(OS1): What a Professional Cleaning Operation Uses to “Tidy Up”

There’s a pretty good chance that over the past month, you’ve heard the name “Marie Kondo” or even watched one of her shows. Named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People,” Japan’s queen of decluttering has found her way into millions of U.S. home by sharing her way of cleaning or, “tidying up,” those items that do not “spark joy” in their lives. From her two best-selling books to her recent Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” she provides organizational guidance to help people create order using her patented “konmarie method.” 

In her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Kondo discusses how tidying up— much like cleaning — is a self-taught exercise. 

Image from Kondo’s website: https://konmari.com.

“The general assumption, in Japan at least, is that tidying up doesn’t need to be taught but rather is picked up naturally,” she says. “Cooking skills and recipes are passed down as family traditions…yet no one hears of anyone passing on the family secrets of tidying, even within the same household.” 

“Instruction in tidying is neglected not only in the home but also at school,” she continues. “When we think back to our home economics classes, most of us remember making hamburgers or learning how to use a sewing machine to make an apron…surprisingly little time is devoted to the subject of tidying.” 

It doesn’t take much looking to see the parallels between our industry, the professional cleaning and hygiene industry, and how Kondo has built her empire. She’s found a way for people to find order and develop a system for “maintaining” their home, just as a cleaning operation is designed to do within a commercial building, such as a school, hospital or office.

Similar to the “tidying up” movement, a lot of people in the professional cleaning industry are self-taught because we also operate on the notion that cleaning is a skill that is picked up naturally or through experience. 

Like Kondo, our founder, John Walker, recognized the issue with this approach. Because people lacked the proper training, they were not often able to truly clean in a way that led to cleaner, safer and healthier facilities. That’s why he developed (OS1), a scientifically engineered approach to cleaning. This system helps provide a system for cleaning and maintaining a building.

Let’s look at the similarities between Marie Kondo’s approach to tidying up and the (OS1) approach to cleaning:

Marie Kondo’s Approach  (OS1) Approach
Visit a home and consult with the customer about their goals and objectives. Meet with the client to discuss current program and objectives for implementing a new custodial system
Conduct an audit/inventory of the home’s material possessions Conduct a baseline audit of the custodial program. This includes:  inventory of custodial supplies & equipment; observations of cleaning processes; detailed cost analysis of labor/product usage; training and education program; scheduled cleaning services; and HAZCOM risk assessment.
Teach the KonMarie method Teach the (OS1) process through events like Janitor University, Train the Trainer, (OS1) Boot Camp and (OS1) specialist certifications.
Help clients understand that tidying up is not a chore but a mindset. Help custodial operations understand the importance of janitors and that they be treated as first-class citizens. 
Work with homeowners to implement the KonMarie method and begin purging the home of unnecessary material itemsSet up a pilot building within the facility to begin rolling out the (OS1) system.
Roll out the Konmarie method over the next monthContinue tactically rolling out the (OS1) system based upon a successful pilot. Create repeatable outcomes and over the next several months/years scale to additional buildings within the operation.
Follow-up with clientOngoing benchmarking of best practices with other (OS1) users through an annual symposium. Participate in annual progress audits to document milestones, troubleshoot issues.

Take a look at your custodial closet. Is it filled bottles of cleaning chemicals made by companies that aren’t even in business anymore? Do you have pieces of broken equipment collecting dust in the corner? Do you know what tasks are being performed every single day? Do you spend your day handling complaints and putting out fires? Is your staff’s morale perpetually low?

If so, it could mean your custodial department is ready for a little tidying up too.

The Rise of Cleanwashing: Part II

When people are first introduced to Six Sigma, a program used by businesses for continuous improvement, one of the first things they’re asked to do is to draw a happy pig. Without any instruction, you can imagine the different types of drawings people create! After everyone shows each other their work and the variation in the drawings becomes apparent, they are then provided a set of instructions and asked to draw the pig again. This time, they find that the drawings look remarkably similar. The point of the exercise is to demonstrate how when a group of people have instruction, most will produce a consistent result. 

