Light Switches Harbor Potentially Harmful Contaminants

Seneca College in Toronto is considered one of Canada’s most vibrant post-secondary institutions. With nearly 21,000 students and 4,400 employees, it is not only large, but English is the second language for nearly half of the students.

“This is one reason Seneca is considered such a ‘vibrant’ college,” says Brad Evans, General Manager of OptiSolve, a vulnerability assessment service that reveals microbial contamination on surfaces using advanced imaging technologies. “There are people at Seneca from all over the world with all types of backgrounds, learning about each other and from each other.”

Evans says that Seneca also maintains very high cleaning standards, meeting APPA’s Level 2 standards at all of its campuses.

APPA refers to the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers. The organization has created custodial standards, from one to five, based on the appearance and tidiness of a campus. Level 2 is the second highest standard level and indicates the following about the cleaning and maintenance at Seneca:

• Floors and baseboards are bright and clean. There is no more than two days’ worth of soiling or build-up in corners or along walls.

• Washrooms, fixtures, and tiles are clean and odor-free. Restroom supplies are adequate, and waste containers hold only daily waste.

• Vertical and horizontal surfaces appear clean, but upon closer observation, marks, dust, smudges, and fingerprints are noticeable.

But it is the invisible issues that Seneca wanted to address.

“Our focus is always to ensure all areas of our campus environment are clean and healthy for our students, staff and visitors,” says Don Forster, Senior Manager, Custodial Services at Seneca. “This is one reason we brought in OptiSolve. We know our cleaning staff is doing a great job. But we still wanted to see if or where improvements could be made.”

Using proprietary surface imaging technology, the OptiSolve environmental health and safety specialist evaluated high touch surfaces as well as drains, vents, and cleaning materials. Typically, build-up occurs because areas are not cleaned as often as they should be, or the wrong cleaning solutions are being used, or proper procedures are not being performed.

The tested areas included everything from cafeteria vending machines, microwaves, tables and chairs, to washroom stall latches, toilet flush handles, and even the hand dryers in restrooms.

“For the most part, our evaluation showed that the [College’s] cleaning staff were doing an outstanding job,” says Evans. “But even after a ‘deep clean’, we did identify a few opportunities for them, which indicates just how thorough an OptiSolve assessment can be.”

When evaluating the campus daycare center, one of the light switches was tested. It was clear that the light switch and plate had been cleaned, according to Evans. However, when the switch was checked using OptiSolve’s imaging technology, a fine line of contamination directly below the switch was revealed.

“This essentially defeats the cleaning that is currently being performed. If there are pathogens still present, as soon as someone touches the switch, they start spreading potentially harmful contamination around the facility.”

Realizing this, the Seneca cleaning crew has revised their cleaning procedures.

“Now, they take an extra couple of seconds when cleaning light switches and other “high-touch” surfaces to make sure they are wiped clean and sanitized. Those extra seconds are helping Seneca be more proactive, ensuring they keep the College’s facilities healthier and safer for all users.”