Green Cleaning in Today’s Hospitals

Environmental Services

 

Healthcare-Services-300x152In Environmental Services we have heard the term “Green Cleaning” for many years now.  What this often means to most of us in the industry is “the use of cleaning products and procedures that help protect the health and environment of patients, visitors and staff working in hospitals and healthcare facilities.”

An important objective is to reduce how cleaning impacts the environment.  Though a more critical target with green cleaning should be to protect health. Research and advances in technology, have produced several environmentally preferable cleaning products that can adequately deliver both of these goals.

Green Cleaning in healthcare sometimes leads managers to mistakenly believe green cleaning is all about chemicals.  However it’s important to also realize that equipment used with cleaning is similarly important in attaining the green clean goal. Specifically, any facility looking to obtain the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, must use the right cleaning equipment to be able to earn the certification. Cleaning equipment used in Environmental Services has seen significant advancements in the green cleaning process which allows managers to implement their use throughout facilities.  These changes involve floor machines, vacuums and extractors.

A green floor machine should have the following attributes:

* A quiet motor: LEED standards require that floor machines, along with other cleaning equipment, meet specific low-decibel settings.

* Low moisture: A low-moisture automatic scrubber has an advanced squeegee and vacuum system so chemicals, solution and contaminants are thoroughly and quickly recovered. It also has variable-speed pumps for more effective low-moisture cleaning. This allows floors to dry quickly, minimizing slips, trips and falls.

* Less chemicals and water: Green automatic scrubbers use less chemicals and water than conventional machines.

* Indoor air quality protection: The machine has its own vacuum system to trap and hold dust, dirt and contaminants as the machine is being used. Typically, the machine will also have a shroud covering its base to minimize the amount of dust and debris escaping from the machine.

* Maintenance-free gel batteries: Conventional batteries can be dangerous to work with. Maintenance-free gel batteries require no maintenance and are overall much more environmentally responsible.

* Cylindrical brush technology: Some manufacturers produce floor machines that use brushes instead of pads. The potential benefit of the brush system is that it can dig deeper into porous floors and grout than a rotary machine, which may mean less water and chemical is necessary, reducing the machine’s impact on the environment.

A green vacuum cleaner needs to have a high filtration system that traps and holds dust and debris so that it is not released with the machine’s exhaust. The machine should also be designed so that negligible or zero air is allowed to pass through the vacuum’s shell.

Carpet extractor equipment companies have made significant progress in producing highly effective, low moisture carpet machines. Years ago when the carpets were cleaned, it could take several hours, if not days, for the carpets to dry due to inability of the equipment to remove the amount of moisture left of the surface. Newer low-moisture extractors typically use less than one gallon of water per minute and allow carpets to dry in less than 24 hours. This not only uses less water, but also ensures that mold and mildew don’t develop causing additional problems.

Environmental-ServicesWhat Types of Cleaning Products Can Be Used and Where?

As much as green cleaning products and procedures are preferred, there are locations in a hospital or healthcare facility where green cleaning products would not be appropriate. To identify these locations it is helpful to divide the hospital into three categories:

* Critical and high risk: Areas such as emergency rooms and surgery areas fall into this category. These areas must use specific disinfectants as required by CDC and regulatory agencies. Disinfectants in the United States cannot be marketed or labeled as “green.” For this reason, only EPA approved, hospital grade disinfectants can be used in these areas.

* Semi-critical areas: Public clinics, rehabilitation areas, nurseries, restrooms, and so forth fall into this category. Disinfectants must be EPA approved hospital grade. However, floors are surface areas that typically do not require the use of disinfectants and can use a green cleaning product instead (follow CDC recommendations where blood and body fluid, or certain infection concerns may be present). In addition, ammonia free glass cleaner and non-acid toilet bowl cleaners are good examples of environmentally preferred products to use in these semi-critical areas.

* Noncritical areas: The administrative and office sections of a hospital or healthcare facility can be categorized as noncritical cleaning locations. In these areas, environmentally preferable cleaning products can be used unless the hospital specifically requests the use of other cleaners and/or disinfectants.

* An important development with green cleaning came about as independent, third party certification organizations were established. These organizations have provided specific standards and criteria identifying what ingredients can and cannot be used in a green-cleaning product. They have done the work of identifying if it is green-certified and can display the label of a respected certification organization.  This allows the environmental services departments to have confidence the products will have a reduced impact on the environment.

Some of the processes being utilized in environmental services today that can be considered green are;

* Microfiber mopping systems where less chemical & water are used than with conventional moping systems

* Unbleached paper products which have not been chemically altered for a white appearance

* Use of recycled paper products, containers and wrappers

* Autoclaved medical waste (converted to solid waste) to eliminate this contamination from the waste stream

* Establishment of recycle programs for paper, plastics, glass & metals

* Use of certified green cleaning products for non-critical hospital locations

* Use of equipment as identified earlier in the article

Protecting patients, visitors and staff in hospitals is the key goal of Environmental Services.  Following the recommendations outlined will allow that goal to be accomplished with no financial cost to the facility.

About the Author:

Rock Jensen, Senior Consultant, has been engaged in hospital environmental services, patient transport, laundry, food, grounds, communication, safety, security, and facilities management since the mid- 1990s.