The McDonald’s empire was built on around consistency; consistency that was structured around the pillars of “quality, service, cleanliness and value.” Ray Kroc knew that when you’re looking for a consistent product, you need to standardize the products and the systems in place. In fact, he’s quoted as saying, “If I had a brick for every time I’ve repeated the phrase Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value, I think I’d probably be able to bridge the Atlantic Ocean with them.” 

Standardized systems and products are what make a Big Mac in Des Moines, IA, taste the same as a Big Mac served in Kroc’s first restaurant in Des Plaines, IL.

Standardization is the hallmark of efficiency—just think about the ISO 9000 quality management and quality assurance standards. But for some reason, standards are lost when it comes to custodial departments. Organizations implement standardized processes throughout their customer service, warehouse, purchasing and human resource departments… but they neglect to think about how the custodial department could benefit from standardized processes.

How the Absence of Standards Can Result in Cleanwashing

In the first part of this series, we discussed the rise of “greenwashing” and how when the demand for sustainable products grew, suppliers marketed their products as good for the environment when they really weren’t. 

Similarly, there are a lot of cleaning companies out there that make claims that they know how to clean, but they often lack the knowledge, processes and systems to ensure a consistent level of cleanliness. They think that anyone can pick up a mop and clean. But when was the last time they changed the water and solution in the mop bucket? Are they using the same mop to clean the restrooms, hallways and kitchen areas? Do they put up the proper signage in public areas to reduce the chance of slips and falls?

This is an example of “cleanwashing.” 

We’ve found that cleanwashing happens more often then you’d think because so many people believe that anyone can clean. But another part of the issue is that people don’t think or ask how something is cleaned, just that it looks clean. And that’s a dangerous oversight. As anyone in this industry knows, there are a lot of things that can go undetected to the visible eye. Just ask any cleaner who has worked on a cruise ship and had to deal with Norovirus or a custodian who has had to deep clean a school during a flu outbreak.

Let’s think back to the happy pig picture. What happens when you hand someone a flat mop with little to no instruction? Just because the floor has been mopped, has it been cleaned? The individual might work from left to right, he or she might walk in circles around the floor, walk around areas that have already been mopped—there’s really no limit to the way one might approach mopping a floor. They could be moving soil around, not removing the soil.

More organizations are focusing on standardization to help them streamline practices and help improve processes moving forward.

How Does Standardization Help Improve Organizational Excellence?

When we think of standardizing processes, you may think that it would only be beneficial to franchise operations or by businesses that repeat work throughout more than one location. For example, a contract cleaner would benefit from standardizing job duties and processes so someone can pick up a job in Building A and repeat it in Building D or F—wherever they are needed, delivering the same exact quality of work.

But occupational theorists have found that the benefits of a standardizing processes go beyond delivering a consistent product. It can also be a tool to empower and retain employees. Standardization takes the guesswork from the task and means that employees have an established, time-tested process to use. Organizations use standardized processes to boost productivity and improve employee morale, because employees can take pride in knowing that they have mastered a given task. Fast Company says that organizational standardization can fuel innovation. And there’s a good chance we’ll only see more standardization in the future. The prestigious Wharton School of Business says companies are increasingly moving toward standardization.

When it comes to cleanwashing, standardization gives anyone who is either directly or indirectly responsible for the cleaning and maintenance in their building with a set of guidelines. It also allows for the development of metrics. In an ideal scenario, all custodial positions are workloaded, and workers are kitted with the exact tools and supplies they need for the day. They follow a specific set of instructions detailed on a card so areas are cleaned the exact same way, each time, delivering a standard result and a consistent level of clean throughout every building. 

How Can We Combat Cleanwashing?

Too often, custodial work is commoditized, meaning that people don’t understand the value of the service and shop it out to the lowest-priced provider. While this trend is starting to change, it’s up to the people who provide custodial services that are built upon standardized processes and procedures to educate stakeholders about what they bring to the table. A few important talking points to cover might include:

— Removing soil versus moving soil around.

— Worker training and safety.

— The impact of cleaning on health. 

— The cost versus the price of clean.

— How standardization impacts the overall quality of clean.

