Part I: Are we processing environmental surfaces the right way?

Part I: Are we processing environmental surfaces the right way?

Environmental surfaces abound in every indoor environment.  Those environmental surfaces get loaded with fomites (Nonliving material. Any object or substance, other than food, that harbors or carries infectious organisms.)  As your staff goes about the daily routine of spraying and wiping you have to wonder, “Are we processing those environmental surfaces the right way?”  What confidence do you have that your processes, training, tools and chemicals are delivering the best outcome: a safe, clean and disinfected space?

The term “process” as used here includes cleaning and disinfecting an item or area using a clean micro-denier cloth or flat mop, as appropriate and approved general purpose cleaner or EPA-registered disinfectant.

Let’s look at some of the factors that impact the ability to consistently deliver on our promise that the building will be safer because we have done a good job of processing:

  • Not using the proper procedures/best practices for your segment of the cleaning business
  • The wide range of surfaces needing cleaned/disinfected
  • Lack of education and easily understood training for housekeepers whose first language is not English


Let me break it down for you…there are best practices for your segment of the cleaning business.  If your segment is healthcare, the AHE (Association for the Healthcare Environment and IEHA ( both have many best practices and procedures that are FREE or you can purchase.  If you are in the business of cleaning educational facilities, APPA (formerly the Association of Physical Plant Administrators is a great resource of best practices for you.  The ISSA (International Sanitary Supply Association) offers the CIMS (Cleaning Industry Management Standard).  CIMS is the first consensus-based management standard that outlines the primary characteristics of a successful, quality cleaning organization.   I think you get the point, seek out the professional organization with the most applicable cleaning standards for your organization and join it; become a certified professional.  Certification programs are available from IEHA (CEH, REH, Master CEH, Master REH) and AHE (CHESP).  Make sure you and your organization are using the best!

Within your building or campus, there is a wide variety of environmental surfaces that have to be kept clean and/or disinfected.  Starting at the front door, you may have to maintain the concrete sidewalk outside the entrance, the glass windows and doors, the brass handle on the door, the entrance carpet matting.  Within the first 15’ you see rough concrete that has to be maintained a certain way to insure the gum, litter, cigarette butts, the stains, etc. are removed on a regular basis.  The glass door or windows have to be kept free of spots, smudges, film and streaks.  The same process used on the concrete can’t be used for cleaning the glass. 

The brass metal handle has to be disinfected as well as polished to a high shine; two different cleaning procedures with the accompanying chemicals and cloths.

Then you have the carpet mat that has to be vacuumed, kept free of litter, gum and spots.  Often, the dirty mat has to be exchanged for a clean one.

You get the picture…we have barely gotten into the building and you have a wide variety of surfaces that have to be kept clean and/or disinfected, with different processes, tools and possibly different job classifications doing the work on different shifts and different frequencies of cleaning.  They aren’t the same and can’t be maintained in the same manner; that fact makes processing a HUGE challenge in today’s buildings.

It is a well-known and accepted fact that more than half the cleaners employed in American hotels, hospitals, office buildings and public facilities such as airports, shopping malls and schools are NOT natural born citizens.  They come from Western Europe, Slavic countries, the former U.S.S.R., Southeast Asia, Korea, Mexico, Central America and many other regions of the world.  Employees with different religions, backgrounds and cultures make up many cleaning companies and housekeeping departments.  And, as you might guess, English is not their first language.  In fact, they are “English-challenged”.

If you have foreign-born workers in your department, have you translated the department policies, chemical labels, procedures, work rules, training, etc. into the native language of your workers?  All the languages of your workers? 

If I went to live and work in another country where English was not the spoken and understood language, I would understand how those workers feel here in the U.S.  But, on the other hand, would I expect all those things just mentioned to be done in English?  Or, would I be expected to learn the language of the country I had chosen to live in?

As a leader in the cleaning/maintenance company or department, you need to understand the dynamics of getting the job done with a fully engaged workforce, retaining the best workers and building a team that delivers on a daily basis.   At the end of the day, the building has to be safe, clean and disinfected.

The next time, we’ll look at a few more factors in answering the question, “Are we processing environmental surfaces the right way?”

About Darrel Hicks

J. Darrel Hicks, B.A., is the author of Wiley Publishing's "Infection Prevention For Dummies", and is nationally recognized as one of the top experts in infection control. Darrel Hicks is also the Past President of the IEHA and is an active member in AHE where he holds the designation of CHESP. View all posts by Darrel Hicks

Leave a Reply

Recent Posts

Recent Tweets

  • No tweets were found.


Posts Archives

November 2017
« May    

Contact Darrel

Thanks! Your email was successfully sent. I check my email all the time, so I should be in touch soon.

There was an error sending your message. Please try again later.

Sending your message...