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SOAPBOX: Back to normal? No thank you!
Jay Coates, Director, Twotwenty2 Cleaning, writes…
“Following two years of upheaval, we constantly hear the desire to return to normality, but do we really want that? At the outbreak of the pandemic, it has to be said the cleaning industry was underprepared; cleaning processes were inadequate for the new challenges, and cleaning companies did not hold the necessary equipment to enable the creation of a safe environment. The cleaning industry quickly took stock, and rose to the task, but several problems remained.
We are major users of single-use plastics. As a consequence, our industry is a major contributor to this ongoing global catastrophe, so we have to ask ourselves if we are happy for this to continue? Plastic bottles should be returned to manufacturers for re-use.
Secondly, the threat from hospital acquired infections remains, and of course this now includes Covid. According to the World Health Organisation, out of every 100 patients in acute-care hospitals, seven patients in high-income countries and 15 patients in low- and middle-income countries will acquire at least one HAI during their hospital stay, and on average, one in every 10 affected patients will die from their HAI.
The pandemic highlighted the extent to which healthcare settings can contribute to the spread of infections; harming patients, health workers and visitors if insufficient attention is paid to infection prevention and control. In a recent report (1), the WHO showed that where good IPC practices are followed, 70% of those infections can be prevented.
Thirdly, the continued use of Quats within the cleaning industry continues to raise significant concerns. Their activity, for example, can be adversely affected by water hardness (during dilution), fat-containing substances and anionic surfactants. In addition, cotton and gauze may absorb the active ingredients of Quat-based products and significantly reduce their effectiveness. Many cleaning and disinfection products containing Quats are potentially hazardous to health, and product labels contain warnings against ingestion, or exposure to skin, eyes and the respiratory system. These products are frequently supplied in concentrated form, which presents a greater hazard and provides opportunities for mixing errors which may affect efficacy.
The health effects of Quats include a range of problems from mild skin- and respiratory irritation up to severe caustic burns on skin and the gastrointestinal wall (depending on concentration). Quats have also been associated with allergies and occupational asthma, and with fertility and birth defects in laboratory mice.
Given the potential health effects of Quats, the group most at risk are those of us that work with cleaning chemicals every day. A Paper published in the American Journal of Respiratory & Critical Care Medicine (2), involving 6,235 participants over 20 years, concluded that women cleaning at home or working as occupational cleaners had accelerated decline in lung function, suggesting that exposures related to cleaning activities may constitute a risk to long-term respiratory health.
The Quat disinfectants that contain hazardous substances also represent a threat to the environment and used containers should be incinerated or disposed of in an acceptable permitted waste disposal facility.
Quats entered the market in the early 20th century before the US Environmental Protection Agency began regulating the manufacture and sale of potentially harmful chemicals under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. As a result, Quats counted as existing chemicals on the market that could continue being included in consumer products without being evaluated for safety. However, these compounds have since been extensively tested and their precautionary statements are available under the sections on Environmental Hazards, and Danger to Human Health within their registration documents on the US EPA website.
Post-pandemic, there will inevitably be a greater demand for improved disinfection procedures and most cleaning companies now include this in their services. However, if going back to normal means using these hazardous chemicals, maybe we should take this opportunity re-assess the health and environmental impacts of the products that we use?
Health and safety regulations:
Under the Workplace (Health Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992, employers have a legal duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees. Furthermore, the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to assess and control risks to protect their employees. A key element of this is the requirement to comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. The COSSH Regulations include dust, mist, vapour, fumes and chemicals. In addition to their health and environmental risks, hazardous cleaning and disinfection chemicals therefore also incur an additional administrative burden.
In many countries, employers are duty bound to consider the health & safety of their staff during the journey to work. Whilst this is not the case in the UK, responsible organisations should consider doings so.
The way forward:
Potential problems occur when facility managers dictate cleaning schedules and products without the requisite training and experience. It is vitally important therefore that the trained professionals in the cleaning industry are involved in these important decisions because of the health implications for staff, visitors and cleaning staff. We do not tell electricians how to carry out their work, because we know that they must adhere to regulations; the cleaning industry should be the same. Without appropriate standards, how can anyone produce a reliable risk assessment?
The solution lies in the use of environmentally-friendly products that are not hazardous to human health. However, it is vitally important that these products are as effective, or better, than the hazardous chemicals that they replace. For these reasons, hypochlorous acid (HOCl) and catholyte have become increasingly popular in the healthcare, education and facilities management sectors.
Hypochlorous acid is produced naturally by our white cells to fight infections, and it is now available as a commercial product in a stable form. With a log 6 reduction, HOCl has been shown to be one of the most effective products available, and it poses no danger to humans, pets and the environment, with no PPE required.
At Twotwenty2 we have been working extensively with Adrian Gee-Turner from L'Eau to develop a UK-designed electrostatic sprayer, and in doing so we sought the most effective HOCl product. Following extensive research and evaluation, we chose Nemesis eH2O (500 ppm), because not all HOCL products are as effective and as stable when stored.
Electrostatic sprayers should form part of all cleaning companies' tool kits. All cleaning should be followed by sanitising with electrostatic sprayers, because this method maximises coverage and leaves viruses and other pathogens with no place to hide. By implementing standard procedures that ensure dwell times and coverage of all surfaces, we can create a safe environment.
We cannot wait for the Government to change the way we operate; we owe it to our work colleagues, our customers, our children and our planet to stop using hazardous chemicals and choose a clean, safe, effective alternative. The cleaning industry includes professional, dedicated, hard-working staff that perform a vital role in society. We are the people that understand the implications of cleaning and disinfection chemical choices, so we are the ones who will lead the way; showing others the best way forward - we simply cannot return to normal.”
1. WHO launches first ever global report on infection prevention and control. www.who.int
2. Cleaning at Home and at Work in Relation to Lung Function Decline and Airway Obstruction. www.atsjournals.org
3. Do we know enough about the safety of quat disinfectants? https://cen.acs.org/safety/consumer-safety/know-enough-safety-quat-disinfectants/98/i30
30th June 2022