As we illustrated in the first part of this series, there is an increasing demand for clean facilities. People spend money in buildings that are clean. But it’s important for the people who live, work and visit those facilities to understand that just because something LOOKS clean, it doesn’t mean that it necessarily IS clean. When there’s a standardized process in place, you have the peace of mind in knowing that the outcome is consistent — every time. 

The Rise of Cleanwashing: Part I

If you’re familiar with the green cleaning movement, you’ve probably heard the term “greenwashing.” Greenwashing started happening when consumer demand for green cleaning products grew. In attempt to capture market share, suppliers of cleaning products and services made sustainability claims… but it quickly became apparent that many of these products and services weren’t really “green.”

According to Scientific American, the term “greenwashing” involves “falsely conveying to consumers that a given product, service, company or institution factors environmental responsibility into its offerings and/or operations.” Put simply, a company says their product or service is sustainable when it is not. 

We’re starting to see the same thing happening with professional cleaning services. More than ever, consumers understand the benefits and desire a clean facility in which to live, work, learn and shop. As a result, they are spending more money — and time — in buildings they feel to be clean.

Here’s a quick look at the numbers:

  • RETAIL CLEANLINESS: One study of approximately 2,100 U.S. adults found that 93 percent of those surveyed would not return to a retail store if they experienced issues with its facilities. The cleanliness issues that mattered most included bad odors, dirty restrooms and other dirty surfaces, and miscellaneous areas like entryways.
  • RESTAURANT CLEANLINESS: Restaurant Business reports that 59 percent of consumers say that cleanliness is very important when choosing where to dine, even compared to other considerations such as service, value and order accuracy. 
  • SUPERMARKET CLEANLINESS: Supermarket News reports that store cleanliness is just as importance as quality and freshness of the food in a supermarket experience survey.
  • MILLENNIALS WANT CLEAN: When it comes to millennials, the need for clean increases. A Marketwatch report highlights that three in four millennials (77 percent) thoroughly clean their homes at least once a week compared to 42 percent of Baby Boomers. 
Driven by images that regularly populate social media channels such as Instagram, many Millennials have a different view of “clean” compared to older generations.
  • Entrepreneur reports: “When it comes to food, millennials seek cleanliness and healthiness. They are 2.5 times more likely than boomers to list a store’s hygiene level as a deterrent to stopping there…”

As we experience the increased demand for clean, we can expect a rising of organizations that make false claims around the effectiveness of their cleaning services, or, “cleanwashing.”

You see, in the U.S., the cleaning industry is engaged in a decades-long battle against a misconception gripping most Americans. That misconception is that anyone can clean. And while it’s true that most people can clean, the fact remains that they need to be educated on how to clean properly. Otherwise, there’s a good chance that they’re just moving around dirt from one location to another. 

In many regards, the U.S. cleaning industry is still very much the Wild West. With very few standards or regulations around how we clean, we can expect to experience a surge of organizations “falsely conveying to consumers that their service factors cleanliness and health into its offerings and/or operations.”

Or, cleanwashing. Without organizations to govern claims made by cleaning operations, we will experience a flood of companies making unsubstantiated claims around the efficacy of their work.

In the second part of this series, we’ll look at what is cleanwashing and steps that facility managers, building owners and others who procure cleaning service can take to avoid it and steps cleaning organizations can take to separate themselves in an increasingly crowded marketplace. 

Our 10 Most Read Blog Posts of 2018

The final days in December provide us with a wonderful opportunity to hit the pause button and step back for a moment. It’s a time when a lot of us dig into our drawers for the napkin where we outlined our goals and objectives for the year so we can see how well we did in accomplishing them. It’s also time to think about our professional goals for the upcoming year identify ways to get there—much as the Roman god “Janus” from whom the word “janitor” is derived looks to both the past and the future.

This year was a rough one for us. Despite the passing of our founder, John Walker, just a few months ago, we are more committed and inspired than ever to carrying out his legacy. The individual who cleans—the janitor, custodian, housekeeper, maid—whatever title you wish to use, was the focus of much of his work. He made it his mission to bring recognition to the those who play such a critical role in keeping our buildings clean and its occupants safe. 

