In the zone

18 October 2017

Whilst the chief aim of the professional cleaning industry is to disinfect environments and control the spread of germs, it’s also a widely recognised issue that the very process of cleaning itself can transfer harmful pathogens throughout a site. The zonal approach to cleaning aims to combat this counterproductive risk from cleaning work, through separating apparatus by area of use and potential infection risk, explains Steve Townsend from Alpha Consumables

The zonal cleaning approach is now widely adopted by industry professionals in the UK and encouraged by many official bodies. The question remaining is how best to implement it in order to make a telling impact on standards of hygiene.

Basics of colour coded cleaning

The most common solution is by colour coding your cleaning approach. This is a format which was consolidated by the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc), who developed the currently adopted code in the 1990s. The logic is that by ascribing a colour to each zone, harmful biological material from one area which has a high risk of infection won’t be transferred via cleaning apparatus to another zone. This is a problem which is especially pertinent to those contracted to clean over larger sites where multiple different levels of risk are present. 

The standard code is as follows: for washrooms red is used, for clinical or medical areas, yellow. Blue cleaning materials are used for general low risk areas and green for food and beverage areas. General low risk areas include many types of space from corridors to offices and reception areas. It is important to note as well, that whilst the colour green is ascribed to food and beverage areas, this doesn’t include food preparation areas. 

With the significant risk of infection in kitchens, along with other dietary and health concerns, a different and more focused separation of materials is used both in the preparation of food and in cleaning these areas. This is an area more specifically monitored by the Food Standards Agency and is concerned with a different collection of regulations. Whilst in the broader code, yellow is used for clinical areas, where this isn’t relevant, yellow materials are often used in washrooms as well as red, so as to clearly separate the materials used for basins and bathroom floors for example.

Finding a practical solution

Except for in those instances such as kitchens or specialised medical facilities, the code is consistent in its application across the UK and is simple and straightforward to follow. 

The human resources realities of professional cleaning put an emphasis on ease of communication and consistency of implementation. Because of the shift structure of much cleaning work, along with quite a high turnover of staff, an easily adopted code for zonal cleaning is hugely beneficial. Whilst it is expected that staff are to be properly briefed on best hygiene practices, a simple colour coding approach can reduce the need for an extensive induction for cleaning in zones. Because shifts are often undertaken in isolation, staff frequently work without supervision so clarity when it comes to the separation of materials is vital in avoiding cross contamination between high and low risk zones. Taking the strategy to its logical conclusion, cleaning materials are best stored in separate areas within their zones, reducing the risk of contact between apparatus.

Applying the practice

As the colour coded system has proliferated a greater variety of cleaning materials have become available in colour coded format, from disposable cleaning attire to standard janitorial equipment such as mops and buckets. This allows for a comprehensive range of cleaning and maintenance apparatus to be employed in cleaning work. When looking to devise a colour coded strategy it is tempting simply to look at the equipment which comes into active contact with higher priority infected surfaces, such as a bathroom floor, as being the chief threat for contamination. Because of the exponential way in which bacteria multiply and colonise an environment however, infection can spread to seemingly more innocuous surfaces within a zone. As such, colour coded spray bottles amongst other equipment are also increasingly used in order to create a complete set of materials for each zone, rather than just those cleaning targeted areas through direct contact.

The colour coded cleaning approach is successful both because of its simplicity and because it can easily encompass all cleaning activities and apparatus across a site, allowing for consistency in ensuring its accurate implementation. As such, it offers a practical method for organising a zonal cleaning approach and has the potential to make a significant difference to the standard of hygiene across sites where it’s adopted.