Why Dirty Schools are a Big Problem—and What We Can Do to Clean Them Up

Last year, the Chicago Public School (CPS) system had a major cleaning problem on its hands. When it outsourced cleaning services, it promised the move would save the district money, provide cleaner schools and reduce responsibilities within individual schools.

That didn’t happen. 

An investigation by a local newspaper revealed that 91 of 125 schools failed cleanliness inspections by an outside inspector, and the Chicago Board of Education wanted action. They wanted accountability from the contractors hired to oversee cleaning duties.  

Roaches, dirty floors, missing restroom supplies were just a few of the issues. Several cleaners reported that they used personal funds to purchase cleaning supplies. Within the schools, so many hands were tied. Administrators couldn’t do anything about the issue. Teachers started leaving, dismayed by the filthy environment and kids—well, the kids suffered the most. 

The Issue with Dirty Schools

A lot of people want to know what REALLY happens when schools are dirty. The truth is, a lot can happen.

Former EPA scientist Dr. Michael Berry has studied the impact of cleaning on our schools extensively. In his study “Educational Performance, Environmental Management, and Cleaning  Effectiveness in School Environments,” he concludes, “effective cleaning programs enhance school and student positive self-image, and may promote overall higher academic attendance and performance.”

While Dr. Berry was specifically making the case for effective maintenance as a strategy for revitalizing aging city schools, he demonstrated the link between a school’s environmental quality and the educational performance of its students. Ultimately, he says, clean schools are not just an issue for parents and school staff, but our communities.  

Dr. Michael Berry creates the link between a dirty school, poor performance and the impact on our communities.

A few weeks ago, we shared an awesome letter to the editor from a concerned parent in a school district that was outsourcing its custodial services. She (legitimately) questioned how students would be impacted through the move. 

Here are just a few of the problems associated with dirty schools: 

1. Increased illnesses and absenteeism. 

2. Reduced performance.

3. Students and staff take less pride in the school, which reduces moral.

4. Schools experience higher teacher and employee turnover. Higher turnover impacts student’s learning and opportunities for achievement. 

5. Reduced property value. 

What We Can Do About Dirty Schools

There are a lot of clean schools in our country, but there are also a lot of really dirty schools as well, and it shouldn’t take an investigation to reveal issues with cleanliness. A lot of times the cleanliness of a school is tied to funding, not surprisingly.

As a parent, school administrator or just concerned citizen, what can you do to help make sure we’re offering a clean and safe facility for children to learn and grow?

1. Improve job descriptions for janitors. According to the National Education Association, 38 percent of janitors have no job description and 32 percent of those who do have a job description feel it does not match the scope of their work. Make sure job descriptions have been updated and accurately reflect the work the janitor performs. An effective scope of work is the first step to making sure cleaning is performed as required.

2. Allocate funds for training. Too often, we put a vacuum or mop in a janitor’s hand and tell them to clean, assuming they know what to do… but they often don’t. By allocating funds for cleaning programs, products and training, school custodians can have the tools they need to clean properly, while also understanding the basic science of their job, including microbiology, how to prevent cross contamination, etc. 

3. Scrutinize RFPs before they go to bid. Cleaning services have become increasingly commoditized, so it’s important to make sure that when your district issues an RFP, specs for cleaning are clearly identified so services aren’t cut to the lowest priced bidder.  Green Seal’s GS-42 is a great framework for an RFP.

4. Advocate for better cleaning standards and programs. As Dr. Campbell noted in his report Clean Schools Initiative, “National cleaning, facility and education associations, states, school districts, etc. must establish a common vocabulary with clearly identified standards, training competencies, measures and outcomes that focus on healthy environments that improve quality of life and human performance.” 

If you’re looking to turn around a cleaning program at a school, we’ve got you covered. Just check out this case study from the Provo City Schools that showed how a systematic approach to cleaning was able to reverse some of the all-too-familiar challenges of a poor cleaning program.

5. Thank a Cleaner. While it might seem tongue-in-cheek, the single most important thing a parent, student, teacher or administrator can do to improve cleaning in schools is show appreciation for the people doing the cleaning. The task is hard and often thankless, so showing custodial workers that you see them and appreciate the work they are doing goes a long way. 

