It’s high time for healthcare providers to take a look at their cleaning and disinfection processes, with the stricter hygiene and infection control requirements that have come with the pandemic.
New ways to achieve more effective and efficient cleaning methods will help hospitals – many of which are reeling from the financial impact brought on by the pandemic – balance costs and spending while not compromising on safety.
Occupational safety risks faced by hospital cleaners
While there are a host of practical benefits, taking time to re-examine the hospital’s cleaning processes will also help to protect its most important resource – its staff.
Slips, falls and injuries can easily occur in an overstretched cleaning workforce who are under time pressure. In addition, the physical nature of cleaning and scrubbing leads to stress on the body and eventually illnesses.
Several studies conducted across Asia found high prevalence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMD) in hospital cleaners. Almost 68% of cleaners surveyed in a Bangalore hospital reported WRMD, particularly in the lower back. Another conducted in Thailand saw over 80% of cleaners reporting that they had experienced WRMD over the past 12 months.
If left unchecked, long-term and severe WRMD can lead to reduced work productivity, affect quality of life, cause chronic disabilities and constitute a major economic burden and health challenge for healthcare systems. Sub-par workplace safety measures would prove to be a roadblock in recruitment and retention of staff, further worsening the manpower challenges that plague the industry today.
Relooking at processes and equipment
To mitigate this risk, hospitals could start by conducting an internal audit, studying and identifying potential injury causes in daily cleaning routines.
Ms Elaine Kong, Head of Marketing, APAC at Rubbermaid Commercial Products (RCP), raised the example of traditional wringer mop and bucket system as one that could pose health and safety issues.
“Firstly, cleaning a large floor area requires a lot of repetitive movement, pressing and moving the mop on the floor, and involves multiple trips back to the cleaners’ room to refill buckets of water,” said Ms Kong.
“Second, wringing the mop to remove excess water and lifting heavy buckets places significant stress on the body. The wet mopping process will inevitably cause discomfort to staff.”
Regular training should be provided to keep cleaning staff on the appropriate cleaning techniques and postures, Ms Kong added. These sessions also act as feedback channels for staff to provide prompt feedback on any strains or stress they face on the job, or highlight any risk of chemical exposure to staff and patients. Hospitals could then review the feedback and decide on the appropriate remedy, be it a change in processes or adoption of ergonomic cleaning tools.
There are many ways hospitals can work to come to a decision. An example would be the Royal Melbourne Hospital, which conducted a human movement test for two different mopping processes – traditional wet mopping and HYGEN microfibre mopping. Selected staff participants were fitted with ViSafe wearable wireless sensors, which measured the movement and postural risk while performing typical mopping tasks in a hospital room and bathroom.
The assessment found that overall, microfibre mopping posed a 20% lower movement risk. The sensors detected lower muscle activity (EMG) for the lower back and shoulder with microfibre mopping, which allowed more evenly symmetrical shoulder range of movement, and movement to be completed closer to the body’s core.
The impact has been significant in facilities that went ahead with the switch to microfibre. Ms Kong referred to Amana Living, an aged care service provider in Australia, which noted that they have not had a work cover claim related to cleaning since the roll-out of microfibre products at their facilities, with no reports of repetitive strain injuries or rotator cuff injuries.
Achieving cost efficiency
With the pandemic, healthcare facilities around the world have had to increase the frequency of cleaning, for example from once a day to twice a day, or even more frequently in high-traffic areas in order to reduce the risk of infection. This translates to an ever-higher consumption of water and cleaning chemicals.
Microfibre mops require significantly less water and chemical solution. Ms Kong raised the example of White Oak Manor long term care facilities in the US, which reported reduced chemical and water usage by over 97% (from 210 gallons to 6 gallons of solution a day) due to the switch over.
Cleaning processes were also faster, as microfibre mops just need to be charged (pre-soaked) once, allowing staff to clean continuously without walking back and forth to the cleaner’s rooms to dispose of dirty water (a tedious task that is repeated up to 10 times per shift).
Such savings in resources and time would enable facilities to operate more efficiently and sustainably. This is attested to by Amana Living – the switch from traditional to microfibre allowed Amana Living to increase the frequency of cleaning by 150 per cent in some environments, from one clean per week to 2.5 cleans per week, without any corresponding increase in labour cost. The facility noted that to achieve the same productivity with the previous equipment “would have cost in excess of $70,000 in extra staff and shifts, with no guarantee of improved cleaning outcomes.”
Cleanliness standards are not compromised – HYGEN microfiber mop pads have been proven to remove 99.9% of microorganisms with water only, said Ms Kong.
As such, careful evaluation and research into the right cleaning equipment would go a long way in meeting the demands of today’s healthcare facilities – cost effectiveness, efficiency, work safety and hygiene, among other factors.
To find out more on how to improve occupational safety at your healthcare facility, contact Rubbermaid Commercial Products at their website.