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Protecting Custodial Workers: What Every New Cleaning Worker Needs to Know

Long before COVID-19 infected patient zero, a large percentage of the 3.25 million cleaning workers in the U.S. received little job training. In some circles, the assumption is that most people know how to clean, so the absence of training might not seem like a big deal. Individuals in these groups treat it as an inherent skillset that people are either born with or learn at an early age. 

But the thing is, not everyone just “knows” how to clean. As a recent survey showed, the majority of Americans aren’t disinfecting properly. And the processes you would use to clean a building are different than how you would clean your home or apartment.

There are many issues with the lack of occupational training in the cleaning industry, but a primary issues is the increased risk and exposure to workers. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that cleaning workers suffer the second highest rates of job-related injuries of any occupation—injuries heavy lifting, overexertion, chemical exposure and slips and falls are most common.

Reducing Risks to Cleaning Workers Now and After the Pandemic

When it comes to COVID-19, cleaning and disinfection is essential in stopping the spread of the disease. Aside from person-to-person spread, COVID-19 spreads when a person comes into contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. So when businesses slowly begin to open again over the next few months, all eyes will be on cleaning workers. Regular, systematic cleaning and disinfection will be key to controlling the spread of the virus and limiting the additional waves of the pandemic. 

For these individuals to clean—and to not pollute the surfaces and buildings they are meant to protect—they need training. They also need training to protect themselves. 

During this period, we can expect to see a swell of new cleaning service providers. Many people who have been displaced from current jobs in the hospitality or foodservice industries may find themselves working in a position where they’re being asked to clean in a commercial environment for the first time. 

We’ve seen way too many headlines highlighting cleaning workers who are concerned because they don’t understand the routes of transmission or how they could become infected. Too many people who are asked to use new disinfectants and don’t have training to do so. Too many people who aren’t equipped with the right personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect their hands and faces from exposure. 

We need to reverse this trend and make sure ALL cleaning workers have the knowledge and training they need to clean safely and protect themselves.

If you’re new to cleaning, we’ve pulled together a checklist of things you should know before you start working.

This is not meant to replace any existing training programs, but rather serve as a supplement. Our hope is to help provide a resource for those individuals who may not receive any training from their employers. If that’s you, we’re here for you. Please feel free to reach out with any questions about what you can do to protect yourself during this time.

How to Make Change in Your Custodial Department Easier Than Ever

When it opened in 2001, the California Environmental Protection Agency headquarters was touted as the “greenest high rise in the nation.” Waterless urinals were installed, expected to save more than 1 million gallons of water each year. Looking exclusively at the environmental benefit, engineers who called for the new technology neglected to look at how the urinals would be used and maintained. After “hundreds” of complaints about foul odors and wet floors along with “high” maintenance costs, the units were removed six years later.

A similar situation happened at City Hall in Chicago. Waterless urinals installed to “promote water conversation” ultimately created a huge stink due to a plumbing issue. Chicago’s building code requires copper pipes in commercial buildings — a material that undiluted urine will corrode over time. Ultimately, the units were removed because they “didn’t perform as expected.”

Most cleaning professionals and facility managers understand that any change is difficult, but attempting to implement anything new—a new product, system or technology—will be more difficult without first getting input and buy-in from custodial workers.

In fact, some reports indicate that not getting enough buy-in from enough people can cause as much as 70 percent of organizational change efforts to fail.

Depending on how long they’ve been with an organization, a custodian will be able to tell you what has happened in the past when someone tried something similar. They can also give you good insight into issues you might experience. In the case of waterless urinals, experienced custodians would have been able to tell you that a waterless system would take a lot more to clean than traditional urinals. Another good example is air blade hand dryers — it’s often not until installation that anyone considers how the units will be cleaned and how they’ll impact the custodial department, its daily workload and its workers who will ultimately be responsible for its daily maintenance.

Does that mean you should abandon all efforts? Not at all, but involving custodians from the start can help avert future issues.