As the late Nelson Mandela wrote, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

As children across the nation prepare to return to schools, let’s do what we can to provide an optimal learning environment for them. Clean schools matter.

School Janitors: So Much More than a Line Item in a Budget

You don’t need to walk far into your neighborhood store to see it’s back to school season. With end caps of glue sticks and aisles of pencils, paper and folders with everything from kittens to Avengers characters greeting you, it’s a time of year that brings excitement and new beginnings.

But in the town of Saugus, Massachusetts, just north of Boston, 21 school custodians will not return to school this year. The School Committee recently ruled to outsource services, igniting what the local paper called a “firestorm” of protests from local residents.

After the firing of 21 janitors, residents of Saugus, Mass., ask what will happen to the health and safety of students in their district.

More than 3,300 local residents signed a petition calling for reinstatement of the janitors. A high school student spoke, saying that the custodians are a “vital part of the school community who make students feel safe and supported.” 

Despite the protests, the Committee proceeded with the vote to outsource custodial services to a private cleaning company. According to the Superintendent, the move was part of a “reallocation of resources” estimated to save the district more than $1 million. 

This may sound familiar, as it happens far too often.  

We’ve gotta give it up for the people in this committee for understanding the importance of the custodial workers in their schools. If you’re reading this blog, you know how important cleaning is to a community. This letter to the editor from Saugus resident Erin McCabe sums it beautifully.

To the editor:

I feel the safety of our children is being overlooked. With limited custodians our children are placed at higher risk of health issues. 

These are just some of my concerns:

1. With limited custodial services, dust will most likely accumulate causing an increase risk of asthma attacks.

2. With limited custodial services, who will be cleaning up vomit and blood? Will there even be a custodian in each school to clean these pathogens, or will staff and students have to wait for someone who is trained in cleaning blood-borne pathogens? Thus exposing our children and their staff.

3. With limited custodial services, what will flu season look like for our children, when stomach bugs flood our school, will we see absences rise? Clearly not what we want for our students……..right?

4. With limited custodial services who will be maintaining our brand new high school/middle school. Will it remain in pristine shape for all future students? Probably not.

5. With limited custodial services, will we be able to host after school events, events on weekends? Such activities as our town basketball leagues etc … these activities are important and necessary for our community!

6. With limited custodial services, what will be put into place to maintain our children’s safety?

To read the full letter, please go to: https://saugus.wickedlocal.com/news/20190624/letter-to-editor-safety-of-our-children-is-being-overlooked

Thank you, Erin and the entire Saugus community, for recognizing the important work of a well staffed, trained and equipped custodial program. School custodians are so much more than a line item in a budget. They are key to ensuring healthy and safe environments for our children, as well as maximizing the investment in the buildings they clean. 

Is There Such a Thing as “Too Clean”?

A report released earlier this week by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), a London-based independent, multi-disciplinary charity dedicated to the improvement of the public’s health and wellbeing, affirmed that the there is no such thing as being “too clean.” According to an article in the Telegraph, the report came after organizers of a prominent festival encouraged attendees to conduct “strip washes” rather than take full showers in order to reduce the environmental impact of the festival. 

So, is there such a thing as being “too clean”? A lot of this goes back to the British epidemiologist David Strachan, who, in the late 1980s, developed what was called the “Hygiene Hypothesis.” His hypothesis suggested that exposure to infections during childhood would amplify defenses against allergies as the child grew older. In short, the dirtier the environment growing up, the better chance the child stood later in life to ward off allergies. 

It’s easy to see why there’s some pushback—the business of “clean” is a booming industry. The most recent data available forecasts that the household cleaning products generates more than $61 billion each year. We’re continually being sold on hand sanitizers and all-in-one products that promise to “kill 99.9% of germs and bacteria.” 

While some see that as more of a marketing strategy than reality, readers of this blog know that cleaning — and hygiene — are critical to controlling the spread of dirt, bacteria and infectious diseases.

Professor Sally Bloomfield, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that much confusion exists as to the difference between cleaning and hygiene—cleaning your hands after touching a dog or pet is different than cleaning out the pet’s living areas.

“Whereas cleaning means removing dirt and microbes, hygiene means cleaning in the places and times that matter—in the right way—to break the chain of infection whilst preparing food, using the toilet, etc.”