This focus often gets lost in the industry conversation about how we can cut costs, improve productivity and clean faster. Yet, as our most read blog posts of the year shows, focusing on the worker is what resonates with readers of our blog the most. We are also committed to cleaning more safely and in a way that brings dignity and respect to the cleaning workers. 

We can’t wait to share some of our new educational products and initiatives with you in 2019. If you want to stay up-to-date with what we’ll be launching, make sure you have subscribed to our newsletter. And as you make your list of professional goals for 2019, know that we would love to help you get there. Whether it’s by joining the more than 3,000 individuals who have attended Janitor University, through our online learning resources or the many books available in our store, we have a variety of resources that can be used within any custodial organization. 

Here’s to helping our custodial teams clean better and more safely in 2019!

Here are our most read blog posts of 2018:

  1. Custodial Injuries: Why Legislators Are Starting to Act: On the heels of a Cal/OSHA vote to enact legislation to protect hotel housekeepers from musculoskeletal injuries, we dig into the most common custodial injuries. 
  2. Think Janitor is a Dirty Word: This 2017 post continued to resonate with visitors, as it was our second highest read post this year. In it, we look at the origin of the word “janitor” and show how it is actually tied to deity. 
  3. The Heart of Cleaning: A look at several cleaners making a big difference in the world. 
  4. Thank a Cleaner: Shining a light on the difficult and thankless task of custodial work. 
  5. How to Clean to Stop the Flu Virus: This popular blog post and infographic highlights the common issue of presenteeism and practical steps custodial professionals can take to limit the spread of the flu virus. 
  6. Easy Ways to Energize Your Employees in 2018: This comprehensive list helps managers keep their team motivated and excited about work. 
  7. Training for Different Learning Styles: Understanding the VARK model of learning styles and tailoring training materials so workers can get the most out of them. 
  8. 4 Things Every Custodial Job Description Should Include: Just like every great dish is made of great ingredients, the same goes for developing a great custodial worker. 
  9. 5 Easy Ways to Attract Millennials: Strategies for recruiting younger members to your team. 
  10. 3 Things You Need for Your Custodial Program to be Successful: Looking closely at the “three-legged stool of cleaning” and why we shouldn’t just assume that anyone can clean. 

Wishing you and yours a great holiday season and kick-off to 2019!

What the Golden State Warriors Can Teach Us About Better Cleaning

Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated magazine named the Golden State Warriors as their Sports Person of the Year. They are the fourth team to be recognized with the honor, following the 1980 U.S. hockey team, the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer team and the 2004 Boston Red Sox. 

“Our success is due to the contributions of every single player, coach and staff member in our organization; for Sports Illustrated to recognize this unique dynamic is truly special,” said Warriors President of Basketball Operations/General Manager Bob Myers upon receiving the notice of the honor.

In an industry such as ours, which is notoriously filled with inefficiencies, it can be beneficial to look to a successful organization like the Golden State Warriors for inspiration and ideas to improve the way we operate. One thing that stands out about the Warriors is how they are a team, both on and off the court. Everyone makes sacrifices and while there are star performers, each individual fills a very specific function within that team dynamic. 

A lot of custodial operations operate use an individual-based approach, rather utilizing than the collective strengths of the team. This is called zone cleaning. Within this type of system, individuals are assigned to clean a specific area, performing all of the cleaning responsibilities within that space. So, a janitor might be required to dust and mop eat floor, empty trash, wipe down/disinfect surfaces and fixtures on the first floor of a building. 

If the Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr were to apply that to his team, you can only imagine the results. At six foot three inches tall, Steph Curry is too small to play center and would never be effective under the basket. He’s a talented ball handler and shooter, which makes him better suited for a point guard or shooting guard position. 

When you apply a team-based approach to cleaning, each individual has a specific job, much like the players on a basketball court. For example, a “vacuum specialist” vacuums all the surfaces throughout the building and checks that wastebaskets have been emptied. It’s much simpler and faster to train employees to perform those two tasks than it is to train them on a long list of jobs. 

