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Soapbox: A warning about the pitfalls of using untrained staff - the problems can start with product procurement!
Mary de Cobos of leading independent cleaning consultancy, Futureclean Assured Systems, writes:
In response to your article on Denise Foster of the Association of Healthcare Cleaning Professionals, as consultants in cleaning systems, we would like to say the following:
All cleaners should be trained; a requirement that is dismissed seemingly without thought as being too expensive or unnecessary. Yet, the requirements for cleaning knowledge and techniques are far higher than most people appreciate; you only have to witness how much damage can be done to surface materials, to people or to the surrounding environment by any one of the following:
1. The wrong product or equipment being used for the surface material, leading to possible material damage, potential environmental problems or a slip or trip incident.
2. The wrong cleaning method being used. There is an assumption that anyone can just pick up a mop and bucket and produce a clean floor within a very short time, just like they think they can do at home (if they do!).
So just who is responsible for the problems? We have experience of hospital cleaning methods and standards from an 'expert witness' point of view; we have a great deal of experience of hygiene cleaning and consultancy work in far more difficult and challenging environments than hospital and the health industries and would say the following are the main problems:
No-one much outside the cleaning product manufacturers, understands the correct type and usage of cleaning products for the work to be done. It is all too common for people to fall for the salesman's spiel without finding out for themselves what a broad range of products the manufacturers have to offer (we've just undone 20+ years of this for a customer).
Why is this difficult? It isn't really - it just requires knowledge of detergent ingredients, their properties and how they are best employed. Those in procurement and supply, or even technical support, will often not have this knowledge, so any worthless product will be bought. The cleaners have to deal with this and no-one will do anything to change the situation. So the cleaning is poor because the products are poor or not fit for purpose.
Is the cleaning as easy as it could be? Combining cleaner training and knowledge will tell you that, but the typical approach adopted seems to be reactive rather than proactive. This reactive approach seems to be endemic, and nothing will change if this attitude carries on.
Why is this the case?
Well, insurance is one, poor product and equipment procurement is another and it is the case that the cleaning situation is especially geared up to - give them a pre-measured sachet of product (no judgement required), give them a piece of equipment which they may know how to use (mop and bucket) or not (buffer, scrubber, microfibre cloth) and tell the cleaner that such and such an area needs cleaning. And that's it. No wonder no-one wants to stay in what is really not a bad job at all. So no-one else knows how to clean and because it's looked on as a nothing job, no-one bothers unless the cleaning isn't very good. In which case everyone is an expert...
Most also don't know what standards are and how they are achieved, both for product effectiveness and cleaning standards themselves. So most apparent standards may not be actually the best which can be achieved - it's only guesswork! Accepting a standard which is less than the best that can be achieved is to accept inefficiency and laziness not only from the cleaner but also from the observer. Cleaning isn't difficult, we submit that hospital cleaning is probably easier than most cleaning jobs but requires continuous cleaning systems in place.
No-one outside the food preparation industry seems to understand the importance of sanitising a surface with the correct product. This too is part of a cleaner's armoury and the correct procedures should be much more widely known. There is not one stage, but two. You need to clean the surface thoroughly because a quat-based sanitiser does not work on a surface that has any dirt on it. Use the correct sanitiser, not just a BS EN 1276 product which is only a bactericide, but one that will also eradicate viruses and spores. This comes back to knowing your products well and from our point of view has been the subject of a good many emails in the past to various people.
A trained cleaner will know exactly what to do and what to use.
So hospital cleaning isn't the only area lacking in skills and knowledge - all areas are. It needs a concerted effort to force change and we bet that as soon as that happens then cleaning acquires the status it deserves. Any cleaner anywhere should be able to clean anything from, for example, a tar pit, through food industry and hygiene work, construction cleaning and so on right through to delicate surface restoration work. They should be absolute specialists in surface materials. Is this difficult? Not with a little application, but it also means that they will require rather more than basic wages. You don't want to pay? Then nothing will change.
We submit that the following might be worthy of consideration for the whole of the cleaning industry:
* An Institute established to monitor all cleaners, offering training and awards and research. Membership should be a career progression and we have it in mind that, just like for NDT personnel, an approval scheme should be set up so that the awards are transferrable between jobs.
* That the Institute is independent of suppliers or manufacturers and of the very large cleaning businesses. True independence will give a clear view of true needs. We are ourselves independent and find that most of the cleaning industry is tired, moribund and full of 'old pals' each with his/her own interests rather than those of the industry as a whole.
* An Institute would be first and foremost for the cleaners as experts who could easily start their own businesses. We would also like to see starter cleaning businesses registered before they start. It's the easiest business to start and the easiest business to fail and when they fail they drag the cleaning industry down with them, every time. This goes for established businesses as well. Competition? Well you always lose your contracts through poor work don't you? So get good at it and get a reputation for good quality, guaranteed work
* Establish a set of universal cleaning quality standards, rather like a BS or DIN. Right now there is nothing out there of sufficient standard in any area to qualify as worth consideration and, we are sorry to say that includes the NHS standards, which should be of food industry standards.
We have a whole series of training manuals available based on many years experience of actual hands-on cleaning as well as one of us being an industrial chemist and so equipped with the depth of chemical knowledge to cover most eventualities. While we would love to sell some of these (go to www.cleaningmasterclass.com) we think that it is important that people get in contact regarding the establishment of a professional institute and offering sponsorship to establish the same.
T: 01946 810867
Ed: the article that discusses the 'expert witness' findings, can be found at:
18th July 2013