Professor Sally Bloomfield, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

So is there such a thing as “too clean?” The answer is no—the reality is quite the opposite. The absence of thorough and proper cleaning can have catastrophic results under the right conditions.

According to the World Health Organization, infectious diseases kill more than 17 million people a year. And the Texas Biomedical Research Institute reports that 30 new diseases have emerged in the last 20 years. 

So not only is the act of cleaning important, but HOW we clean and disinfect is equally as important in helping improve health outcomes for both cleaning workers and building occupants. There are different levels of cleanliness, and it when it comes to protecting people who live, work and visit buildings, one cannot be “too clean.” 

We’ll dig more into the importance of microbiology training for cleaning workers in our next post, but for now, here are the 27 of the Most Common Diseases Related to Cleaning:

Amebiasis

Botulism

Campylobacter

Chickenpox

Cholera

Cryptosporidiosis

Diphtheria

E.Coli

Hantavirus

Hepatitis

HIV/AIDS

Influenza

Legionellosis

Malaria

Measles

Meningitis

Meningococcal

Pertussis

Plague

Polio

Tuberculosis

Rotavirus

Rubella

Salmonellosis

Staph/MRSA

Streptocucucua

Typhoid Fever

Want to learn more about training workers on microbiology fundamentals? Check out our comprehensive reference guide “Microbiology for Cleaning Workers Simplified” by John Walker and Jeffery Campbell, Ph.D. 

Further Reading: If you’re interested in how cleaning has shaped modern culture, you might want to check out “Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Cleanliness” by Suellen Hoy.


7 Deadly “Muda” or Wastes in a Cleaning Department

Toyota is often looked to set a standard in manufacturing, as it has long embraced lean management principles to develop automobiles across the globe. A large part of its success is due to its innovative approach to production, which can be attributed to Taiichi Ohno, father of the Toyota Production System. While lean management originally started with Henry Ford’s assembly line, Ohno further integrated these principles into the Toyota Production System, which formed the basis for lean manufacturing as we know it today.

A central tenant of the Toyota Production System and lean manufacturing is minimizing “muda” —or waste—without sacrificing productivity. From uneven workloads to consumption of materials, limiting waste within an operation is one of the best ways to improve its profitability. 

In their paper, “Cleaning as an Engineered Process: Lean Principles for a Neglected Industry,” authors Dr. Jeffrey Campbell and Kathleen Campbell look specifically at how Lean Management Principles can be used within a cleaning department to improve efficiency.

“Lean is implemented by first understanding the activities and practices that are considered wasteful and do not add value to the process. It then looks at the process and identifies what creates value in the process stream and what is wasteful. A culture of continual improvement must be set up so that those who are in the day-to-day work-flow are comfortable with approaching management with new ideas on how to improve processes. Each area also needs to be cleaned and organized so that everything is in its place. With the preceding steps in place, waste can be eliminated or mitigated, and the process can become more Lean.’ The process should be re-evaluated often as new ideas or improvement emerge.” 

The “Seven Wastes” model is commonly used in lean and quality management systems such as ISO 9000 and Six Sigma. The wastes Ohno identified include:

  1. Transportation: The movement of resources or materials without adding value to your product.
  2. Inventory: Maintaining more product than you need for a given period. 
  3. Motion: Unnecessary movement of employees which may cause injury or are unnecessary.
  4. Waiting: The absence of movement for goods or tasks (e.g. waiting for items to be fixed, delivered). 
  5. Overproduction:  Producing more than you need to meet the customer’s demand or expectation.
  6. Over-processing: Performing work that doesn’t bring value to the organization or customer. 
  7. Defects: Production of a faulty or defective product. 

While a custodial department doesn’t necessarily manufacture a product, they do provide a service and one can easily draw parallels between Ohno’s seven wastes and potential sources of waste in a custodial department. 

Consider the seven deadly wastes when applied to a cleaning department: 

1. Transportation: How do custodial workers move throughout the building/buildings? Do they have defined routes or are they left to move throughout the building as needed? Are they kitted with everything they need (e.g. vacuums, chemical, PPE) to complete their tasks or do they need to go to other locations to retrieve items? 