Team Cleaning uses specialists who concentrate on defined tasks such as light duty and trash, vacuuming, restrooms, and utility work, much like the players on a basketball court. (Photo courtesy of ProTeam)

Yet the advantages go beyond training. The biggest advantage of team cleaning is improved productivity. Let’s say that you have to clean a 12,000 square foot building with eight floors. If one worker was assigned to each floor, performing every cleaning task over a four-hour period, it would require eight people, eight vacuums, eight trash barrels and eight restroom carts for the entire building. 

In that same building using a “specialists” approach, a light-duty specialist and vacuum specialist would be assigned to the first four floors, and another identical pair of specialists would be assigned to the top four floors. A restroom and utility specialist would be assigned to the entire building. Using this approach, only six people, two vacuums, two trash barrels and one restroom cart is required.

In addition to fewer people and equipment, team cleaning has several additional benefits, including: 

  • It saves energy
  • It reduces complaints 
  • It’s easier to inspect
  • It’s more fun
  • It’s safer
  • It’s faster
  • It’s easier
  • It simplifies the cleaning process

There are several things which experts attribute to the overall excellence of the Warrior’s legacy. This includes the versatility of its players, their skill, the number of great players on the team, their unselfishness and the respect everyone within the organization has for one another. Rise or fall, the team does so together. These attributes have led the Warriors to three NBA championships in the past four years, losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 finals.

At Janitor University, we teach janitors to always remember “if it is to be, it is up to me.”

Just like the Warriors, everyone on a team cleaning team is responsible for the success or failure of their team. And as a result, they are stronger—and more effective—together.

* For more information about team cleaning or to find a variety of resources designed to improve the way you set up and manage your team cleaning program, please click here

It’s Flu Season: Please Protect Your Cleaners

Last year’s flu season claimed the lives of 80,000 people, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, making it the deadliest season on record in more than four decades. Last year’s flu season was unique in that the virus didn’t remain isolated in a particular area of the country. A CDC spokesperson shared that for three consecutive weeks, “the entire continental US was affected by the flu at a very high level.”

November typically marks the start of flu season, so runny noses are already starting to fill classrooms, offices, hotel rooms and cafeterias everywhere. A few months ago, we shared information about how to clean to stop the spread of the flu virus, but it’s equally important to protect the people at the front line of flu prevention: your custodial staff. A kitchen staff wouldn’t come to work on a busy night without tools like gloves and knives, so your cleaning staff should be equally prepared when it comes to cleaning during flu season.

Here are seven easy ways that you as a custodial professional can make sure your team is protected:

  1. Make flu shots easy and accessible. Depending on the business type, a nurse may already be available onsite to administer flu shots to custodial personnel, but most times this is not the case. Make it easy for workers to get their flu shots by providing them with a list of nearby locations where they can get the flu shot and giving them time off work (just 15-30 minutes is all they need) to do so. If time off work isn’t an option, consider arranging for a professional to come to your facility and administer shots to staff during the start or end of their shift. The CDC offers this guide for promoting the flu vaccine within your business. 
  2. Educate workers on the differences between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing. Before the start of flu season, consider providing a short training session on microbiology basics. You know the drill—cleaning removes dirt and germs, disinfecting kills germs, sanitizing reducing germs to a safe level. Make sure your team understands the difference between each type of cleaning, along with how to disinfect properly by allowing disinfectants the proper amount of dwell time to be effective.
  3. Protect workers with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). From gloves to eye protection and face masks, equip workers with the necessary PPE to prevent them from coming into direct contact with airborne viruses or bacteria resting on surfaces being cleaned—or from exposure to quaternary-based cleaners. 

    Did you know? The average sneezing distance is anywhere from 3 to 26 feet!

