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Correctional Facilities: Protecting the Health of the Cleaning Worker
By Robert Kravitz, President AlturaSolutions
Published: 08/18/2014

Handwashing In most correctional facilities, inmates are involved in daily clean-up operations. Most now know, as do correctional facility administrators, that cleaning is not only a messy job, it can also be a health risk. While they are confined and inmates are not allowed to leave, correctional facilities should be viewed as public places, susceptible to all kinds of diseases, from SARS and MRSA to infections that can spread from one person to another by simply touching soiled surfaces. And because overcrowding is common in most facilities, all of these health concerns are amplified.

While there are ways to avoid touching surfaces when cleaning, as we shall discuss later, correctional administrators should know that proper hand hygiene is imperative for anyone cleaning in the facility, including inmates. But what is proper hand hygiene? We hear about the importance of hand washing all the time, but as to how to actually perform it, that is often not described.

Proper hand hygiene involves washing hands in warm, soapy water for 20 seconds. The amount of time is important because proper hand hygiene involves more than rubbing one hand against the other. It also involves rubbing fingernails against the palm of the opposite hand to loosen and remove bacteria lodged under nails. Further, it includes the use of paper towels to dry hands. While electric hand dryers may work well in a movie theater, in a prison facility, studies indicate that drying hands with paper towels is much more effective at removing contaminants.

We should note that installing hand sanitizers is also an effective way to stop the spread of disease. However, using hand sanitizers and proper hand hygiene (specifically hand washing) are not the same. Hand washing cleans hands by actually removing soils and bacteria. Sanitizers may kill specific germs and bacteria on hands at a specific time, but they do not necessarily remove them. Because of this, administrators should always view sanitizers as an interim hand cleaning method at best to be used in conjunction with proper hand hygiene.

The Proper Way to Remove Gloves

Next to proper hand hygiene, the most important way inmates and other cleaning workers can protect their health is by wearing gloves. Interestingly, as I write this article in a high rise office building, I see the cleaning workers going about their duties not wearing gloves. However, there is always the possibility of touching a contaminated surface. For instance, in this office facility, touching the phone, keyboard, or even the desk of an ill person increases the chances of spreading disease, either to the cleaning worker or to someone else. Needless to say, gloves, especially in a correctional location, should be worn at all times.

But along with wearing gloves designed for use by cleaning workers, those involved with cleaning should also know that proper glove removal is very important. Invariably, administrators will remind inmates or others involved with cleaning to always wear gloves, but overlook the fact that if the glove is not properly removed, any bacteria and soils on the glove can easily be transferred to workers' hands.

So how do we properly remove gloves? The following steps are necessary:

  1. Grasp the outside edge of the left-hand glove at the highest point near the wrist.
  2. Peel the glove off the hand, essentially turning the glove inside out.
  3. Keep the removed glove in the gloved right hand and discard.
  4. For the right-hand glove, slide the index finger under the glove at the highest point near the wrist.
  5. Peel the glove off from the inside and then discard.
  6. Finish by washing hands as discussed earlier.
Cleaning Without Touching

Earlier we mentioned that most correctional facilities in the U.S. are experiencing unusually high overcrowding, which intensifies both the need for cleaning personnel to protect their own health as well as the need for effective cleaning methods and procedures to protect the health of inmates and staff. According to Reuters news service, overcrowding in U.S. federal prisons is so severe that the problem could go on for years… The United States incarcerated 2.2 million people in state and federal institutions in 2011, the most recent year for which the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics has published data.[1]

With the overcrowding and concerns about contamination, administrators should view cleaning that involves mops, buckets, sprayers, and cleaning cloths as a thing of the past. In their place, what is highly recommended is the use of “no-touch” cleaning systems that do not require workers to actually touch contaminated surfaces. Similar to indoor pressure washers, these systems are now recommended for cleaning shower areas, locker rooms, restroom fixtures, floors – especially in restrooms and kitchen areas – as well as cleaning such things as dining-area tables and chairs.

These systems apply cleaning chemicals to the surfaces to be cleaned, which are then power rinsed and vacuumed up using the machine's built-in wet/vac. Depending on the nozzle used and the pressure of the machine, chemicals and rinse can be directed deep into grout areas and crevices where soils are known to hide.

In some ways, we can compare no-touch cleaning systems to our discussion earlier when we compared hand sanitizers to hand washing. While sanitizers can clean some germs on contact, proper hand washing actually removes them from the hands. So it is with these systems. The combination of the pressure rinse as well as the vacuuming up of moisture and contaminants actually removes germs and soils from areas cleaned.

At a seminar some years ago, a presenter suggested that due to the close connection between cleaning and health, the professional cleaning industry should be placed under the umbrella of the health care industry. For overcrowded correctional facilities, proper and effective cleaning, along with the other measures discussed here, are vital to keeping inmates as well as all who work in correctional facilities as healthy as possible.

Matt Morrison is communications manager for Kaivac, developers of no-touch cleaning systems.

Editors Note: Corrections.com author, Robert Kravitz, is president of AlturaSolutions Communications and is a writer for the professional cleaning, building, healthcare, and educational industries. He may be reached at info@alturasolutions.com

Other articles by Robert Kravitz


  1. HoangLinh on 04/08/2019:

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