2. Inventory: What does your janitorial closet look like? Is it filled with old equipment and expired chemicals? Do you purchase extra inventory “just in case” you need it, which contributes to accumulation overtime? 

3. Motion: Janitorial is one of the toughest jobs, which leads to high injury rates (one of the leading occupations for injuries, in fact). Injury from over-exertion is one of the most common to custodial workers. 

Ongoing training and on-the-job observation helps cleaning workers keep safe strategies top of mind for common tasks like lifting, reaching high areas, bending, etc. 

4. Waiting: How much time does it take cleaners to complete their task? Is there idle time? What happens when a space is occupied? Using our 99 Workloading Times and 612 Cleaning Times Book can help you identify how much time it should take your team to complete work assignments. 

5. Over-production: Is there such as thing as “too clean”? No, but there are routine tasks in a cleaning operation that might not need to be completed as often as they are. For example, a low-traffic restroom does not to be cleaned more than once a day unless there’s a specific issue to be addressed. The same goes for floor maintenance activities such as extracting a carpet or finishing a hard floor.

6. Over-processing: Because the cleaning industry currently lacks any standard for cleanliness, cleaning organizations must work with building occupants and customers to identify desired levels of cleanliness. 

In their paper, the Campbell’s discuss APPA’s five levels of appearance in its Custodial Staffing Guidelines book, which can be used a baseline for this discussion. Alan Bigger identifies them in his article “Operational Guidelines for Educational Facilities – Custodial.” 

7. Defects: Problems arise in a cleaning operation when employees lack the necessary training to do their work. In some instances, this can create a PR nightmare, as was the case at a Burger King restaurant in Fruit Cove, Florida when an employee used a floor mop to clean tables in the play area. 

In addition to complaints, the absence of a proper training program can cause injuries and result in inefficient cleaning processes. 

How lean is your custodial operation? Are there areas of muda or waste you could reduce? Consider talking to one of our consultants to learn more about how an engineered approach to cleaning could help! 

The Importance of Time in a Cleaning Operation

“Time is more precious than gold, more precious than diamonds, more precious than oil or any valuable treasures. It is time that we do not have enough of; it is time that causes war within our hearts, and so we must spend it wisely.” 

— Cecelia Ahern, The Gift

Over the years, we’ve spoken with hundreds of facility managers and experts in our industry. One thing that often separates the people who run relatively smooth operations from those routinely plagued with issues is great time management skills. At the front of any great cleaning operation is an individual who not only does a great job of managing his or her own time, but also the time of the custodial team. They equip custodial workers with a toolkit that includes the equipment and products to do the job, along with the ability to make their own decisions and effectively manage their own time. 

Why is time management so important? For starters, because labor accounts for approximately 90 percent of a cleaning budget. The remaining 10 percent goes to supplies, equipment and consumables such as toilet paper, paper towels, etc. As an industry, we typically focus on that 10 percent (e.g. “what’s the cost of auto scrubber A compared to auto scrubber B?”). However, a lot of our business at ManageMen is built around how we can do a better job of managing the other 90 percent.

Enter workloading. Workloading is the term used to describe how labor is managed in a cleaning operation. It details the goals, describes the jobs and projects outcomes for every position within the department. While many facility managers find work loading to be a near impossible task, it’s core to the (OS1) System. Without even distribution of responsibilities, clearly defined tasks and outlined outcomes, too many variables can enter the equation. An operation that has been workloaded is focused and makes the best use of time. 

Take Maria, for example. Maria has a set of specific tasks outlined on a checklist for her to complete in her 8-hour shift. As she’s vacuuming the hallway, she receives a call that someone needs help setting up a conference room. In this situation, Maria has been trained to say “no.” She understands that her checklist is the priority and that if she has time at the end of her shift, she can help setup later. 

We all have the same 24-hours in a day and 8-10 hours a day at work. So what strategies can you use to make the most of time in your custodial operation?

