The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the special role healthcare facilities play in helping to safeguard our communities. In such critical times, the public counts on every clinic, hospital and nursing facility to maintain the cleanest, most sanitary environment possible for staff and patients alike. Yet overworked custodians may not always have time to think about the obvious.
Flooring, ubiquitous throughout the building, can sometimes be overlooked as a place where hidden microorganisms can proliferate unchecked. By ensuring your healthcare facility flooring is well-designed and maintained, you can help lower the risk of pathogen growth and improve the efficiency of your disinfection routines.
In recent months, facilities have been challenged to step up their environmental infection control regimes, including augmented cross-contamination prevention and expansion of isolation room programs to other spaces within the building. While having the right floor coverings in place is an important safety consideration for every publicly-accessed building, this has never been truer than in today’s busy healthcare environments. Flooring can often make or break the efficacy of even the most rigorous sanitation efforts. Here are some floor maintenance, design and selection tips for improved facility hygiene.
Increased frequency sanitation
While innovations such as UV lights and probiotic-based disinfection products are being explored, most healthcare operations continue to utilize traditional chemical compounds. Many healthcare corporations are now mandated to use only products appearing on the EPA’s list of approved COVID-19 mitigating products. Due to higher demand and product shortages, facilities may find themselves purchasing substitute brands with which their custodial staff is unfamiliar. Therefore, it bears reminding that for any disinfectant product to be effective, the label instructions for dilution and surface exposure must be strictly followed – and these can vary with manufacturer.
With the increased frequency of sanitation efforts has come an increase in the wear-and-tear on healthcare floor surfaces. The additional abrasion and exposure to harsh chemicals can take its toll, reaching a tipping point where micro-cracking takes place. These tiny crevices are the perfect way for pathogenic microbes to enter the floor matrix and proliferate unseen. Regularly examining floor surfaces for the start of such damage, followed by immediate action to repair or replace deteriorated areas, should be part of every facility’s pathogen control program.
Chemical resistant flooring
As increased sanitation becomes the norm, harsh cleaning chemicals are getting used more regularly in facilities everywhere. Compounds containing quaternary ammonia, bleach, hydrogen peroxide and other oxidizers, in addition to various solvents and surfactants have the power to strip flooring of protective properties and overall quality. Repeated application of such chemicals can break down traditional flooring, initially resulting in hard-to-reach cracks and crevices, followed eventually by complete surface deterioration.
The alternative is to install high performance, chemical resistant flooring at the next opportunity. Such industrial grade flooring systems are now available in many decorative varieties and offer an excellent solution for facilities that undergo regular intensive cleaning and disinfection. The right chemical resistant flooring can hold up under repeated exposure to many high concentration chemicals and solvents that would otherwise break down standard institutional flooring over time. Floor coverings with this type of enhanced functionality can help extend flooring replacement cycles and provide excellent life cycle value.
Seamless flooring offers one of the most effective ways to help improve and maintain facility hygiene. As previously mentioned, any fissure in a floor’s surface can become a haven for undesirable microorganisms, despite careful cleaning. Flooring made up of numerous pieces joined together, such as tile systems, can be asking for trouble in critical environments. A network of seams or grout lines across the floor can make proper disinfection extremely problematic. At minimum, maintaining such floors is time consuming compared to seamless alternatives.
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing facilities to reevaluate how they operate. Thus, it can be worthwhile to pause before habitually replacing carpeting, tile or luxury vinyl planks/sheets with the same type of material. Not only can these flooring systems potentially hold more microbial material, whether in fibers or in compromised seams or grout lines, but their maintenance can be labor intensive. It makes good budgetary sense to explore fluid-applied seamless flooring. These new generation solutions offer monolithic surfaces that can be efficiently and thoroughly cleaned.
Many types of flooring traditionally used in healthcare are installed using adhesives to bond to the concrete substrate. Over time, shrinking and deterioration of floor adhesives can occur unseen under the floor surface, resulting in “pockets” between the substrate and the flooring material. The dark moist environment within these gaps are perfect for mold, fungi and other microbes to take hold.
To avoid this risk, a flooring system itself must be bonded directly to the concrete underneath – something that very few products can claim, with one exception. Resinous, fluid-applied floor coating systems are applied in layers directly to the prepared concrete surface -- without the use of adhesives. Employing this seamless solution can eliminate the concern over pockets of mildew, mold and other pathogens growing on the underside of the floor covering.
The point at which the floor and wall meet has long been an area of concern for healthcare architects and designers. While a glue-on vinyl or rubber cove base can often be seen in less critical spaces within healthcare facilities, operating suites, certain laboratories and isolation rooms will invariably get integral cove bases installed.
As ever stricter infection controls get implemented throughout hospitals and clinics, glue-on cove bases may become a thing of the past. Integral, seamless floor-to-wall coves provide many sanitation advantages. In contrast to the glue-on variety, integral cove bases reduce the risk of unseen microbial growth behind the glued-on product and in seams. In addition, radial coves eliminate the hard-to-clean, ninety-degree angles along the edge of the floor. Good design now includes integral floor-to-wall cove bases and proper floor slope for efficient washdowns, where desired.
Additional flooring protection
In support of greater safety and sanitation, some manufacturers offer resinous flooring systems with additional antimicrobial options. When ordering, you’ll want to inquire if the compound is EPA-registered and whether the antimicrobial is incorporated into the liquid resins at the factory.
Fluid-applied resinous flooring offers the ideal seamless surface for efficient and effective cleaning. Selecting antimicrobial-enhanced, seamless epoxy and urethane options can be another way to help promote optimal sanitation conditions within your facility.
As we’ve seen, flooring can either help or hinder your healthcare facility’s intensified sanitation efforts. When it comes to floor maintenance, selection or replacement, it can pay to reevaluate previous practices in light of the current pandemic environment. High performing chemical resistant floor coatings that are directly bonded to the concrete substrate can help reduce pathogen proliferation. Available in a broad range of attractive colors, blends, designs and textures, their seamless, monolithic surfaces enable more efficient and effective disinfecting in critical healthcare settings.
Sophia Daukus is Marketing Communications Manager for Florock Polymer Flooring.