After transitioning hundreds of organizations to the (OS1) System, we can say with confidence that we know a thing or two about implementing change in a custodial department. If you’re considering a new product (like a cordless backpack) or any new technology, here’s a few steps to keep in mind to ensure a successful rollout:

  1. Communicate regularly. Talk to the custodial team about what you want to do and why you want to do it. When custodial workers have a good understanding of the full picture of what you want to achieve, they will be more likely to buy into the process. It can also be beneficial to have a distributor or manufacturers’ representative speak to staff about the product so it comes a person who knows the product or equipment and can field specific questions about it.
  2. Start small. A pilot test gives your team members an opportunity to test the solution and see how it works—or doesn’t work. Start in a single area or building to measure performance, give users a test-drive and identify any issues that could arise.
  3. Engage often. Speak with custodial workers about their experiences using the product. Find out what they liked and didn’t like about it. In addition to soliciting feedback in an open group, give people the opportunity to provide feedback on an easy-to-use rating form. Questions you could consider include:
    1. How well do you think this product worked?
    2. Do you think this product will improve the way you clean (creating cleaner buildings or making it easier for you to clean)?
    3. Do you anticipate any issues with this product? If so, what?
    4. Do you think this is something we should implement in other areas?

From the Internet of Things (IoT) to self-cleaning surfaces, online training to disinfectants with shorter dwell times, the cleaning industry has several new products and technologies that promise to improve the way buildings are cleaned and maintained. But before we buy into the marketing claims and place a big order, it can pay dividends in the long-run to engage the people who are likely to be the most impacted — the custodians.

Think “Janitor” Is a Dirty Word? No, and Here’s Why.

Janitor University is a three-day, instructor-led class that introduces cleaning organization executives to introductory principles of the (OS1) Cleaning Management Program. When we teach the class, we’ll periodically receive feedback regarding the name of the course. People think that because facility directors, CEOs of large building service contractors and other leaders responsible for cleaning that it shouldn’t be called “Janitor University.” Moreover, they feel that the title of “janitor” is an outdated and even derogatory term for people responsible for performing cleaning responsibilities. They suggest alternative titles like “custodian” or “cleaner.”

While we have no issue with those terms, we encourage any professional cleaner to proudly wear their “janitor” badge.

You see, if you trace the etymology of the word “janitor,” it doesn’t take much research to find that the term is tied to deity. “Janus” from which “janitor” is derived, was a Roman god of beginnings and ends; metaphorically he represented doors and passages. In images, he’s often depicted with two faces that allow him to look to the future and the past.

In the English language, first signs of the word “janitor” date back to the 1500s and originally signified an “usher in a school.” In the 1600s, the word evolved to denote a “doorkeeper” and eventually referenced the caretaker of a building. Modern use of the word denotes someone who handles general maintenance and cleaning responsibilities in a building.

For some people, the term “janitor” is derogatory because it indicates a low-skilled, low-paying position. This is a context that our culture has assigned to the position over time, and not one that is truly reflective of the job description.

Many Americans don’t understand that the job not only requires extensive knowledge of chemicals and proper handling protocol, but that it also is essential for protecting public health.  They don’t know that in Germany, janitors are required to attend cleaning school and serve an apprenticeship for three years before becoming a janitor. Switzerland requires four years of schooling before one is able to seek employment as a professional cleaner. In London, there’s a membership organization for environmental cleaners that is a livery company, meaning that it descended from the medieval trade guilds and is supported by the Lord Mayor and Alderman of the city.

Considering that Janus looked both to the past and the future, it seems only appropriate we recognize the origins of the title of janitor and give those who clean our buildings the respect they deserve as we look to the future.

For more information on Janitor University or to attend our upcoming class Oct. 25-27, please go to https://managemen.com/training/janitor-university/.

REMINDER: Outstanding Cleaning Worker of the Year Nominations

For the last couple of years, the (OS1) Users Symposium has been conducting a “Outstanding Cleaning Worker of the Year” recognition ceremony for cleaning workers, who have been nominated by someone within their organization. 2.5 million people earn their living in the U.S. as janitors, custodians and housekeepers. Most toil through their shift, day after day with little recognition for their contribution to the orderly operation of every business.

Once again, the Simon Institute is planning on conducting this ceremony during this year’s (OS1) Awards Banquet, July 11, 2011 at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City.

This a a friendly reminder, to all (OS1) organizations, that we are currently accepting your nominations for Outstanding Cleaning Worker of the Year. For you convenience, we are accepting your nominations online. Just click the button below to nominate a cleaning worker from your organization:

[button link=”http://managemen.com/os1/os1-users/os1-users-symposium/outstanding-cleaning-worker-of-the-year/” window=”yes”] Nominate My Cleaning Worker [/button]

We encourage all (OS1) organizations that nominate a cleaning worker and bring them along with you to the annual (OS1) Users Symposium. If they are in attendance, they will be presented with their medal of honor at the (OS1) Awards Banquet.

All medals are $50.00 per nominee. Payments should me made to the Simon Institute, a non-profit corporation.