  1. Conduct an audit of how you currently use your time. Do you spend an hour each day responding to email? Dealing with personnel issues? Track your time for a week and see where you spend your time.
  2. Create a list of priorities. This can be divided up into a list of daily, weekly or monthly tasks. Include steps you need to take to achieve larger goals, along with regular responsibilities. 
  3. Establish a set time to complete each task. This is where our Cleaning Times book can be an extremely effective tool: look at the time referenced in our book and conduct your own analysis of the time it takes a cleaning worker to complete the task and compare the two. Having a set time to complete the job will help keep your team focused and on task.
  4. Plan ahead. It’s one thing to complete your list of things to do, but you should also be thinking about what’s next. This can be done either the night before, or first thing in the morning – establish your MIT or Most Important Thing. 
  5. Give yourself time. While it seems counter-intuitive to effective time management, it’s important to allocate extra time between tasks and meetings. Cramming too many activities back-to-back will reduce your effectiveness. Studies have shown that the human brain can only focus for approximately 90-minutes at a time. Give yourself a few extra minutes to take a walk, drink a glass of water or just take a few deep breaths between tasks. 
  6. Keep the Pareto Principle in mind. Italian philosopher and economist Vilfredo Paredo once observed that 20 percent of the pea plants in his garden generated 80 percent of the healthy pods. This led him to think about uneven distribution in other areas, and he found that, in numerous industries, 80 percent of the production came from about 20 percent of the companies. This led to the generalization that 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the action—or the 80/20 rule. As a manager, focus your time on the 20 percent of the tasks that will lead to the biggest return. Delegate what tasks do not align with these goals. 

As motivational speaker Zig Ziglar says, “Time can be an ally or an enemy. What it becomes depends entirely upon you, your goals, and your determination to use every available minute.” 

Training the Trainers

There’s a popular quote from Benjamin Franklin that says, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”  

Involvement is central to the way we approach all of our training courses, but specifically the (OS1) Trainer course that took place two weeks ago. Sure, there’s some classroom instruction, but as attendees to this class will tell you, they spend a lot of time in small groups or with partners, demonstrating techniques and applying principles of the training. 

Ben Walker kicks off the 2019 (OS1) Trainer Course.

You might be thinking, “We do hands-on training—our cleaning workers follow an experienced trainer around for a couple of days before starting on their own.”

This is not the same thing.

Trainers of cleaning workers need training that goes beyond the specifics of how to do the job. The same goes for cleaning workers—they not only need to understand how and what to clean, but WHY we clean. It’s one thing to spray disinfectant on a surface and move on, but it’s another thing to understand the principles of microbiology and why dwell time is everything when it comes to killing viruses. 

Qualified through Testing

Congratulations to the 15 individuals who successfully completed a one-hour exam with an 80 percent score or higher to earn the designation as (OS1) Trainer Certificate Holder. They will hold this designation from May 2019 – May 2020. 

Brandon Baswell, Michigan State University

Dominic Bratta, DNM Training and Consulting, LLC

Joseph Garcia demonstrates proper vac cord care.

William Carroll, Eurest Services

Chuck Crawley, Sandia National Labs

Rebecca Delap, Michigan State University

Joseph Garcia, Victor Valley College

Minda Gorsline, Michigan State University

Jeff Hawkins, Provo City School District

Lorenzo Meza, Mt. San Antonio College

Guido Piccarolo, Los Angeles Habilitation House

Judy Ramirez, Michigan State University

Joshua Sego, Michigan State University

Scott Spencer, Eurest Services

Anna Tobias, University of Michigan

Anna Atencio-Torres, Sandia National Labs

What Makes the (OS1) Trainer Course Unique

Specifically designed to support organizations implementing (OS1), our Trainer course reviews general principles around training professional cleaning workers, including the science of cleaning, eliminating resistance to training, how to get the most out of your training and more. 

A good example of the importance of hands-on training is seen when fitting for backpack vacuums. You can watch someone put on a backpack vacuum, but until you do it yourself, you won’t know what it feels like. A properly fitted backpack can reduce the opportunity for fatigue and ergonomic issues.

The purpose of the hands-on approach is two-fold: not only do our trainers get more out of the session, but they will model their training accordingly. This better engages cleaning workers in the training process. 

After two days of rigorous instruction and attendee-led demonstration, students have the option of taking an exam to earn their (OS1) Trainer Certificate Holder designation. Those who pass will be able to lead instruction of the (OS1) Boot Camp Class and Basic Training Certification Course. 

