New technologies and ideas for safer and more efficient hospital cleaning

Cleaning robots and microfibre can help to improve productivity and workplace safety for housekeepers

Mr Colin Tan
Mr Colin Tan

Similar to healthcare facilities around the world, cleaning regimes had been stepped up at Singapore’s Alexandra Hospital (AH) in the wake of COVID-19. Mr Colin Tan, Head of Support Operations at the hospital, noted that frequency of cleaning in high-touch areas was increased to two to three times daily after COVID-19.

However, there were sometimes resources constraints in implementing surface cleaning and disinfection protocols. To support the housekeepers in managing their increased workload, in March 2020, AH became the first public hospital in Singapore to adopt the locally-made cleaning robot, named Ella.

Designed to carry out general cleaning such as routine floor scrubbing, Ella has been deployed for cleaning in high-traffic areas, such as common walkways and corridors in AH’s wards and clinics. Housekeepers are freed up to conduct disinfection and vertical cleaning, as well as cleaning of hard-to-reach areas, which the robot is not able to perform.

Exploring ways to improve cleaning productivity

Solutions such as cleaning robots will help to take off some cleaning workload and reduce the risk of workplace injury or strain in housekeepers. The mopping process is physically demanding, and causes stress to the shoulder and back muscles.

Amidst a manpower crunch, relooking at ways to improve productivity and the working environment, while ensuring high quality cleaning outcomes, will be key.

Another solution to raising productivity and mitigating workplace injuries is through the use of microfibre flat mops. A study found that flat mopping allows cleaners to work more evenly within the preferred shoulder range of movement. Also, unlike string mops, flat mops do not need to be used with a water bucket, as they come with built-in chemical reservoir and dispensing system. This eliminates the need for filling and carrying heavy buckets, which are physically straining tasks, and also translates to time savings.

In terms of cleaning performance, microfibre mops works with either disposable or reusable microfibre pads that can be laundered with bleach, thus reducing risk of cross contamination. 16-split blended microfibre is able to remove over 99.9% of viruses and bacteria.

Focus on surface cleaning and disinfection

Hospitals would benefit from paying close attention to surface cleaning, even in the absence of a pandemic. An estimated over 90% of airborne microorganisms in buildings are due to resuspension from floors and other surfaces, an alarming statistic considering the threat that airborne viruses and diseases pose.

Singapore’s hospitals, including Alexandra Hospital, closely follow the National Infection Prevention and Control Standards for Acute Healthcare Facilities, set by the Ministry of Health. It includes guidance on the processes and frequencies for surface cleaning in different situations and areas, depending on the type of surfaces (high-touch or low-touch), type of activity (intensive care units or public lounges), vulnerability of persons in the area, and probability of contamination.

“Cleaning equipment, disinfecting agents/chemicals, and cleaning techniques are of equal importance. It is about using the right cleaning equipment, disinfecting chemicals, cleaning techniques and frequency at the right time,” said Mr Tan.

Training and education of housekeepers would be key to achieving this. The MOH standards highlight that before new housekeepers can start working in healthcare facilities without direct supervision, they need to undergo orientation in cleaning techniques, cleaning agents and infection prevention and control practices, amongst other areas. It is also recommended for them to undergo competency testing and performance improvement to ensure they are well equipped to perform their tasks.

Exploring new ideas for safe and efficient cleaning

There is no silver bullet to raising cleaning standards and performance in a hospital. However, technologies and innovations, such as robot cleaners and microfibre, are showing potential towards making cleaning processes safer and more efficient.

Australia’s Royal Melbourne Hospital is one hospital which has relooked at its cleaning workflows and processes. Read about their experience with flat microfibre mops in this case study.