In this third part of our new blog series - Ask the Expert - we interview hygiene expert Louw Moller; Regional Business Manager of Rentokil Initial in the Western Cape by day, and volunteer paramedic by night.
Louw shares some of of his insights into the unique world of hygiene in the emergency services.
You are the resident “go-to” person in Cape Town when we need an expert opinion on both hygiene and first aid. Tell us a little about your background, and how you came to be a volunteer paramedic.
In 2001 I joined a Medical Centre in Cape Town as a pharmacy assistant and later became Branch Manager of the East London and Mdantsane Medi Centre’s in the Eastern Cape.The centre offered the services of a Medical Doctor, Primary Healthcare Nurses, Dentistry, X Rays and had a full dispensary on site.
The exposure I received there to trauma and the medical environment kickstarted my love for emergency medical assistance. I started my Emergency Medical Services (EMS) shifts as a ride-along on an ambulance, and later obtained my qualification part time.
I joined Rentokil Initial in 2007 as a Multi Branch Manager in East London and relocated through the business to Durban’s Pest Division in 2010. In 2013 I relocated back home to Cape Town where I managed the Cape Town branch; our biggest hygiene business in South Africa. In 2017 I was promoted to Regional Business Manager looking after all 3 business units.
What makes you excited about health and hygiene and everything in between?
Maintaining personal hygiene is necessary for many reasons; personal, social, health, psychological or simply as a way of life.
Keeping a good standard of hygiene helps to prevent the development and spread of infections, illnesses and bad odours.
The hygiene and medical field plays such a valuable role in people’s well being, and I feel that no matter which of the Hygiene sectors you fall into, you should be proud of the difference you make to your community and the environment at all times.
I personally think the Hygiene sector is an extremely fun and innovative sector in which to work. You interact with people from all walks of life, and at every stage of their life; from teaching school children the fundamentals of good hygiene practices, to assisting a manufacturer to achieve the highest level of hygiene standards for auditing purposes, our industry is critical to health and wellbeing.
As a volunteer paramedic, what are the primary hygiene considerations you face when on shift?
EMS providers are at the front line of medical care and have a high risk of exposure to patients with known or unknown infectious diseases or germs.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, helmets, face masks, protective eyewear and the prescribed uniform all form part of the primary hygiene considerations you must implement before you can start treatment on any patient.
Awareness of infectious diseases is key, and working in the hygiene industry has made me even more cautious of the risk of exposure to infectious diseases. Awareness of those bloodborne pathogens present in human blood which can cause disease in humans is a subject often discussed with EMS staff.
The risk of exposure to illnesses like Hepatitis B Virus (HBV), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), acute respiratory illness and gastroenteritis are top of mind during every shift.
One also has to be mindful that the ambulance needs to remain free from cross contamination risk for those patients with a non-existent immune system, for example the very young (pediatrics) and the very elderly. I’m very conscious of this fact, and being a volunteer means that if I don't feel well (for example if I have a cold or the flu) I would rather cancel my shift than run the risk of spreading my germs to a patient with an already compromised immune system.
Tell us something that the average person doesn’t know about hygiene in the medical services?
Good hygiene resulted in a 90% or more reduction of common environmentally transmitted diseases before the first vaccines or antibiotics - Dr C. Gerber
Water disinfection and personal hygiene ended the age of epidemics. The development of antibiotics and vaccines has had only a small impact on mortality rates - V. Greene
Handwashing with soap before meals and after using the toilet has been shown to reduce diarrheal infections by 40% - UNICEF.
How are ambulances cleaned ? Are they cleaned regularly? What about equipment?
Firstly, most ambulances run 24 hours a day, non stop, so finding time to clean the ambulance is not a once off process. After every completed call there is a cleaning session linked to a Standard Cleaning Operating Procedure or Hygiene Protocol.
My partner and I usually spend about an hour cleaning and sanitising the vehicle prior to the start of our shift. Only once the vehicle is clean and hygienic are we available to attend to calls.
Once a patient has been delivered to the hospital, all linen is changed and replaced with, clean linen. Each medical facility has a dedicated sluice room where EMS staff can wash and sanitise equipment. Once the used equipment is completely sanitised the crew then attend to the ambulance.
Patient care items and surfaces that can contribute to the spread of infection include stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, patient monitors, stretchers, trauma boards and immobilization devices. And not to exclude door handles, radio’s, cabinets, shelves and other contact areas. There after the vehicle still needs to be sanitised and a variety of products are available in the market.
How do you ensure your own safety (from a health and wellness perspective) when on shift?
Wearing PPE is really important as well as sticking to the protocols for treating patients. You absolutely cannot take a risk and treat a patient without wearing surgical gloves and a mask when required. I also have a Hepatitis B injection every five years.
I also never even enter an ambulance without taking my Initial hand sanitiser. I probably sanitise my hands every 10 minutes if I’m not treating a patient!
If you had to suggest only one change that people should make to keep themselves healthy, what would it be?
Use hand sanitiser as much as I do! Seriously though, good hand hygiene is probably the most important thing one can do to remain healthy. The water crisis in the Western Cape at the moment means that people are trying to cut their water usage as much as possible, and as a result basic hygiene sometimes goes out the window, but we need to ensure that wherever possible we utilise waterwise solutions - like hand sanitiser - to maintain good levels of basic hygiene and to prevent cross infection.
Help your company to stay waterwise! Download our water saving posters to remind staff to save water.
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