Our best advice — EVS safety amid a pandemic

In healthcare circles, environmental services technicians have been described as front-line defenders against infection. They work alongside clinicians to protect patients and promote wellness. They often put themselves at risk to clean and disinfect facilities during localized outbreaks and even pandemics.

 EVS personnel are dedicated and essential to the healthcare industry. They also can be vulnerable. Just like nurses and physicians, EVS technicians are working in environments where pathogens may be present. Influenza, Clostridium difficile, MRSA, SARS-COV-2 and many other microorganisms can spread quickly if cleanliness and disinfection protocols are not enforced rigorously and continuously.

If EVS techs are healthcare's front-line defenders, what happens if they become ill and unable to do their jobs?

"Without EVS technicians, clinical staff would have to spend more time on infection prevention, which takes time away from their primary role, the medical care of patients," said Ben Madrid, regional director of ServiceMaster Clean. "Infection control is a science. It requires knowledge and training. The role of EVS is vital in the healthcare environment. It’s important the EVS staff stays healthy and on the job."

ServiceMaster Clean franchises have more than 10,000 trained EVS personnel working in hospitals and outpatient clinics across the country. We spend a significant amount of time training and equipping our team members to do their jobs safely and thoroughly every day. We also want their families and friends to be safe. The physical and mental health of your EVS team ensures peak performance when they are fighting infection and protecting the safety of patients and staff.

Here is our best advice to ensure the health and well-being of your EVS team:

Train thoroughly: EVS technicians should be trained from the outset of their employment on the proper use and removal of personal protective equipment, proper cleaning techniques, the use of Environmental Protection Agency-approved products according to label instructions, and general healthcare protocols as prescribed by the CDC. Well-trained techs will generally be safe from pathogens if they carefully adhere to their training. Frequent refresher training sessions, along with supervision, will also promote EVS worker safety. It also can help save patient lives.

Pathogen awareness: Almost every day, EVS staff will come in contact with infected patients, some with highly communicable diseases like COVID-19. Wearing PPE is essential. Encourage team members to maintain safe social distancing as much as possible and avoid touching potentially infected surfaces before they can be cleaned and disinfected. Remind technicians to avoid touching their face. Properly discard gloves after exposure and practice hand hygiene.

Personal responsibility: It’s important to remind each EVS staff member that he or she is responsible for his or her personal safety. EVS directors, clinical staff and hospital administration can support that goal, but individual health and safety is a personal responsibility. As they say during in-flight safety demonstrations, take care of yourself first before caring for others.

Safe at home: Recommend that staff members remove their PPE and wash their hands thoroughly when their shift ends. It's a good idea to change out of scrubs or work attire as soon as you arrive at home and before you interact with others. Wipe down your vehicle and the things you bring home from work with a disinfecting cleaner. Also, remind your staff to be extra careful around family and friends who are elderly or have existing health conditions.

Mental stress: The stress of the pandemic combined with the requirements wearing PPE all day plus the care and concern for seriously ill patients is a tremendous mental burden for all healthcare professionals. It’s important to help your EVS team manage the psychological aspects of the job.

COVID fatigue: The pandemic has been going on for nearly a year now. Every healthcare worker is susceptible to fatigue and burnout. Try to manage vacation time and holidays so that EVS techs get periodic breaks from work. Provide encouragements and pass along success stories within your department. Make sure all team members feel connected and cared for.

Confidence: Remind EVS team members they can remain safe and healthy if they follow the established protocols. Tell them to be cautious but don’t live in fear. When properly equipped, they are safe from pathogens.

Breaktime: Be safe during daily breaks. Observe the normal safety protocols, especially social distancing. Have staffers either take breaks at their desk, outdoors or in a location where they can be safely distanced from others.

Management professionalism: Safety starts at the top. Qualified EVS directors must know the rules and regulations necessary to keep staff members safe. Stay current on CDC, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and EPA guidelines. Be detail oriented and put safety first in all aspects.

Workplace safety: OSHA offers lots of helpful advice for making healthcare workspaces safer. For instance, prohibit practices such as dry sweeping, which can re-aerosolize infectious particles. Likewise, for high-pressure washing, which can create mist or water vapor. Areas of a facility that have infected patients should be restricted to authorized personnel and marked with signage. These areas should be properly ventilated.

PPE shortages: The COVID-19 pandemic has, in some cases, created shortages of PPE. The CDC provides valuable strategies for optimizing the supply of PPE. Among the suggestions, shift to cloth isolation gowns that can be sanitized and reused, and extend the use of N95 respirators by wearing the same one for repeated close contact encounters with multiple patients.

Staff shortages: Personnel turnover is often a challenge for EVS directors. It becomes more challenging in times like these. Never sacrifice safety if you have a shortage of trained technicians. Seek to fill the positions with qualified persons who are willing to learn. Don’t rush the process. In the meantime, look for ways to meet your facility’s daily needs. Provide overtime, if possible, to those willing to work extra hours. Cut back on nonessential tasks. Above all, keep a close check on the well-being of your team — don't let anyone be overworked or over-stressed.

The healthcare system has responded remarkably well to the COVID-19 pandemic, even as we endure a second wave and record patient numbers. While new vaccines promise hope for an end to the crisis, the challenges facing EVS departments will not likely end soon. Make sure your personnel are protected, both physically and mentally. You all have a vital job to do. 

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