Soon we'll be heading into cold season. For many PSAPs (Public Safety Answering Points), the impact of cold and flu season on staffing is a recurring pain point. And for team members who are diligent about washing hands and dosing Zinc and C, the invisible contaminates they are exposed to at shift changes can derail their well-tuned health practices. Communications center managers know a healthy workplace helps keep the team in-tact and operations running smoothly. Among communication’s centers, in the last few years there has been an increased interest in antimicrobial work surface laminates for their dispatch furniture consoles – in part as an attempt to thwart the spread of sickness.
Are anti-microbial work surfaces a true value?
We began to wonder if we should offer antimicrobial laminates to our customers. After all, contributing to a healthy workplace is one of the elements that drive our design and manufacturing practices. We dove into research and learned a few surprising facts about the material. Antimicrobial laminates have advantages and drawbacks. Here are points worth considering before you decide to purchase higher-cost antimicrobial laminates for your dispatch consoles.
- What makes a laminate antimicrobial?
- Are they effective at improving dispatcher health?
- Which communication’s center equipment contains the highest density of contractible germs (Spoiler, it’s not your worksurface.)
- The top ten things you should know before investing PSAP dollars in antimicrobial surfaces.
What are antimicrobials?
Antimicrobial products fall into one of two categories, depending on how they are used. These products slow or stop the spread of certain organisms. For product use, including furniture surfaces and hospital carts, antimicrobials are regulated as a pesticide. To prevent illness in people and pets, they are classified as an antiseptic. Which organisms and how fast the antimicrobials work depends on the composition and application. To learn more basics about antimicrobials, and the difference between pesticides and antiseptics, check out this topic fact sheet.
What makes a laminate antimicrobial?
Antimicrobial laminates come in two primary types: coated and additive. Some antimicrobial laminates have an antimicrobial coating on the surface. Others incorporate additives such as Silver Ions (Nanosilver) or Copper into the laminate manufacturing process. The antimicrobial coating, like most coatings, will wear off over time. The Nanosilver or copper additive is not affected by wear.
What level of germ protection will my dispatchers have?
When you hear that a laminate has and antimicrobial agent you might assume that it's there to protect the user. This is not always the case. The "antimicrobial technology" statement from one of the leading laminate manufacture reads:
"Enhanced antimicrobial protection is built into the laminate to protect the surface against the growth of damaging microbes that cause stains and odors on countertops and work surfaces."
It goes on:
"The antimicrobial protection added inhibits the growth of stain and odor causing mold and mildew on the surface. Essentially, it keeps the surface looking - and smelling - better, longer."
In other words, the antimicrobial protection is there to protect the laminate, not the user.
Another leading laminate manufacture describes their antimicrobial laminate as providing "…an effective secondary support to existing cleaning regimes in the fight against contamination." Again, the antimicrobial laminate is recommended, by the manufacturer, as a secondary defense to cleaning your laminate top with a disinfecting wipe.
Are these laminates of value in my PSAP?
To achieve the 99.5% reduction of the select microbes advertised by many antimicrobial laminate manufactures, the microbe must be in contact with the laminate surface for 2 HOURS! In a 24/7 911 dispatch center or command and control room this is not realistic. Surfaces rarely go untouched for that long.
This means, that the microbes remain active while you work and spread with touch over the course of the shift – true for both coated and additive laminates.
If you could meet the 2-hour requirement to reduce the select microbes on your work surface, it still does not address the most common places bacteria, microbes and germs are found - drawer/door handles, chair arms/seats, your mouse and your keyboard. To effectively disinfect your work space, you must clean the space with a disinfecting wipe. The wipes effectively eliminate microbes and germs on all surfaces for which they are recommended and are more effective for promoting a healthy workplace.
Beyond the communication’s center worksurface: Effects of antimicrobials in the environment.
In March of 2017 the research driven architecture firm Perkins & Will released their white paper titled "Understanding Antimicrobial Ingredients in Building Materials". A quick overview of this white paper’s top 10 findings can be found here: Read a quick overview of the white paper’s top 10 findings. This review gives an eye-opening look at the effects, effectiveness and the dangers of antimicrobial additives in building materials. In this whitepaper Perkins & Will site:
"A 2015 GreenScreen Assessment of nanosilver that found it to be toxic to aquatic ecosystems, persistent in the environment, and hazardous to organ systems."
They further mention:
"The National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) report that states, while engineered nanomaterials provide great benefits, we know very little about the potential effects on human health and the environment…. Nano sized particles can enter the human body through inhalation and ingestion and through the skin. Fibrous nanomaterials made of carbon have been shown to induce inflammation in the lungs in ways that are similar to asbestos.”
In the conclusion of this whitepaper, Perkins & Will state:
"In 2003 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed the data and concluded there was no evidence that antimicrobial additives provided a benefit, even in a hospital setting. In 2016, after studying the issue for four decades, the Food and Drug Administration came to the same conclusion: there is no evidence that antimicrobial additives provide an added benefit. If one scrutinizes carefully manufacturer claims and marketing, even in the healthcare setting, one finds no field studies, and no claims that antimicrobial products reduce the need for infection control measures. Potential impacts to human and environmental health as a result of these additives may include antibiotic resistance, and the appearance of antimicrobial additives in ecosystems."
The bottom line: antimicrobial laminates do not contribute to a healthier workplace.
From what we’ve learned, antimicrobial laminates do not deliver practical benefits to 24/7 communications and operations center environments. Coated laminates wear down over time. Additive laminates may have long-term effects on the environment and, potentially, the user.
In both cases, the offending microbes must stay in contact with the 911 dispatcher's surface for two hours before they are rendered inactive. In 24/7 manned environments that’s two hours when those microbes will be lifted and shared with other surfaces and teammates.
Antimicrobial laminates are not recommended for shift-work germ defense.
What is the best defense against germ spread in a communications center?
The most effective way to clean your console and community areas is the old fashion way. Wipe everything down with a disinfecting wipe before or after your shift – especially the worksurface, pulls, mice and keyboards, and chair arms. There are two common disinfecting wipes – bleach and hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide wipes are considered superior and recommended for use in public areas including hospitals. Using a hydrogen peroxide disinfecting wipe kills bacteria and viruses in a minute or less and are not harmful to the environment. Learn more about professional grade Hydrogen Peroxide cleaning wipes.
Other initiatives that promote wellness in your PSAP include regular vacuuming, HVAC maintenance, and annual or bi-annual deep cleaning of 911 consoles and equipment.
For more information...
If you have questions or would like to speak with a Watson Dispatch consoles consultant,
About the Author
Eddie Creegan's expertise in facility needs and dispatch furniture solutions helps him engage communications centers to understand challenges and to develop lasting solutions. Eddie started his career in 1986 installing commercial office furniture and public safety consoles. He received installation certification for multiple product lines and started his own installation company in Phoenix, Arizona. In 2005, Eddie moved from installation to sales as an independent rep for Watson Dispatch and began working directly for Watson Dispatch in 2013. Eddie predominately works with customers in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming. Connect with Eddie on LinkedIn.