There’s a lot to infection control compliance in laundries. Some of this is structural: laundries need to be designed to prevent cleaned linen from being contaminated by soiled linen or other matter present in the laundry (including equipment). This is usually achieved by having an appropriate barrier, e.g. a space barrier where the storage area for soiled linen is positioned at least two metres from the cleaned linen area. Ideally, soiled and cleaned linen areas should be separated by a physical barrier or be clearly defined.
But even after the facility and room designing is complete, there is still plenty of work to be done. Not least of all, your laundry staff need to be equipped to do their job properly.
This is important because there are standards that dictate laundry requirements. Your facility’s laundry policies and procedures must meet the requirements outlined in the standards. If you use an external laundry service, they must meet these standards as well. Laundry staff infection control starts with the Standard, but it doesn't stop there.
Laundry Standards in Australia and New Zealand
Healthcare facilities must have documented policies on the collection, transport, and storage of linen. Healthcare facilities that process or launder linen must have documented operating policies consistent with Standard AS/NZS 4146:2000.
This means, among other things, that there must be a documented environmental cleaning procedure for the laundry staff, and they must be provided with education on infection prevention and control. Another standard that you could consult when developing and reviewing your policies is AS/NZS 4146:2000 ‘Codes of Practice for Public Healthcare Operated Laundries and Linen Services 2012’.
Bug Control has a Laundry Guide to help your facility establish proper, compliant laundry services. It's available as a physical resource for an online resource accessible 24/7. Compliance has never been easier!
What do my laundry staff need to manage infection control?
1. Laundry staff education
All laundry staff need infection control education. This should include performing effective hand hygiene, education on the correct use of PPE and how to don and doff in the correct order to avoid contamination. They also need education on breaking the chain of infection and how to prevent the spread of micro-organisms in the environment to cleaned linen and to themselves.
Laundry staff must also be educated on the safe and effective use of the machines being used for laundry (i.e. washers and dryers) as well as the appropriate chemicals and handling processes. They should also have education on the safe use of the relevant chemicals, as well as first aid related to those chemicals.
Bug Control's Laundry Flip Chart has been specially developed to make laundry policies easy to find and follow.
2. A written laundry policy
The Standard mentioned above specifies that there must be a documented environmental cleaning procedure for the laundry staff, and they must be provided with education on infection prevention and control. The policy should cover effective and safe collection/sorting, washing, drying and finishing. This includes allocating zones and specifying how laundry is to be moved through those zones as it is processed. These policies and processes will need to be unique to your facility and take into consideration the particular needs and limitations of your set-up.
3. Appropriate equipment
Laundry involves some specialised equipment. First and foremost is the equipment used for washing and drying. Washing machines either thermally disinfect or chemically disinfect linen. The washing machines must be industrial grade in order to effectively remove dirt, contaminants and destroy harmful micro-organisms.
To be effective, thermal disinfection requires that linen be washed at a minimum of 65°C for not less than 10 minutes, or a minimum of 71°C for not less than three minutes. Thermal washing machines must be compliant with AS/NSZ 4146. Facilities using chemical disinfection washers should ensure that the correct chemicals are being used for their machine. Regardless of the machine type, the right kind and the right amount of detergent need to be used, as well as the right cycle for the washing to be effective in destroying harmful micro-organisms.
The laundry should also contain infection control and safety equipment, such as appropriate PPE and a sharps container to dispose of items left in laundry. Often needles and razor blades can be dropped into gathered linen, so ensuring laundry staff can safely dispose of them is important.
4. Appropriate PPE
Laundry staff must wear appropriate PPE, including disposable gloves or heavy-duty gloves that are washed every day, as well as disposable oversleeve protectors. They must also wear plastic aprons when handling soiled linen and clothing. If possible, staff could also bring in a change of clothes so they don’t wear their work clothes home. This adds another layer of protection for your laundry staff and their households.
5. Appropriate chemicals
The laundry must contain the necessary chemicals for processing laundry, as well as safety data sheets for those chemicals. These should be kept in an accessible location and staff should be told where they are so that they can be accessed.
Correct laundry procedures are vital to infection control in aged care facilities. Ensuring that your facility meets and upholds laundry hygiene standards is crucial for the health of the residents, staff and visitors. Proper handling of linen shows that residents are being well looked after.
Laundry was February’s topic for our IPC Lead Program in Australia. We have just launched our NZ version of this program. If you are interested in supporting your IP Lead or improving infection control in your facility, sign up for a free one-month trial of our IP Lead Programme today.