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Cross Contamination, Health, And Industrial Facilities

Fri, 07/21/2006 - 7:14am

     When we hear about the dangers of cross contamination, we often think about schools, medical facilities, or food preparation centers. However, all types of facilities – including industrial locations – can have potentially dangerous cross contamination problems, which can often originate in a building’s restrooms.

     Studies have found that 97% of all toilet seats found in public and work restrooms harbor micrococacceae – a bacteria that can cause skin reactions. Thirty-nine percent of toilet seats are contaminated with streptococcaceae, which can cause sore throat and bronchial pneumonia. Other germs and bacteria found in dangerously large amounts can lead to urinary tract infections, blood poisining, fever, and even hepatitis.

     Research has also determined that serious viral infections can be transmitted by just touching a drop of urine from a toilet seat or on a urinal flush handle that has been present for about 45 minutes. It is because of this that industrial facility managers are encouraging better hand washing to help stop the spread of cross contamination; incorporating more extensive cleaning and maintenance programs; and, looking into new restroom designs and technologies to help keep their facilities – and staff – healthy and productive.

How Cross Contamination Occurs

     Cross contamination occurs in industrial facilities when workers spread contaminants around the worksite. This can happen as a result of touching soiled clothing or shoes, or skin contact with another employee.

     Skin contact is often the most common way germs are transferred in industrial settings. A worker touches a contaminated surface – such as a toilet seat, urinal handle, or other surface – and then touches something else which is eventually ingested or used for eating or drinking.

     Obviously, if someone fails to wash or properly wash their hands after using the restroom, the possibility of spreading germs and bacteria can increase substantially.

     For example, in one case in the late 1970s, a San Francisco company that made ice cream employed a worker that did not realize he had Hepatitis A. Even though the worker claims he washed his hands before and while working, it apparently was not thorough or often enough. During the course of the workday, the disease’s germs and bacteria found their way onto his hands and into scores of gallons of ice cream he was processing. 

     The germs and bacteria were eventually consumed by people eating the ice cream. As more and more became ill with Hepatitis A, public health officials eventually determined that all had eaten the ice cream produced by this company and handled in some way by this one worker.

     As a result of this experience – as well as others – government entities throughout the United States instituted new and more stringent rules and regulations to prevent cross contamination.

     Many of these required proper hand washing before, during, and when exiting the workplace; the wearing, proper washing, and disposal of protective clothing; and, encouraging workers to take showers before leaving work so as not to spread germs people outside the plant. 

Preventing Cross Contamination

     Industrial restrooms, like those found in many other facilities, have traditionally been cleaned by using cleaning cloths and chemical sprayers and then wiping restroom fixtures and surfaces. Floors are usually cleaned using mops and buckets.

     The problem with these traditional systems is that they can eventually spread as many germs and bacteria as they remove. Mops and cleaning solutions can be contaminated as soon as they are used, spreading germs and bacteria to other floor surfaces. Even stronger chemicals – which can also negatively impact the environment – eventually can become contaminated and even ineffective. 

     To more thoroughly clean restrooms, some industrial facilities have incorporated new cleaning measures and systems. Some of these include:

          • Changing mops, cleaning solutions, and cleaning cloths frequently and especially after cleaning each restroom

          • Keeping all cleaning tools and equipment clean and sanitized

          • Encouraging cleaning workers to wear gloves and goggles, which are changed regularly

          • Properly training and educating cleaning workers on how to more effectively clean restrooms and restroom fixtures

          • Switching to microfiber mops and cleaning clothes which are more absorbent than string mops or   terrycloth towels

          • Incorporating no-touch or spray-and-vac cleaning systems

     “No-touch systems, such as those developed by Kaivac, Inc., are finding more industrial applications,” says Tom Morgan, director of engineering for Premier Support Services, Cincinnati, Ohio, which provides technical cleaning, facility management, preventive maintenance programs, and fleet management services to large manufacturing facilities.

     According to Morgan, these systems combine indoor pressure washing, chemical injection, and rinsing to clean surfaces. A built-in vacuum system then vacuums-up contaminants, completely removing them from the restroom as it dries surfaces.

     “We find the no-touch system to be a thorough way to clean restrooms,” says Morgan. He says it is one way facilities can help prevent the spread of cross contamination.

New Restroom Designs and Technologies

     New restroom designs and technologies are also helping to prevent infections. For instance, more restrooms are becoming door-less, having a “maze type” entry so that no door handles need to be pulled or pushed. 

     In addition, many industrial restrooms are now installing “touchless” fixtures. First developed more than 15 years ago, these systems use infrared detection systems to flush toilets and urinals, dispense soap and paper, and dry hands. 

     Some industrial facilities are going even further, installing restroom fixtures that are not only touchless but use no water at all – making them more sustainable and environmentally preferable.

     “Many industrial facilities are installing waterless urinals,” says Klaus Reinhardt, managing partner of Waterless Co., Vista, Calif. “Doing so, they eliminate touching since there are no handles to pull, and save as much as 40,000 gallons of water per urinal, per year.”

     In addition to using less water and eliminating touching, tests indicate waterless urinals have less surface bacterial growth since bacteria requires moisture to grow.

     “Many experts believe this makes waterless urinals healthier than conventional urinals, helping to prevent cross contamination and keeping workers healthy,” Reinhardt says.

     Prevention Studies indicate that as many as 25% of those exiting a public restroom leave with bacteria on their hands, potentially spreading illness and cross contamination. Effective hand washing, according to researchers at the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), is still the most effective way to prevent this. 

     However, realizing that many workers do not wash their hands and that this appears to be an ongoing problem, industrial facility managers must take additional steps to protect the health of their workers.

     These include the use of more thorough cleaning systems, installation of touchless restroom fixtures, and the use of waterless fixtures and urinals, which help preserve natural resources and protect the environment.

     “In many industrial facilities, restrooms are almost a centerpiece, reflecting the cleanliness and upkeep of a facility,” says Reinhardt. “However, they must go beyond this and reflect the facility’s concern about the health of their workers

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