Provo City Schools Research Part II: The Importance of Measuring Cleaning

In the first part of this series, we explored the definition of “clean.” Now that we know what “clean” is, how do we get there? Ah, the million dollar question.

Just as no single agreed-upon definition of “clean” exists, no single standard or process for cleaning exists. As a result, we measure janitorial productivity in a variety of ways, which is largely dependent on the type of facility being cleaned.

To understand the importance of measurement, we’ll first look ways cleaning programs are currently measured, and then we’ll review a few examples of the benefits of measurement through a standardized approach to cleaning.

Current Strategies for Measuring Productivity and Their Limitations:

Visual Inspections: A visual inspection may reveal if a surface looks clean (e.g. is free from dirt or dust), but it does not reveal what is invisible to the eye, such as bacteria or viruses. Visual inspections are most common in retail environments where the emphasis is on appearance.

Cost-Per-Square-Foot Method: Often cleaning professionals want to evaluate cleaning productivity by establishing the cost for cleaning their facility. This method can present obstacles because of different surfaces that may or may not be factored into the equation. For example, do you factor the tops of books on a shelf as cleanable square footage? Should table surfaces be included as well? Not all cost-per-square foot method evaluations are created equally.

ATP Meter Readings: One of the newer methods for measuring cleanliness is Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) Testing. ATP is an enzyme present in all living cells; ATP meters detect the amount of organic mater that remains on a surface after cleaning. This method can lead to discrepancies between testers and not provide a true reflection of the cleanliness (or dirtiness) of a surface.

When we look at cleaning in an academic settings, the need for effective cleaning and cleaning measurement becomes most apparent.

Why Clean Schools Matter

In Dr. Campbell’s Provo City Schools research, he states:

Standards set a level of safety and performance for most industries. Therefore, a cleaning standard that ensures the building’s air quality, safety and health of the people therein should exist. Research shows that students in K-12 schools have improved capacity to learn when school environments are clean.

He identifies a survey conducted by the National Parent Teacher Association that revealed that cleanliness in schools was so insufficient that more than half of teachers (56 percent) purchase their own cleaning supplies to clean their classrooms.

While the immediate response might be to look at the school janitor, Dr. Campbell is quick to highlight research from the National Education Association that supports the need for better job descriptions for janitors:

* 38 percent of janitors have no job description

* 32 percent of those who do have a job description feel it does not match the scope of their work

64 percent of janitors often or sometimes perform work outside of their job description

YIKES. So teachers are taking it on themselves to clean their classrooms, but janitors are left with their hands in the air, because they aren’t clear on their responsibilities.

Why does this matter? Because the confusion surrounding the issue and the absence of a standardized approach and effective cleaning measurement tool to cleaning goes beyond issues of infection control and cross contamination.

Research shows that indoor air pollution (resulting from cleaning chemicals, dust and other particulates that can be breathed in) can result in lower work performance and higher rates of sickness.

Dr. Campbell cites multiple sources, including this research published in Indoor Air, Dr. Berry’s study at Charles Young Elementary School and this study published in Indoor Air Journal — all offering conclusive evidence that indoor pollutants negatively impact student health and performance.

Clean schools are healthier and more productive. But how can we make sure our schools are clean if there’s difficulty measuring janitorial productivity and cleanliness?

In the part three of this blog series, we’ll review how a standardized approach to cleaning establishes measures for janitorial productivity and positively impacts health and the indoor environment, as evidenced by the study at Dixon Middle School.

Provo City Schools Research Part I: What is “Clean,” Anyway?

Many building owners and managers don’t realize that the cost to clean a building over its lifetime will nearly equal the cost of its original construction. When you think about it, that’s pretty mind-blowing. Yet while construction materials and practices have evolved to improve efficiency and bring costs down, most schools are still using the same cleaning practices used 80-plus years ago.

We’ll be the first to say that using the proper cleaning products, tools and practices is important in any type of facility, but schools are particularly important because of their potential impact on student performance and health. In this three-part series, we’ll examine just how important of a role that cleaning plays in a school—specifically, an old K-12 school in Provo, UT. Using Dr. Jeffrey Campbell’s two-year research study entitled “The Clean Schools Initiative: Provo City School District” as a guide, we’ll look at the following:

  • How cleanliness is assessed and measured.
  • How the performance of cleaning personnel is evaluated.
  • How cleaning impacts indoor air quality.
  • How a standardized approach to cleaning can transform a school by improving morale,  saving money and creating a healthier, more productive indoor environment.

Ready?

How do we define “clean”?