  4. Implement hand-washing protocol. When arriving at work, one of the first things custodians should do is wash their hands to remove any dirt or bacteria they may have carried in with them. Even if they’ve used protective gloves throughout their shift, encourage them to wash their hands when they have completed cleaning responsibilities or before/after taking a break as they may have come into contact with a virus during that period. Regular hand washing not only helps protect custodial workers, it also helps prevent them from spreading germs as they clean.
  5. Encourage sick workers to stay home. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the average sneezing distance is anywhere from 3 to 26 feet—no one wants to be in the direct line of fire of that! Sick workers can not only spread viruses and bacteria throughout the building (and to others on staff), they can also become sicker. Reduce “presenteeism” by making sure employees understand what leave is available to them and encouraging a workplace environment that values health and wellness. 
  6. Reduce cross contamination with standardized cleaning processes. From dirty tools to processes driven by employee whim, a lot of cleaning programs lack standardization and leave the door open to issues like cross contamination, missed surfaces and ultimately polluting the indoor environment. Prevent this from happening by using an engineered, scientific approach to cleaning tasks that allows you to measure the work performed. 
  7. Increase fomite cleaning frequencies in custodial areas too. When the flu season hits, one of the first things many custodial workers do is increase the cleaning and disinfection of high touch surfaces such as door handles, hand rails, light switches and faucet knobs throughout the building. Make sure to include areas frequented by custodial professionals in this effort too, including custodial closets, break rooms and lockers. 

It’s estimated that the last flu season cost employers more than $21 billion in lost productivity. Because your team is on the front lines of preventing the spread of this virus that will inevitably appear in your facility at some point this year, make sure your team is prepared—and protected—in the fight. 

When Was the Last Time You Sharpened Your Ax?

You may have heard the story about the man who works hard chopping wood, but never sharpens his ax? In the tale, a man goes to work for a local timber company. The job pays well and the management is friendly, so he wants to do his best so he can keep the job. The first day, he manages to cut down 18 trees. Proud of his accomplishment, he goes out the next day with the goal of chopping down even more trees, but it turns out that he’s only able to chop 15. With each day that passes, the man cuts down fewer and fewer trees. Feeling defeated, he goes to his boss for advice on what he could be doing wrong. 

The boss looks at the man and says, “You are one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen, but did you ever take a moment to sharpen your ax?”

When is the last time you took a minute to stop and sharpen your ax? This anecdote can be applied to a custodial operation in a couple of different ways:

1. Maintaining good care for your tools and equipment.

How can we clean faster with dirty tools and equipment? 

A lot of organizations come to us looking to improve cleaning efficiencies and make their operation more productive. And not surprisingly— “improving staff performance/cleaning times” was the top priority cited by respondents to this year’s Facility Cleaning Decision’s Reader Survey.  So when we go into a business, one of the first things we do is take a look at the custodial closet. Why? Because it gives us clues into the way the custodial department is managed. 

A lot of times, we find that custodial workers aren’t “sharpening their axes”—or keeping their tools and equipment clean. We see mop buckets filled with black water, soiled cloths, cob-web covered dusters—the list goes on. How can a janitor possibly “clean” if the tools that he or she uses are dirty? 

If you were an artist, would you paint with dirty brushes? 

Aside from obvious cross-contamination issues, if we don’t take the time to care for our cleaning tools, they will generally degrade over time and become less effective. This applies to everything from cleaning cloths to large capital investments like auto-scrubbers or carpet extractors. Every productive, efficient cleaning organization will have a program in place to make sure tools are regularly cleaned and a preventative maintenance program is in place to keep cleaning equipment in top condition.

2. Maintaining good care of our mental and professional health.

How can we be our best if we don’t take the time to refresh our own professional development? 

The metaphor of “sharpening your axe” can also be applied to continuing your own professional training and education. Studies show that organizations that invest in training are often higher performing (you may want to check out this post, where we identified 10 reasons why you should make continuing education a priority.). 

We use the term “training” loosely here, as it can mean anything from reading industry publications to stay up-to-date on custodial management best practices, to participating in webinars, in-person training programs and industry trade shows. 

However, professional development is only part of the equation. Finding ways to improve your mental health is an important way to sharpen your ax. According to the American Psychological Association, 58 percent of Americans say that work is a significant source of stress.

Some people go golfing, fishing, running or kayaking to decompress from the rigors of work and life demands. Others practice mindfulness, yoga or spend time writing or reading. Whatever your outlet, make sure you take time to step away in order to best care for your own mental well-being. 

