Professional cleaners - train well for well-being

26th of November 2015
Professional cleaners - train well for well-being

When cleaning in areas where hygiene is of the utmost importance, the skill of the operative cannot be under-estimated. Keith Baker of industry trade association ISSA explains why well-trained, skilled professionale are so crucial in maintaining proper cleaning and hygiene standards.

Cleaning is quite possibly the only industry in the world that touches every other business including retail, food service, hospitality, offices, public buildings and transport terminals for example. Without cleaning industry professionals, these places would simply not be able to operate or exist.

Cleaning, ideally, should be the process of identifying, containing, removing and properly disposing of any unwanted substances from a surface or environment. The longer a building goes without this level of effective housekeeping and maintenance, the more serious the likely impact to health will be for occupants.

The long-term costs to owners and building occupiers also increase without proper cleaning.
However nowhere is the impact of proper cleaning regimes, and the importance of quality standards being adhered to, more critical than in the healthcare sector. Here cleaning operatives are literally on the front line in defending public health and well-being.

It is no overstatement to say that the role of cleaning is vital in breaking the chain of infection, and becoming ever more so, given the new epidemics that are springing up and the speed with
which they can be transferred in today’s global environment.

Approximately two million people are in the air on route to a different country while you are reading this supplement. This generates enormous potential for cross-infection as travellers may well be coming from different parts of the world where hygiene standards may not be so rigorous to those countries where public hygiene is held to be of paramount importance.

I truly wish I could follow this up by claiming that therefore everybody recognises the importance of cleaning but shamefully in the wider world more often than not, cleaning is still only noticed or commented on when it is not done well.

Perhaps I should take that as a back-handed compliment but remember cleaning is not only for appearance’s sake, it also has a direct bearing on the facility occupants’ health. Infection control is important in any building, but particularly in hospital, schools and residential care facilities where disease can spread quickly among more naturally vulnerable people.

Front line operatives

In our rapidly changing world, if cleaning operatives are to be on the front line, and they are expected to defend public health and well-being, then it follows that arming them with training to do the best possible job is more than desirable. It is entirely practical and highly logical.

Yet all too often the training of front line cleaning operatives continues to be rather random, haphazard and cursory - although there are some very honourable exceptions to this disturbing trend I am pleased to report.

The difference between a well-run cleaning operation and a sub-standard one often comes down to the quality of training yet the fact remains that investing in people does not come easily to some while delivering training to a workforce that may be spread over different sites, regions or even countries is difficult, time-consuming and costly.

When this is combined with the fact that a significant number of cleaners - particularly in the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Scandinavia – who do not speak or read the language of that country as their native tongue the problem multiplies. Then factor in the traditionally high staff turnover rates blighting our industry, and we find that even when effective training programmes are in place, in a blink of an eye many of the trained staff have moved on within months of being trained.

The threat to health and well-being is also changing too. A few years back, MRSA was the number one enemy but now however C. diff is arguably a greater threat and the most prevalent germs are those that live on surfaces, such as door handles, beds, worktops, keyboards and telephones.

I have seen studies that viruses such as the Ebola virus can remain viable on surfaces for days on end, and other germs such as the ones that cause colds, ear infections, and strep throat. MERS is also rising up the pandemic threat list with a life-claiming outbreak in Seoul in June that also had severe ramifications for business and travel while there have been outbreaks of Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), measles and influenza A across Europe in recent times.

According to research have seen, health-related lost productive time amounts to approximately 1,160 euros per annum per employee (Source: Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine) with major causes of absenteeism being colds, flu, food poisoning and asthma plus other respiratory illnesses caused by poor indoor air quality. Preventing the spread of these infections and surge in these illnesses is therefore not only highly desirable but is very much an area where improved hygiene interventions can make that vital difference.

At its root, many of these infections are still relatively simple to solve though but we have to change the way the world views cleaning. How do we do this? I would say by increasing our professionalism and transforming the way that we go about training our people.

At the most basic level, I would urge that training of cleaning operatives should include the orientation of new workers including training on equipment such as the use of floor machines, no-touch washroom cleaning or backpack vacuums; cleaning hard floors, carpets, the set-up and operation of a colour coded system for use of clothes in different areas of a facility; new technologies for measuring cleanliness; using personal protective equipment and so on.

Running training sessions with a knowledgeable distributor on specific topics always works well in my experience but whatever training session you are running take care to ensure that they are truly understandable by taking into consideration the skill level, language and other potential cultural barriers of the cleaning operative being trained.

Increasingly technology can be of great assistance in training cleaning operatives too. Personally, I still believe that face-to-face training is unbeatable but I acknowledge that increasingly it can be impractical to organise it too. Technology though can be harnessed to provide short, digestible bursts of training to company-wide audiences through apps, online training modules, webinars, how-to videos, animated infographics and even gamification.

Investment worth making

The importance of effective, high quality employee training programmes cannot be overstated. Whilst some companies may initially be hesitant to implement a training programme – citing initial costs as off-putting – such short-term thinking limits the potential for future opportunities to reap significant financial rewards as well as safeguarding health.

Here I am excited to see the industry is getting strongly behind ISSA’s Value of Clean campaign and learning how to make the case for the value of proper cleaning as a way to invest in reduced workplace health and safety risks, using the various ISSA Value of Clean tools. We need to move to that point where cleaning is viewed as more than a cost to be minimised — it is an investment worth making.

In summary, cleaning clearly plays a critical role in protecting human health by preventing the transmission of an ever growing array of harmful, and in some cases, deadly infectious diseases. Quality cleaning and infection control therefore has a big impact on health and hygiene. Ensuring cleaners are well trained and qualified is therefore an investment in all our futures.


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