Surprisingly, not one generally accepted definition of “clean” exists. This leads to broad discrepancies in how we clean. For example, some facilities clean for health (e.g. cleaners in healthcare clean to remove potentially harmful viruses and bacteria), and others clean for appearance (e.g. cleaners in a retail setting may clean to remove fingerprints and smudges from glass doors and display cases). But in order to identify how we should clean, we need to first identify what “clean” is and what it can achieve—so it’s a pretty critical piece of the puzzle.

In the book Protecting the Built Environment: Cleaning for Health, author Dr. Michael Berry writes, “cleaning is not only an activity, but a process and special form of management.”

Dr. Berry has conducted extensive research around the topic, looking at how cleaning impacts the educational performance of students and teachers. In particular, his study of the Charles Young Elementary School in Washington D.C. analyzed student performance before and after the building was remodeled and a higher standard of maintenance and cleanliness was implemented. His research revealed a strong correlation between the quality of of the physical school and quality of learning.

So if cleaning can have such positive outcomes (health, productivity and others), shouldn’t we also consider that in the definition?

Dr. Campbell proposes the following:

“Cleaning is a process that locates, identifies, contains, removes and properly disposes of an unwanted substance from a surface or environment, and contributes to the health and well-being of those who occupy the environment.”

By identifying a single commonly accepted definition of clean, we can start to streamline the processes that get us to that desired result.

How would you define clean? If it were a standardized process, do you feel that would allow us to better achieve the desired outcome of consistently “clean” environment?

In the next part of our series, we’ll look at how discrepancies in measurement of janitorial productivity and why clean matters—specifically in schools. 

What We’re Lovin’: The FIT Start Program at The University of Texas at Austin

Few would argue that custodial work is tough business. Not only does it come without much prestige or recognition, it also requires a lot of physical exertion — more succinctly, “elbow grease.” In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts custodians near the top of the list of occupations with the highest rates of injury-causing days away from work in the U.S.

Most of these injuries are caused by overexertion, or pushing the body past its limit.

Someone who has overexerted themselves can experience a variety of issues, including swelling in the joints, pain, soreness, numbness, muscle weakness and repetitive injuries down the road. It can also lead to increased workers’ compensation claims and labor costs—which already amount for almost one-third of a total facilities’ budget.

But the thing is, the majority of injuries related overexertion are preventable. We’ve found that the University of Texas at Austin’s (UT Austin) Fit Start Program is one smart approach to helping prevent these injuries.

In 2010, the UT Austin custodial management team recognized the need to address the daily physical strains experienced by custodial staff, so they partnered with the Kinesiology Department’s Fitness Institute of Texas. The group studied the daily work and cleaning tasks of each custodial worker and developed a customized program aimed to reduce the risk of injury and prepare the custodial department for the demands of the day. After conducting a series of trials to see what worked and didn’t work for the team, the program was implemented with the goal of preparing employees for the day and reducing the risk of injury.

Every morning, the custodial team warms up before each shift. The routine consists of five simple movements that are not exercises or stretches, but activities specifically designed to accomplish the following:

  • Increase blood flow to the muscles that are needed to perform custodial work.
  • Increase the communication between an individual’s brain and muscles to help reduce the risk of injury.

Following the acronym detailed in the program’s name, the moves consist of the following:

S: Swing the Arms

T: Twist the Body

A: Alternate and Sink

R: Reach and Fold

T: Touch and Toss

While the thought of doing warm up exercises before each shift may seem silly or unnecessary, it can have several benefits if you do it the right way. In addition to reducing injuries, it can offer an opportunity to engage workers and have some fun. It also shows them that you care about them and their well-being—and what’s not to love about that?

We love the program so much that we’ve incorporated it into our (OS1) Program to improve the safety of cleaning professionals everywhere.

Cleaning Gazette Express – May 2016

The Cleaning Gazette – June/July 2015 Issue

The Cleaning Gazette – April/May 2015

The Cleaning Gazette – March 2015

A Business Revolution: Doing More With Less

“Compression Thinking” is a distillation of 30 years of research by Robert W. “Doc” Hall, who explains his approach to business in this video. This is a new era, where resources are becoming more scarce and the impact of larger human populations on the Earth requires mankind to rethink business practices, which up to now have been seen as gospel truths. However, proven solutions do exist for business problems, both old and new ones, and Doc Hall explores them here… through his concept of Compression Thinking.

The Simon Institute, ManageMen and the (OS1) Users are featured in the video above.

The Cleaning Gazette – February 2015 Issue

The Cleaning Gazette – January 2015