While the class is great for people who manage custodians in a (OS1) operation, it’s also a great options for those who have retired from careers in facility management and are looking to stay involved with training part-time. We have several new (OS1) organizations that will be coming online this year and regularly need trainers who can assist with educating new teams on what it means to clean with (OS1). 

Interested in learning more about (OS1)? Consider attending the annual Symposium from the Simon Institute happening this Oct. 7-9, 2019, where users will share best practices and discuss the successes they’ve achieved through the (OS1) System.

Why Cleaning Matters

A little over a year ago, we had a brainstorming session to name our monthly electronic newsletter. As you can imagine, it’s a rollercoaster of fun anytime Ben is at the whiteboard. A series of possible titles made their way to the board, ranging from the basic “ManageMen Minute” to the more audacious “Dirt Diaries.” 

In the end, we settled on “Cleaning Matters” because it succinctly sums up our goal of the newsletter—to provide valuable news and information that can be used by cleaning professionals as they work to grow and evolve their cleaning programs. It also illustrates our core ethos—that cleaning MATTERS. How you clean matters. Why you clean matters. When and how often you clean matters. Custodial work MATTERS.

But it’s easy to lose sight of this. It doesn’t matter where or what you clean, this is not an easy business. Between the three C’s (call-offs, complaints and cuts), we see cleaning professionals get waylaid in the day-to-day management issues. We call this “firefighter mode” because professionals are constantly going around and extinguishing issues that come up during the day. One manager recently shared that his job made him feel like a piñata. He felt like he just kept receiving hits before finally busting open (not really, but that’s how he felt).

Need inspiration to keep you going? Download this graphic and print it out for your office or save it to your desktop to remind you of the importance of your work!

What do you do to help prevent the daily stresses of custodial work from getting to you? In addition to establishing a regular practice that allows you to decompress, it’s important to remember why we do what we do. Your job is critical, and you can’t communicate its importance to your bosses and staff without realizing and believing it first yourself. 

So grab a cup of coffee or a glass of water and sit back to relax for a moment and reflect on why you do what you do. Here are four extremely important reasons why CLEANING MATTERS:

1. Cleaning improves the health of people in the building: Done correctly, cleaning removes unwanted dirt and bacteria from the indoors. Not the keyword “removes”—removing dirt is essential to effectively cleaning for health. Dust, bacteria and mold are just a few of the things that can accumulate indoors without proper cleaning and will have an impact on the health of building occupants. 

As Dr. Michael Berry, former EPA administrator, details in his groundbreaking work, Protecting the Built Environment: Cleaning for Health, “….every time carpets and fabrics are emptied of their pollution build-up through professional cleaning methods, there is a health benefit.” And this is only the beginning of how cleaning can impact health.

2. Cleaning helps preserve the built environment (and capital investments). The minute your customer walks in the door, they immediately begin forming a perception of your business based on what they see and experience. Too often, this first-impression is only considered when identifying finishes and furnishings for a business, but not when it comes to how those items will be cleaned and maintained for the longterm. What happens to that beautiful marble floor when someone uses an acid-based cleaner on it?

During the construction or remodel of a building, organizations spend a mind-blowing amount of money on furnishings like carpet, furniture and finishes. Without proper care through regular cleaning and maintenance, the lifespan of these materials will quickly diminish. 

3. Cleaning makes us more productive. The popular business magazine Inc. published an article titled “The Incredible Power of a Clean Workspace.” In it, the author argues that unkept and cluttered workplaces create unrecognized stress for workers. 

Dutch researchers recently evaluated the correlation between clean office environments and worker productivity in their study: “Impact of cleanliness on the productivity of employees.”

Researchers concluded: 

“It is found that a higher objective cleanliness correlates significantly with a higher perceived productivity of employees working in office environments of non-profit organizations in The Netherlands. A higher measured cleanliness also correlates significantly with a higher work satisfaction level of employees working in office environments.”

4. Cleaning makes a difference between lost and repeat customers. As we’ve noted in previous blog posts, people prefer to do business in clean places. QSR Magazine recently highlighted a study that found 93 percent of U.S. adults would not return to a store if they experienced maintenance issues, including odor and dirty restrooms. How the building is cleaned and maintained is a large driver to business success.

