An ally in the germ war

Infectious outbreaks may seem like a risk too far to control. But facilities managers should know they have a trusty ally in fogging, says Ashley White, Commercial and Safety Manager of cleaning and FM services specialist Nviro.

An essential element of the facilities manager’s job is ensuring the health and safety of the people who work in or visit the building. From avoiding slip and trip hazards to monitoring air conditioning systems to guard against legionella, the risks to be managed are legion.

The threat posed by bugs and microbes is not new, but the expectation that building managers need to consider infection control is spreading. More employers are concerned about workers’ wellbeing. Minds have also been concentrated by outbreaks of the Norovirus winter vomiting bug and contingency planning for bird and swine ’flu pandemics.

Whether reacting to – or pre-empting – a germ attack, there are a variety of weapons available to facilities managers and their cleaning teams.

Common methods include deploying hand sanitisers in wash rooms and communal areas, steam cleaning of both soft and hard surfaces, and wall-mounted sanitisation units that use UV light to decontaminate air in toilets and elsewhere.

Until relatively recently, chemical fogging had not been so commonplace outside industrial clean rooms and food factories, but it’s a method with benefits that facilities managers should understand.

Modern biocides now mean that bio-fogging is a highly cost-effective sanitisation technique. Also, fogging no longer entails major disruption or health risks of its own from potentially toxic chemicals.

The water-based anti-microbial we use is non-hazardous, odourless and non-corrosive to materials and surfaces. This solution is harmless to the environment and does not require rinsing. The only real concern is the potential for an allergic reaction for people in the area during fogging.

As the anti-microbial is sprayed as a fine mist, fogging must be done outside working or opening hours. And cleaning staff need to take all necessary precautions, wearing the PPE recommended for the agent used.

A biocide is effective against airborne viruses and bacteria because the fine particles in the fog remain suspended in the air long enough to kill them. These particles also spread throughout the space being treated, settling on surfaces, including walls and ceilings, furniture and floors.

An effective biocide – we recommend using a solution with four different biocides to combat any resistant bacteria – will eliminate a very wide spectrum of microbes and pathogens. These include E. coli, MRSA, C. difficile, listeria, salmonella and Legionella pneumophilia.

In practice, the effectiveness of fogging will be limited only by failure to deliver sufficient biocide or obstacles that stop it reaching the surfaces in a room. A fogger machine is not difficult to operate, while evidence strips can be used to check that enough of the agent has been delivered.

Dust, debris and other extraneous materials are more likely to come between the biocide and the sanitised surface that fogging can achieve. Which is why a thorough deep clean is essential in advance of fogging.

While facilities managers may trust the evidence of their eyes when judging the standard of a deep clean, we recommend a more scientific approach when it comes to sanitisation.

Microbes and all living things produce the molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which can be accurately measured. A hand-held luminometer gives a ready indicator of living cells on a surface. So it’s practicable to take ATP readings before and after fogging, and thus test its effectiveness.

We have carried out many trials both in the Nviro offices and on clients’ premises, and the results show a dramatic reduction in ATP levels after fogging.

Moreover, the sanitisation effect is not short-lived. Chemical suppliers claim that fogging agents have a residual efficacy against contamination that can last for months. The chemical continues acting as a bactericide and virucide, so that – if applied following an outbreak of infection – it can help prevent repeat outbreaks. Our own testing showed that ATP readings after several weeks had not returned to the levels recorded before fogging, indicating that surfaces were not being re-contaminated as one might expect.

ATP data can be used by facilities managers to gauge the cleanliness of common touch points in their buildings, and the effectiveness of a cleaning regime. But it can also be used to demonstrate the value of enhanced cleaning; to inform fellow managers, including those responsible for health, safety and welfare; and to justify the cost of sanitisation.

Fogging agents are more expensive than conventional cleaning solutions, and the service provider must invest in the necessary fogger machines, luminometers, PPE and staff training.

But the results we have achieved give us and clients confidence that fogging is a cost-effective sanitisation technique. This may be most apparent when an infectious outbreak has caused high levels of illness and disruption, perhaps with loss of business or reputational damage.

But every organisation should consider what role sanitisation, including fogging, should play in its contingency planning, if not its annual cleaning plan. For clients aiming to minimise the risk to employees or customers of ‘flu or other contagious infections, we recommend that areas are fogged twice a year to maintain a good level of protection. Facilities managers should be reassured that in the germ war they have a powerful ally.

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