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Cleaning operatives win praise as industry assesses the effects of Coronavirus
The cleaning & hygiene industry has been assessing the huge impact of Coronavirus and the lockdown on different sectors, businesses, and operatives. A British Cleaning Council audit of members last month shows that organisations and individuals are having to adapt rapidly to the major changes brought by the virus.
A consistent theme throughout is praise for the dedication of the operatives who have been doing vital work protecting the health and wellbeing of others and keeping key industries going since the pandemic began.
The Association of Healthcare Cleaning Professionals represents many of the key workers who have been on the frontline fighting the virus.
"Cleaning operatives in the healthcare sector played a key role during the pandemic and have done an incredible job, with many going above and beyond, working longer hours, taking on extra responsibilities and adopting new standards and practices to prevent Covid-19 contamination," says Delia Cannings, ahcp national lead for education and training.
"Ahcp members played a vital role getting the Nightingale Hospitals set up and staffing them and will continue to operate them in the coming months as we strive to recover and avoid spikes in Coronavirus cases."
Jim Melvin is a director at the Cleaning & Support Services Association and deputy chair at the British Cleaning Council. He echoes praise for cleaning operatives and highlights the uncertainty caused by the virus among cleaning contractors:
"Coronavirus has changed the contract cleaning market significantly but it is different for every business," he argues. "A great many buildings and businesses remain closed and many staff are furloughed. When clients have returned, they are at significantly reduced staff levels, which by definition reduces the service.
"Clients are changing their requirements on an almost daily basis and members are needing to be agile and flexible enough to reflect that.
"Our cleaning & hygiene operatives have faced an unbelievably difficult and fearful time responding both bravely and magnificently to all this."
BCC member the Cleaning & Hygiene Suppliers Association represents manufacturers and distributors of cleaning and hygiene products where, like in much of the industry, the impact of Coronavirus has varied from business to business.
Demand for cleaning products for the catering, leisure and hospitality industries has collapsed, leading to employers furloughing workers.
But other industries continue to be very busy, for example, manufacturers of hand and hard surface sanitiser along with plastic sack, apron and soft tissue makers...
Demand for some products has soared while supply has simultaneously shrunk, forcing many companies to take new measures to carefully manage the exceptional situation.
CHSA chairman Lorcan Mekitarian says: "The cleaning & hygiene supply chain has proved itself to be responsive, flexible and adaptable.
"We expect the majority of members to perform well in future as the economy recovers. But distributors serving primarily or solely the catering, hospitality, leisure, retail and similarly hard-hit sectors may not survive the severe economic shock created by the pandemic."
Lauren Kyle, representing the Business Services Association, adds: "Our members operate in a wide range of sectors, some of which - such as sports and leisure, transport, and retail - have seen a downturn, while others - such as schools, and hospitals - have seen heightened demand for cleaning and disinfection.
"In the longer term, FM industry insights suggest that corporate clients will look to review and rationalise property portfolios to adapt to an increase in agile working, with many employees working more from home. This indicates that there could be changes in the delivery of day to day cleaning at client sites in the long term as they review their use of space."
Window-cleaning and hospitality have both been hard hit.
The UK Housekeepers Association (UKHA) represents cleaning operatives and managers in hotels, and their suppliers. Angela Jaquiss of the UKHA says that most hotels had been closed from March and most cleaning staff were on furlough. "It could be a slow climb back to some sort of normal," she warns.
The Federation of Window Cleaners says that 80% of members are furloughed, and 20% are working.
FWC Chairman and Safety Officer Andrew Lee, who is also director at JA Lee Window & General Cleaning, says: "In my own business, we had literally hundreds of our customers temporarily cancelling their work. We laid off eight out of our 10 window cleaners.
"Since then, we have introduced a socially distanced domestic service and have also diversified into sanitising and fighting the Coronavirus on client premises, public transport, buildings and offices.
"It has been a long, hard and frustrating period and whilst I believe things are starting to improve, it is going to be some time and a lot of hard work before we get back to normal - or the new normal, as it is called."
But some sectors are looking to the future with more optimism.
Ian Andrew, CEO of the British Pest Control Association, says: "We think pest control will perform well in the future. Pests don't realise there is a global pandemic, although some have changed their behaviour since the pandemic began."
The National Association of Wheeled Bin Washers (NAWBW) says it has seen workloads increase since March by an estimated 10% thanks to more commercial organisations taking up its services.
When the Domestic Cleaning Alliance surveyed its membership in August, it found almost all respondents had stopped providing all services on the day of the lockdown announcement or had stopped earlier - but prospects have improved recently.
Stephen Munton from the DCA says: "Our industry sector was significantly affected initially, but as business has returned in recent weeks, there has been an overwhelming sense of positivity.
"Members are taking extra steps to reduce the risk of Coronavirus contamination while they are in other people's homes, for example by implementing social distancing measures, and using additional PPE where appropriate."
Other members also expect the way their sector operates to change in future because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The UKHA expects there to be much more cleaning and sanitising in future, to a higher level, in hotels, while some CHSA members are developing facilities in the UK and Europe to avoid a repeat of supply-lines from the Far East being restricted.
Several BCC members also say that Government action or improved regulation would help their sectors adapt to the 'new normal'. Among them is the NAWBW, whose managing director Marius Coulon says: "It is time the Government started to regulate our industry and encouraged both the water companies and Environment Agency to police their own rules and guidelines."
Andrew Lee, of the FWC, says: "The window-cleaning industry needs clear guidelines on internal cleaning within hospitals and nursing home environments.
"Something else would be a clear statement, perhaps from the Health & Safety Executive, that misting, fogging, spraying of disinfectant and sanitising should not be carried out without cleaning. "
Says Jim Melvin of the BCC and CSSA: "We believe that there is an opportunity for both Government and the industry to review the lessons learned during the pandemic (both good and bad) to collectively increase skills training for operatives. After the vital work they have done during the pandemic, cleaning operatives can surely no longer be considered to be low-skilled."
Image: The specialist team from Environmental Excellence Training & Development, which carried out the vital clinical clean on the NHS Louisa Jordan Nightingale hospital, on completion before it opened
8th October 2020