pathogens around a facility. Equipment should be suited to the task and make performing the task easier. Staff who have the right resources are going to have a better opportunity to do the job right.

If we have the tools and the products, do we have staff who know how to put it all together? Cleaning of the clinical environment is a science. A cleaning program should include education for cleaning staff. Do your team have regular evidence-based education sessions and access to industry innovations? Do they know when they need clean water in the bucket? Do the cleaning staff understand the ‘why?’ behind cleaning colour codes? An organisation that invests in the development of its people power equips its team to perform well and succeed. 

Reinforce the basics

As one of the seven standard precautions, environmental cleaning gives those in our care the opportunity to live free of preventable infection. Standard precautions apply to everyone in a healthcare environment, always. Facilities should have a cleaning policy that reflects the Standards and best practice. It should be written in a way that is easy to understand. A cleaning policy should include a cleaning schedule and outline the various levels of cleaning expectation, tailored to your facility.  

Whose job is environmental cleaning?

In the healthcare environment surfaces are classified by how frequently they are touched or used. Low touch areas might include ceilings, windows, skirting or scotia.

The NHMRC (2019) recommends frequently touched surfaces be cleaned at least daily with a detergent solution.

Frequently touched surfaces are the responsibility of cleaning staff. The surfaces considered to be frequently touched include handrails, walkers, commodes, toilets, door handles and push points, remotes, musical equipment, sliding sheets, phones, call buttons, bed rails – to name a few.

The cleaning of shared clinical equipment such as thermometers, sphygmomanometers and stethoscopes, and glucose monitors are the responsibility of the clinical staff using the equipment. They should be cleaned between residents. Equipment fixed in a room, such as a wall-mounted sphygmomanometer, should be cleaned after each use.  

The cleaning of surfaces like curtains, soft furnishings and carpet should be included in the facility’s cleaning policy and should be fairly frequent. Any carpet covering needs to comply with AS/NZS 3733:2018. Carpet should be regularly vacuumed and commercially steamed cleaned frequently, particularly after spills or accidents.  

Mindset modifications

How can we encourage better environmental cleaning practices in aged care facilities? 

  1. Encourage staff to speak up. When staff see something of concern in the clinical environment, they should be able to share this safely. Criticism can be feedback and having someone take the time to share their observations is of value to your facility. Those on the floor have a unique vantage and understand the challenges of the environment. 
  2. Make people the priority. Organisations that recognise their staff for their contributions and invest in the development of their people have better retention and productivity. A recognition program may be a good starting point and provides a platform for acknowledgement and for staff be appreciated for their efforts.  

It's hard reviewing environmental cleaning effectiveness and policy from scratch. Consider an internal environmental cleaning audit, or schedule spot checks of cleaning efforts, to identify areas for continued improvement. If you’d like some expert help in polishing your facility’s cleaning processes, contact Bug Control today for an environmental cleaning audit.  

As our Operational Director Michele Pasco says: “If we all do out bit, no matter how small we can stop infections.”

Resources 

The NHMRC (2019) provides a table of recommended cleaning frequencies.  

https://www.icleanconference.com.au/ – a limited time free virtual cleaning conference  

References 

https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/understandinganddevelopingorganizationalculture.aspx

https://www.worksafe.govt.nz/managing-health-and-safety/workers/your-rights-and-obligations/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26290935/

https://www.hqsc.govt.nz/our-programmes/infection-prevention-and-control/topics/precautions-standard-and-transmission-based/