Textile cleaning is more important than most facility managers realize.

Laundry Operations and Textile Cleaning: How to Respond to a New World of Infections

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Is your facility compliant when it comes to textile cleaning and preventing infectious diseases? Here are some tips and resources to get you up to speed.

When it comes to discussing the top concerns around infection control, laundry facilities and textile cleaning probably don’t make the top five in healthcare. This is a problem that impacts multiple industries and can leave facilities across the country subject to infection outbreaks, lowered trust within their communities and regulatory fines.

Take the medical center in New York City that ended up facing $201,000 in proposed OSHA fines, for example. They reportedly replaced their linen laundry bags with thin, plastic ones. When the bags broke, workers were exposed to bodily fluids, including contaminated blood and other infection risks.

A focus on laundry facilities can be an important part of an effective and compliant infection control plan. This article will explore risks that many facilities and facility managers might be overlooking, including the risks of laundering textiles at home.

A New World of Risks

For industries such as medical, food and beverage and chemical supply, it should be assumed that any laundry employees come in contact with is potentially infectious and dangerous.

Today, we face a very different world of infection risks. Globalization has exponentially increased the spread of diseases and made containment even more important to the health of your workers and populations in general. Not only are facilities facing risks for more common infections and chemicals, they should also stay on top of new and constantly evolving strains of bacteria (MRSA, CRE and norovirus), as well as foreign diseases and conditions.

As the public becomes more aware of these risks, facilities will find that prioritizing their laundry practices may become increasingly beneficial to them, their brands and the people they serve. Several experts shared their considerations for creating effective cleaning practices with American Laundry News:

Textile Cleaning Best Practices

1. Strengthen Your Staff

Having one staff member at your facility (such as an infection control nurse in a health care environment) in charge of textile cleaning and infection control can be essential. In health care settings, they should work closely with infection control nurses to develop proper safeguards, such as not laundering textiles at home.

2. Educate Your Staff

Prioritize working with your infection control professionals in educating staff that work with your laundry, as well as textile collection and transportation. This is especially important in any field that encounters specialized infection risks. Perhaps one of the best examples is the treatment of textiles in the surgical areas of a hospital. Surgical staff need to be aware of guidelines, such as those from the American Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN). AORN recommends not using lab coats or protective clothing, and working with a health care-accredited laundry service to reduce the potential of allergens and irritants that clinicians are exposed to. By using a laundry service, you can help control infection and protect patients as well as your staff from potential risks.

3. Have a Plan

An effective laundry infection control and textile cleaning plan may help you keep clean and soiled laundry separate when making their journeys throughout the facility. Make sure that your staff is properly trained on your plan and made aware of any updates or changes.

Textile disinfection and cleaning are two different processes that should be separately addressed based on your facility’s needs. While the washing process does require attention to infection risk (water temperature, clean work spaces, detergent, keeping dryers clean, the use of appropriate clothing and gloves to protect workers, etc.) whether the process is happening in your facilities or done by an outside laundry service, it is incredibly easy to recontaminate linens in the transportation and storage process after they’ve been laundered. If you’re looking for ways to better fight infection when washing textiles, consider laundry additives (such as hydrogen peroxide) and reviewing this study by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.

OSHA’s Take

Back to that example in New York — after a complaint was filed, OSHA found that the facility had violated numerous points in the Bloodbourne Pathogen Standard. It was also found that management was aware, but continued using the inferior bags to save money. Of course, this only ended up being short-term savings considering the hundreds of thousands of dollars the medical center faced in fines.

Whether you’re involved in health care or not, familiarity with the OSHA Bloodbourne Pathogens Standard and AORN’s guidelines can provide useful information in understanding the risks your own facility faces in textile cleaning. OSHA’s Quick Reference Guide covers topics including preventing the spread of HIV and HBV, storing sharp objects and creating an exposure control plan.

Megan Williams
Megan Williams

Megan is a B2B healthcare writer with 10 years experience in hospital consulting, over a decade's work in online content creation, and an MBA.