In the ever-present push to clean faster and better, we need to take a minute to make sure we’re sharpening our axes. Otherwise, we’ll never get anywhere.

Thank You, John Walker and Friends

John Walker spent much of his life finding ways to empower janitors and enhance the way custodial operations are organized, managed and executed. When you talked to John, his energy and enthusiasm for improving the industry was contagious.

Last Sunday, John passed away after an extended illness. In passing, the cleaning industry lost a legend and janitors lost one of their biggest champions. Wherever John went, he’d stop to thank the janitors he met. This was true right up until the end — in a short hospital stay, he knew the names of every person who came in to clean his room and made sure they knew how much he appreciated their service. 

John touched the lives of so many people both in the industry and beyond; the outpouring of support we’ve received since his death has been overwhelming. We want thank everyone who has reached out with a story about John or a kind sentiment about how he impacted them. 

We’re in the process of making arrangements to give proper tribute to this incredible man, but we wanted to say thank you. 

Thank you, John Walker, for your tireless work and inspiration. Thank you for making the world —and our industry— a better place. 

Thank you, dear friends and colleagues, whose support means so much to us. 

With John’s wind at our sails, ManageMen will forge into a new chapter. But until we can continue on this journey, we thank you for your patience and continued support.

Our best, 

Renae, Ben and Lisa

The Top 10 Complaints of Custodial Professionals

You’re in a tough business—we’ll just put that out there. The people who make it in this industry are problem solvers. Every day, they put together a new puzzle — figuring out which piece needs to go where to complete the puzzle of a clean building. Maybe one piece involves covering for a janitor who called off work and another is delayed supply delivery… each day presents a unique set of challenges. 

When we go into a new business to set them up on the (OS1) System, we often hear a common set of complaints. It doesn’t matter if it’s a laboratory on the east coast or a University in California. A very common set of issues exist for custodial professionals everywhere. So you know you’re not alone, we’ve pulled together a list of complaints and frustrations that we hear.

The top 10 frustrations experienced by custodial professionals include:

1. Not enough/broken/wrong equipment. People who don’t understand cleaning don’t realize that you need more than a vacuum and a microfiber mop to keep floor surfaces clean. In addition to cordless equipment, carpet extractors, burnishers, strippers and dryers are all necessary pieces of equipment to maintain and protect floor surfaces—at least if you don’t want to replace carpet or tile every few years. 

2. Chemical musical chairs. Too often, custodial professionals are at the whim of their purchasing department when it comes to buying cleaning chemicals. While the type of chemical might be the same, the brand might be different which can cause confusioTop n for custodial workers. Standardization is key in order to establish effective SDS programs and reduce injuries. 

3. Not enough mats/no matting at all. Keeping floors clean inside the building starts well before someone walks through the front door. A combination of scraper and entryway matting can help trap dirt before it tracks onto the floors. But adequate matting is only half of the puzzle—mats need to be regularly laundered so they can work as designed.

4.  No training resources. Overcoming the common misconception that “everyone knows how to clean” is one of the biggest challenges faced by custodial professionals. An effective custodial operation will have an established classroom training program that includes training aids, videos, work-flow charts and tools to assist with comprehension. 

A training classroom equipped with training materials is key to developing a high-performing and engaged custodial team.

5. Supervisory void/exasperated supervision. Supervisors are in a tough spot—not only are they responsible for overseeing custodial workers, they are also often the point of contact for building occupants whenever there’s an issue. Custodial supervisors need to be well trained to do the job properly— and well compensated.

6. Unmotivated staff/skeptical staff. When dealing with so many nationalities, personality types and ages, it can be tough to get custodial workers to rally behind a greater goal or the vision for creating a clean indoor environment. Training, compensation and a structure for advancement can all help workers buy-in to your organizational goals. 

7. Lack of respect. Every now and then, you’ll see a news story about an elementary school that surprises a custodian with a generous act to show their appreciation, but the large majority of custodial workers feel invisible in the buildings where they work. Even if employees work at night, recognizing workers through appreciation events such as International Housekeepers Week or Custodial Workers Recognition day can help bolster morale and help workers feel that they are respected. 

