Environmental decontamination is the way that contaminants in the surrounding environment are reduced to levels that do not pose a health risk. In the case of most pathogens, for this to be achieved 99.99% of cultures need to be removed. Both cleaning and disinfection help to ensure the safe decontamination of a space.
What is the Difference Between Cleaning and Disinfecting?
Oftentimes cleaning and disinfecting are used as interchangeable terms, but this isn’t accurate. While, through the use of combination products, it is possible to clean and disinfect at the same time, for guaranteed success cleaning and disinfecting needs to be done in two separate steps.
When you clean a surface you are removing all the visible signs of dirt and germs such as stains, spills, and dust. This is often done by the use of a detergent product and manual labor. However, while a surface may appear clean when it has been scrubbed of all visible signs of contamination, it does not mean that it is actually decontaminated. For a surface to be decontaminated, the biohazards which are invisible to the naked eye need to be removed. This is done through disinfection.
Environmental Decontamination Facts
In the workplace, it is the responsibility of the business owner to ensure the correct cleaning and disinfection practices are upheld. Some pathogens thrive in environments that lack correct decontamination and will infect those who come into contact with the space. The same can be said for areas previously used by an infected individual (such as hospital beds).
Successful decontamination will not happen 100% of the time. To help increase the chance of removing 99.99% of contaminants you need to make sure to use suitable products as directed on the product packaging. It is a legal requirement that companies that deal directly with the public provide surfaces that are clean and adequately disinfected.
Pathogen Survival Times
Effective decontamination is important particularly in care facilities because some pathogens can survive on surfaces for hours, days, months, and even years, meaning risk can be posed to others even long after the infected person has departed the area. For example:
Clostridium Difficile Spores can survive outside of the body for up to 5 months
Enterococcus can survive outside of the body for 5 days to 4 years!
Klebsiella can survive outside of the body for as little as 2 hours to as much as 30 months.
Norovirus can survive outside of the body for between 8 hours and 2 weeks
SARS can survive outside of the body for between 3 and 28 days
Flu can survive outside the body for between a few hours and a few days.
Different Surfaces Need More Urgent Decontamination
Surfaces can be rated non-critical, semi-critical, and critical depending upon their risk-level for contaminating those that come into contact with them. This classification is commonly used in medical and care facilities.
Non-critical Surfaces: Only make contact with unbroken skin.
Semi-critical Surfaces: Touch broken skin or connect with mucous membranes; an endoscope is a perfect example of a semi-critical surface.
Critical Surfaces: Enter parts of the body that have been sterilized. This commonly occurs during surgery with a scalpel exemplifying a critical surface.