We realize your work is hard and often goes unappreciated, but never lose sight of its importance. Thank you.

Click here if you’re not subscribed to our newsletter! Just scroll down and enter your info on the right side of the page and we’ll send you our next issue, which goes out this week!

Keeping an Eye on Candida auris: How Cleaning Departments Can Prepare

Unless you’ve been on a break from the news and social media over the past week (which we highly recommend doing every once in awhile!), you’ve likely heard the news about a new fungus spreading through nursing homes and hospitals everywhere. Setting its target on people with compromised immune systems, Candida auris spreads rapidly. Cleaning professionals should monitor the situation as the fungus can live outside of the body for a long period of time—up to a month or longer, according to CDC expert Tom Chiller. 

What makes it so significant? Cadida auris is multi drug-resistant, meaning that it doesn’t respond to common anti fungal drugs. Further complicating the issue is that it’s difficult to diagnose and treat. 

Where is it? Because it targets people with weakened immune systems, it is known to spread in hospitals, nursing home and other healthcare environments. 

How does it spread? In addition to living on the skin of an infected patient, Candida auris lives on surfaces. It can spread from person to person, or from a contaminated surface to a person.

How will custodial teams be impacted? Environmental service departments will play a key role in preventing the spread of C. auris in a facility. The CDC recommends that patients with Candida auris be placed in a single room that may require frequent cleaning with a high-grade disinfectant (those effective against Clostridioides difficile) listed here. Infection control will work with EVS teams to ensure regular and thorough cleaning.

How can I prepare? As outlined in our Pandemic Planning playbook, here are a few steps custodial departments can take to prepare for an outbreak of C. Aureus in their facility:

  1. Conduct a survey, list and map locations of all direct and indirect contact fomites (hard and soft surfaces) in the building.
  2. Stockpile disinfectants, spray bottles, gloves, hand soap and germicidal wipes.
  3. Re-familiarize yourself with the CDC’s Disinfection and Sterilization Guide and provide updated training on the principles of cleaning and disinfecting environmental surfaces for cleaning workers.
  4. Provide “Protect Yourself” training for cleaning workers
  5. Regularly check the CDC Website to review the latest guidelines on managing C. aureus. 

Ultimately, the key is preparation, not panic. For additional resources, you may want to check out our Pandemic Planning Playbook. While the material outlines specific steps for (OS1) operations, it can be used as a template for all cleaning departments. A full review of microbiology basics is available in Microbiology for Cleaning Workers. This book offers a great guideline for worker training. 

The Good Fight

Note: Each month, Ben Walker shares his monthly musings for our e-Newsletter, Cleaning Matters. April’s column is located here. If you aren’t subscribed to Cleaning Matters, you can do so by clicking here.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to present during the Clean Buildings Expo, which is sponsored in part by Trade Press Media Group, the publishing company for FCD. No question it was a career highlight, as I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting so many of the people who have read my columns over the years. There were a few times when I had to pinch myself because I felt like a celebrity! People stood in long lines to have me sign copies of their Cleaning Times books and to say hello.

Ben Walker speaks to a packed house of facility and cleaning management professionals during the recent Clean Buildings Expo.

One of the people who stood in the line following my session asked if I would have time over the next few days to speak with her further. She owned a contract cleaning business and was looking to improve some of the processes in place. I told her I’d sit down with her the next morning for coffee and we’d talk. Just talk, no consulting fees, no selling—just talking through some of her issues ,sharing ideas to help her make her business more efficient. 

I don’t tell you this to pat myself on the back. I share it because the high from last week’s event was still fresh on my mind when I started digging through my email this morning and came across this expose just published by Variety magazine, a weekly entertainment guide: “How America’s Biggest Theater Chains are Exploiting Their Janitors.”

Please take the time to read through the article and share it with your peers. It’s important that we support publications that bring the labor issues that run so rampant in our industry to light. It’s a story we all know too well—when cleaning is treated as a commodity, cleaning workers ultimately lose.

The article shares details of children of janitor’s being brought to work, sleeping on the floor or theater seats. Janitors going unpaid or receiving $350-$400 a week after working eight to 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

“I don’t know what Hell is like, but I think it would be like that,” one cleaner told the reporter. “Sometimes I was crying because my feet couldn’t take it anymore. My back couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t know how I could finish the work I had to do.”

