by Amy Milshtein — April 6, 2022 — As Covid-19 restrictions ease, more and more people will return to your facilities. Will your cleaning protocols be ready? For over a year, the pandemic turned a bright light on the importance of cleaning and disinfecting surfaces for health. Facility managers answered with amped up cleaning schedules designed to help curb the spread of Covid-19.Enhanced cleaning goes a long way in easing anxious minds of building tenants.
Employees, occupants and guests remain cautious about their safety and the cleanliness of the enclosed spaces they visit. BusinessWire reports on a recent survey that found that 73 percent of all employees say their workplace should be cleaned daily. The survey also found a rising number of employees want to see daily cleaning and disinfecting.
Pre-pandemic, only about half of commercial offices were cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces on a daily basis, according to the CleanLink “Cleaning Costs and Frequencies Report.”
However, a newly disinfected surface is only as safe as the last thing that touched it. Once someone puts their hand on a door handle, desk top, stair rail, or elevator button, the surface becomes re-contaminated. And if that person coughed or sneezed into their hand first, well, that puts a big dent into any trust or goodwill you are building around the safety of your facility. Coronavirus can live up to days on surfaces such as desks, handrails and doorknobs. After the pandemic, facility managers should remain vigilant about other viruses. Influenza lives up to 24 hours on surfaces. The common cold can last up to a week and norovirus even longer.
There are technologies that offer longer lasting protection while boosting employee morale. Antimicrobial sprays and nanotechnology-infused wraps are two tools that stop surface transfer by continuously killing the bacteria and microorganisms that land on them.
Service providers using these tested and proven tools admit they save a bit on cleaning time and effort. But that is not their main selling point. Instead, they point to two of the technologies’ other benefits. The first is the ability to cut down on absenteeism due to colds and flu.
“There’s an economic benefit to keeping employees employed and your business open,” says Holly Borrego, senior vice president, KBS Facility Services.
The second is the boost to “employee morale, particularly in the context of a global health pandemic,” says Mary Torrado, regional manager, OpenWorks. “Measures like social distancing, mask wearing and getting vaccines are all helping to prevent community spread of Covid-19, but they don’t eliminate the risk of surface transfer,” she says.
Torrado says advanced treatments “offer an extra layer of protection that tells employees their well-being is a priority and eases concerns about their safety at work.”
After a year of pandemic restrictions and woes, that can go a long way to building confidence, improving outlooks and getting people back to work, school and life.
What are antimicrobials and nanotechnology?
While these two tools offer similar protections against the surface transfer of germs, antimicrobials and nanotechnology are very different products.
Antimicrobials are a liquid applied with either a traditional pump or electromagnetic sprayer. The coating is applied after traditional cleaning and disinfecting to provide continuous protection from bacteria and microorganisms for up to 90 days. It works by creating a positively-charged bed of microscopic spikes. These spikes attract negatively-charged bacteria, pierce their cells and rupture their membranes to inhibit growth.
Using an electromagnetic sprayer allows “100 percent coverage that bonds to nearly any surface,” says Torrado. “It’s an effective way to add a longer-lasting layer of protection to high-touch surfaces, restrooms, workspaces, common areas, hard to reach surfaces, and areas that may not be disinfected as frequently, like walls and blinds.”
Enhanced cleaning goes a long way in easing anxious minds of building tenants.
Nanotechnology works very differently. Mineral nano-crystals are embedded into skins, wraps and mats which are then applied directly to clean surfaces. The nano-crystals use UV light and oxygen to create a powerful oxidation reaction that kills germs after just a few minutes of contact.
“Microbes like it moist, dark and anaerobic,” says Jess Baidwin, division head for environmental services, Southern Ute Reservation. “The continuous oxidation from this technology makes them die.”
Baidwin, who has been using nanotechnology throughout his 600,000-square-foot campus for about seven years, cautions that the microbes do not die instantly. “It takes a couple of minutes but the wraps do work continuously,” he says.
Why specify these tools?
Antimicrobial sprays and nanotechnology-infused skins sound pretty high tech, but are they right for your facility? For Peter Strazdas, AVP Facilities Management, Western Michigan University, the answer, especially now, is yes.
“During the early part of the pandemic, we were all looking into our facility toolkit for products and processes to combat something we have never experienced in the past,” he says, acknowledging that he was not using antimicrobials pre-pandemic. “We then had to look outside of our toolkit and our research found an anti-microbial product.”
Borrego also conducted a lot of research before settling on nanotechnology. She sees the tool as a way to avoid business disruption. “This is one of those things to keep in your arsenal to help you stay open while still protecting employees,” she says. “We have to learn how to function during pandemics.”
Even without a once-in-a-generation, world-wide pandemic, every year brings plenty of employee downtime due to more pedestrian illness. Common colds account for 150 million missed workdays a year. The flu accounts for 111 million a year, at an estimated cost of $16.3 billion in lost earnings. Stopping the transfer of pathogens will help cut down on those missing days and lost revenue.
These products also help burnish your institution’s reputation.
“We’ve had flu seasons before and this helps keep our workforce working and not home sick,” says Baidwin. “But it is also about improved perception. It shows the workers we care about their health.”
Apply on touchpoints
For best results, use a targeted approach when having the cleaning department or building service contractor apply nanotechnology and antimicrobials. Strazdas’ staff uses anti-microbial sprays on common touchpoints, “door handles, elevator buttons and most horizontal surfaces the faculty, staff and students touch.”
Nanotechnology skins should also be applied to common touchpoints. They can be found on “every door handle and elevator button throughout our campus,” says Baidwin. “My staff even initiated putting them on the refrigerator door handles in the breakroom,” he adds.
Nanotechnology helps keep our workforce working and not home sick.
Using antimicrobials and nanotechnology-infused skins should allow facility managers to feel more confident about surface transfer of germs. But that does not mean they should let up on your regular cleaning and disinfection schedule.
“There’s a bit of a misconception about antimicrobial protectants, in that they don’t eliminate regular cleaning and disinfecting protocols,” says Torrado. “However, because they can provide protection up to 90 days, antimicrobials do cut down on some repetitive tasks and reduce downtime in between applications. There are also financial advantages to using a single product that is such an effective long-term inhibitor.”
When cleaning surfaces treated with nanotechnology, workers should not scrub or abrade the skins. But those surfaces do need to be cleaned every day.
“I don’t want staff to disrupt their routine,” says Baidwin. “Also, you have to remove any surface soils so the technology can work.”
Nanotechnology-infused skins do not need to be disinfected.
While the chemistry is billed to last indefinitely, Baidwin likes to replace skins as they age. He personally re-applies the wraps every year or when they start to curl or if the print begins to wear out.
KBS replaces nanotechnology skins every six months or so.
The bottom line
While facility managers will enjoy the added protection and improved perception that nanotechnology and antimicrobials bring, the real question remains. Do they save money?
The answer is, maybe.
“It’s hard to do a cost/benefit analysis if we don’t have visibility into a company’s absences,” says Borrego. Still, she, and others, believe they do offer a savings benefit and so much more.
“Overall, the (anti-microbial) technology is relatively affordable compared to other facility maintenance equipment,” says Torrado. “When you’re talking about making sure people are healthy and safe, most facility managers find it’s an investment that is well worth it.”