8. Rotating door. For a lot of people, custodial work is a “filler” job. By that, we mean that it’s something people do to supplement their income for a period of time or maybe it’s something that helps get them by in their pursuit of another position. This often leads to high turnover rates. Providing opportunities for advancement, recognition and living wage compensation will help close this door. 

9. Injuries. Because of the strenuous nature of custodial work, a lot of custodial professionals experience injuries— in fact, double the number of injuries compared to other industries. By training workers and helping them warm up for their work day, we can help reduce these injuries.

10. Lack of input. How many times has your department been tasked with cleaning a new building that you’ve had no input in designing? Not giving custodial professionals a seat at the table of broader organizational decisions (like new building construction) can leave money on the table.

Have an issue we haven’t covered? Let us know, we’ll add it to our next list!

Why Are Chemical Handling Accidents Still Happening?

During our recent Symposium, Flynt Belk of Workers’ Compensation Fund Insurance shared the haunting story of Stefan Golab, an immigrant from Poland who in 1983, died at his place of employment, Film Recovery Systems. A former steel construction worker in Poland, Golab had only worked at the factory outside of Chicago for a few months where his job was to reclaim silver from used photographic film. 

On the morning he died, Golab drank warm milk, hoping it would settle his stomach. He’d been experiencing headaches and vomiting. He couldn’t read English or Spanish and while it was likely he’d seen the skull and crossbones located on the barrels of cyanide, that meant “high voltage” back in Poland, so he wasn’t aware of the risks in his job. 

In a landmark court case, a judge found the top executives of Film Recovery Systems and its parent corporation responsible for Golab’s death. The verdict read that the company had exposed workers to “totally unsafe” working conditions with no training, warning or safeguards to protect them. 

This is the catalyst for OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (1910.1200) in place today and later the Right-to-Know act. Right-to-Know refers to workers’ rights to information about chemicals in their workplaces.

“This is not the case of someone taking a gun and placing it to the head of a victim and shooting him,” the judge explained at sentencing. “What we have here is the kind of case where you take a bomb and you put it in an airplane, and you turn around and runaway somewhere, and a time bomb is ticking off and ticking off, and . . . all of a sudden, on February 10, 1983, the time bomb went off, and Stefan Golab is dead.” 

More than two decades later, that bomb is still ticking. The EPA estimates that as many as 2.8 million people in the cleaning industry are exposed to dangerous cleaning chemicals each day.

Required training under OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (1910.1200) includes understanding:

  • The health and physical hazards of cleaning chemicals
  • How to properly handle, use and store the products
  • What type of personal protective equipment to wear
  • How to use the hazard information, including labels and Safety Data Sheets
  • Procedures to follow in the event of a spill

This standard requires worker training before the use of any new chemicals, but no refresher training is required.

Wait… what? 

That means if a custodian may receive training on potential hazards associated with a chemical when they are initially hired, but if they stay at the same employer for several years, they are not legally required to demonstrate any understanding of how to properly handle, use and store chemicals after that point. 

Do you remember everything you learned in your first week on the job? In the flurry of new faces, paperwork and training, there’s a lot to remember. 

Sadly, incidents related to inappropriate use or storage of cleaning chemicals continue to happen all-too often. 

Earlier this year, five children were taken to the hospital after washing their hands with a cleaning chemical that was accidentally placed in the soap dispensers. In August, three workers in a cheese factory were treated at a local hospital after two cleaning solutions were accidentally mixed together. Just last week in Lexington, Ky., a janitor was burned while trying to clean chemicals with a towel. 

Fortunately, most employers take precautions to prevent deaths like Stefan Golab’s from happening. But we still have much work to do when it comes to training anyone with exposure to cleaning chemicals, as injuries are still happening. 

To help organizations comply with the ANSI/SI BSR SI-0001 American National Standard for Safe Use of Cleaning Chemicals which will go out for public review soon, we’re launching a new chemical handling workbook and online certificate program. Because accidents are still happening and every worker has the right to a safe workplace.