Whenever I begin a training session to a group of environmental services employees, I always start the session by asking them if they realize that the health of the building occupants lies in their hands. Many of the participants don’t realize that they play a crucial role in preventing illness. The work they do is very important. If they do it well, the building will look clean, and the building occupants will be healthy. The consequences of doing their job poorly or incorrectly can result in both in an unacceptable appearance and people getting sick. Green cleaning programs help to link the role that cleaning has on appearance, on human health and on the environment.
Indoor Air Quality
The average person spends up to 90% of their day indoors. Their health depends on having good indoor air quality. Green cleaning addresses this need for healthy indoor air quality in many ways. Firstly, let’s start at the entrance of the building. Part of your green cleaning program is to address the need to stop dirt and germs from entering your building and quickly spreading to all areas of the building. Your first line of defense to prevent this spread of soil and germs is to install quality matting at all major entrances in an appropriate length. High performance matting will scrape and trap the dirt and germs that lurk on the bottom of shoes and boots before the building occupant steps off the mat. Dirt and germs stay trapped in the mat preventing building occupants from inhaling these particles. For mats to do their job they must cleaned and maintained regularly.
Another way that green cleaning addresses indoor air quality and the health of building occupants is by incorporating a policy to only use chemicals that are third party certified as this will limit any exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds or VOC’s. VOC’s are a large and diverse family of chemicals that are emitted from a wide variety of sources including household products, furnishings and building materials. Many studies have found evidence that extended exposure to some of these pollutants can cause ill health effects. Third party certification programs such as Ecologo require cleaning products to meet stringent guidelines to ensure that components do not harm human health and minimize their impact on the environment.
A third component of an effective green cleaning program is to use cleaning equipment that has superior filtration. Superior filtration captures particles and germs and prevents them from being recirculated into the air. What is captured by the high efficiency filter cannot be inhaled. Superior filtration choices can be made for vacuum cleaners, carpet extraction equipment and some floor cleaning equipment. One of my favourite memories is when I received a complaint from a customer wanting to return their new vacuums because the filter bags were filling up much more quickly than their previous vacuums. Obviously, the user was unaware of the important role of the filter bag and that a fuller bag was a good sign that the building was cleaner and had better air quality. Dirt was now in the filter bag and not trapped in the carpet or in the air!
Cross Contamination and Breaking the Chain of Infection
People can get sick in many different ways. Green cleaning addresses how germs are transferred and how the chain of transmission can be broken to prevent illness. Promoting good hygiene habits is a critical component of a green cleaning program. This will include access to hand sanitizers, good quality hand soap systems and hand drying systems and ample signage promoting good hygiene habits.
The second element to breaking the chain of infection in a building is to frequently clean germ hot spots. Germ hot spots or “people contact points” are surfaces that are touched by many people in the same day. A green cleaning program will address the need to use the proper cleaning methods and to have the necessary cleaning frequency to prevent germ transfer.
The benefits of implementing a high performance green cleaning program are a visibly cleaner building and healthier building occupants. Both these benefits are achieved by reducing the impact of the cleaning process on the environment. We need to stop thinking of cleaning as an expense that is easily sacrificed when times get tough. Green cleaning is a sound investment. Remember the dirt you see can make you angry. The dirt you can’t see can make you sick..”