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There are so many cleaning companies that play in this arena who exploit the people performing the work for their profit. However, there are also a lot of companies out there trying to doing the right thing, like the woman I met during the Clean Buildings Expo last week. 

As an industry, we have so much work to do. 

Professionalism. Integrity. Standards. 

By standing on these principles, we will continue driving the industry forward. 

When we don’t, we only hurt ourselves and the people around us. And we enable conditions like those described in this article to continue thriving. 

Thank you for joining us in this fight.

Ben.

How Cleaning—and Cleaners—Can Impact the Brand of a Business

It’s late at night and you’ve just touched down at the airport after flying into a new city. Collecting your bags off the carousel, you turn to find the exit for ride shares. The cleaner, who is dust mopping the marble floors, sees you and welcomes you to Dallas. He asks if he can help you find something. Relieved you don’t have to go find someone who likely won’t be standing at an obscure podium this late at night, you thank him and ask where the ride share stand is. He smiles and points to the south-facing door. 

The next morning, you wake up in your hotel room and start getting ready for the conference, which starts in a few hours. As you head out the door, a housekeeper greets you and says good morning. She asks how you slept and if you need anything to make your stay more comfortable. An extra pillow might be nice, you tell her, giving her your room number. She says she’ll make sure to leave another pillow for you, wishing you a good day.

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This isn’t a dream. This is an opportunity. 

Successful branding can increase customer loyalty, improve your image, and create a relatable identity.

If you’re reading this blog post, you already know that a lot of businesses treat cleaning like a commodity. They want the task of cleaning to be done for the lowest cost. And you know why this happens—too many people don’t understand the value of cleaning. They don’t realize how cleaning affects the health and productivity of people who live, work and/or visit their buildings.

But what if we adjust the lens to show how cleaners impact not only the cleanliness of a building, but also a guests’ perception of the business—and ultimately, it’s brand?

This happens two ways:

Facility Cleanliness: More and more consumers expect a quality level of cleanliness. This is true from hotels to schools, restaurants to office buildings. According to hospitalitynet.org, “Studies have shown that among all problems experienced by guests, unclean rooms have the greatest negative impact on satisfaction.”

For businesses with more one than one location or building, ensuring a consistent level of clean across properties is critical to maintaining that brand standard. For example, if you go to a drugstore in one city, you’d expect a consistent level of cleanliness at the same type of store in another city. Target is a store that gets this—cleanliness is core to their brand. As this Forbes contributor notes, “When given the choice between Target and Wal-Mart, many people generally agree Target is a better experience. This is mostly due to the cleanliness of the stores and overall operations.”

As this Forbes contributor notes, “When given the choice between Target and Wal-Mart, many people generally agree Target is a better experience. This is mostly due to the cleanliness of the stores and overall operations.

Target is a store that gets this—cleanliness is core to their brand. As this Forbes contributor notes, “When given the choice between Target and Wal-Mart, many people generally agree Target is a better experience. This is mostly due to the cleanliness of the stores and overall operations.”

What’s more is that online reviews are playing an increasing role in what businesses people support. Some research shows that of every five people who walk through the front door for the first time, at least four of them will have read about the business first online. 

A dirty business can be a big deal—who cleans that store and how they clean will have a substantial impact on that visitor’s experience and perception of that brand.

Customer Service: We tend to focus on the job of cleaning, but in many facilities, cleaners are also one of the most customer-facing parts of a business. We’ve heard so many stories about the impact of an environmental service worker during a hospital stay. It’s not the doctors or nurses who leave an impression, but the person who comes in to clean the room every day.

Similarly, in a hotel, school, shopping mall, airport or retail store, a custodian may be the first person a guest sees when they need something or have a question. If that cleaner isn’t empowered with the right training and support to respond to that question, it is a missed opportunity. 

As businesses look to evolve and separate themselves from the competition, they will look to engage ALL customer-facing employees and operations in developing the experience for people visiting their businesses. Custodial departments can—and will— play a vital role in that effort. As a cleaning professional, the better you can communicate this, the more invaluable you become.