Colours of protection

07 March 2013

BICSc recommends fighting cross-infection with colours. Are your operatives familiar with colour codes?

BICSc recommends fighting cross-infection with colours. Are your operatives familiar with colour codes?

According to a report published by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) earlier this year, over 6 per cent of hospital patients, both NHS and private, acquire some form of infection during their stay at a hospital. The report confirmed that although infection-control measures such as hand-washing and swab-testing had caused cases of MRSA and C. Difficile to fall by over 4 per cent since 2006, it also highlighted that infections with organisms such as E. Coli and Salmonella are increasing; in particular infections were most prevalent within intensive care units and surgical words.

The HPA provided recommendations surrounding hand washing, use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and regular cleaning to prevent the build-up of organisms. However, simply increasing the frequency of cleaning is not enough to prevent the spread of infections; it could in fact cause further issues and crossinfection if cleaning operatives are not properly trained to an accredited standard.

A cleaning operative within a hospital may be responsible for a number of different areas, such as bathrooms, wards and isolation areas. If they use the same materials and equipment within each area, they may spread an infection from an isolation ward to a bathroom which may be accessed by other patients, staff or the general public. Alternatively, hospital in-house and contracted staff may have received different training on which materials and equipment to use; for example, in-house staff may have been trained to use red materials in bathrooms, while the contractors have been trained to use red in isolation areas; so confusion and cross-infection is likely to occur.

The colour spectrum

The British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc) first began to develop a universal colour code for the cleaning industry in the late 1990's. Over the years it has reviewed its recommendations to align with recommendations from organisations such as the National Patient Safety Agency. A national standard colour coding chart for the cleaning and hygiene industry prevents materials and equipment being used in multiple areas, thus reducing the risk of cross-infection. BICSc's believes all materials within a hospital janitorial cupboard should be colour coded including; cloths, mops, buckets, aprons, and gloves.

The National Patient Safety Agency recommends the use of four key colours to cover the different hospital cleaning zones; red for general washrooms; blue for general areas, including wards, departments, offices and basins in public areas; green for catering departments and ward kitchen areas; and, yellow for clinical areas. However BICSc has gone one step further in its prevention strategy by breaking these categories down further to ensure maximum protection from cross-infection across all sectors of the cleaning industry.

The BICSc recommended colour code is: Red - general washrooms, including bathrooms, washrooms, showers, toilets, basins and bathroom floors Red/white - any deviation of red and white for higher risk sanitary appliances and washroom floors Blue - general low risk areas, including wards, departments, offices Green - general food and bar use, excluding commercial food preparation areas Yellow -clinical areas White - site specific/ specialist elements.

(The above colour coding standards are only for the cleaning and hygiene industry and not for the catering and food production industry. ) Additionally, the BICSc Colour Code identifies that it is necessary, especially within a hospital environment, to have a designated colour (white) for high risk facility specific areas; these materials are designated for one off cleaning, and are disposed off immediately after use. BICSc also recommend that general basins within a public area pose a higher risk of cross-infection than general areas, therefore and should be cleaned with red materials and equipment.

Cleaning operatives frequently move between jobs or are contracted to multiple organisations. Therefore to avoid confusion and inconsistency, BICSc believes it would make sense that all organisations adhere to a national colour coding system.

It is also the responsibility of the employer to ensure all cleaning operatives are fully trained in their role, to an accredited level and that they are introduced to the colour code during their initial training. The BICSc Cleaning Professional Skills Suite (CPSS) has three mandatory units which ensure chemical competence, equipment safe use and care and the safe storage of equipment and material. Additionally, operatives are trained to clean 'from clean to dirty' to further minimise the risk of crossinfection.

Upon completion of the CPSS mandatory units, operatives receive a BICSc Mandatory Unit card which is their license to practice.

Finally, through implementing the colour code into the cleaning process, employers can ensure the safety of their cleaning operatives.

'Patient safety is a priority within a hospital environment, however it is also the responsibility of the cleaning industry to ensure that cleaning operatives are protected from harm while working,' says Stan Atkins, group CEO for BICSc. 'Through the implementation of the colour code system, cleaning operatives are empowered to protect themselves while working in high risk areas.' Through the provision of a safe working environment for cleaning operatives, employers can positively impact job satisfaction, which in turn will improve retention levels.

So next time that you place an order for new cleaning equipment or materials, take a moment to remember the colour code!