This exclusive article was submitted by Alan Knopp, Deputy Director, Facilities Management Department Custodial Services Division, County of Riverside, California
Here are a few basic ways to get better performance from your custodial services department and be able to worry less about some common problems. There are certainly other ways as well, but, this might be a good place to begin.
SITE SAFETY INSPECTIONS
You can develop a site safety inspection form for your day custodians to complete and submit on a monthly basis. There is no reason to wait until an annual fire and life safety inspection and find all the many problems then. The documentation is important to address liability issues and will help your risk management department. The categories should include common safety issues such as fire extinguishers, egress, electrical hazards, slip and fall concerns, flammable storage regulatory matters (M.S.D.S. books, personal protective equipment, body fluid spill materials, product labeling, chemical storage etc.), emergency exits and lighting, playground safety, sanitation issues related to integrated pest management, and electric cart safety.
BACK SCREEN CRITERIA
We expect custodians to move heavy items such as boxes or furniture, lift mop buckets full of liquid, and carry around five gallon pails of floor wax and more. Custodial work is very physical work. But, did we stop to check before they were hired if they are really able to do all of that? Work with your human resources department and health care provider to develop minimum physical standards for new staff, commonly known as “back screen criteria.” If a new hire cannot do the work you are going to ask them to do, you are inviting on-the-job injuries. Take the time with new employees to train them carefully on lifting and back safety. Given the number of back injuries in custodial work some extra effort at prevention is needed.
If you do not have a cleaning standard for your rest rooms, kitchens, classrooms, locker rooms, cafeterias, and other important areas then one should be established. Standards are the way you communicate the department’s expectations of what is to be done each day to your custodial staff and creates the base line for your cleaning quality inspections Distribute the standards to the school principals and teachers as well and they will help keep you informed. Partner your standards with a regular, formal inspection program. If you don’t go out and look directly at the work results you cannot maintain quality. An organization cannot maximize quality without devoting time to it.
Get bleach, ammonia, strong acids, and strong solvents out of your schools today. Eliminate them from your custodial department. They are too reactive and the health hazards cannot be justified. Take a look under the classroom sinks too and you might be surprised on the variety of chemicals being stored at your school by the teaching staff. Get rid of all those chemicals because you certainly don’t have the M.S.D.S. sheets available. There are safe and effective replacements for most all of your strong chemicals if you take time to look for them. Go to the EPA or Green Seal Web sites for a place to start. Also, keep your custodial closets locked all the time to prevent access by students. Make sure that custodial carts stocked with chemicals are not left unattended in school hallways and elsewhere.
Most schools have implemented some form of dispensing system to avoid hand-dilution of chemical cleaners. Make sure to eliminate hand-dilution of chemical cleaners whether it is with a chemical dispensing system or a pre-portioned system wherever possible. Eliminate the purchase of packaging like 5 gallon pails which are heavy, hard to move around, and more difficult to pour.
The green movement is not coming; it is “already here. If you have not yet done so, educate yourself on the use of green chemicals, supplies, and green cleaning methods. In addition to the websites listed in #4 above you can also get information from the U.S. Green Building Council at its Web site. If you start working on this now it will make things a lot easier for you later. In addition, it is the responsible thing to do in a school setting where thousands of children spend much of their time each day. Improving building occupant health and safety should be a top priority for your schools.
At a minimum, make sure all of your custodians have current, written work schedules. Yes, they have to be current and in writing. Make your custodians more efficient by investing in modern and time-saving equipment like backpack vacuums, autoscrubbers, trash carts, rest room cleaning equipment, etc. Ask them what would make their job more efficient. When you are ready to get serious, you will have to look at modern cleaning methods like team cleaning. There is no reason to be negative about team cleaning systems, because it is all about intelligent and thoughtful implementation. If team cleaning methods weren’t the best way to clean buildings, then it would not be sweeping across the private sector. You can get information at this Web site. Team cleaning makes a specialist out of every cleaning function for better cleaning, safety, and custodial productivity. Also consider being more creative about your work schedules. Working a floor crew, for instance, on a regular, week-end schedule will allow for a lot more floor work, deep cleaning activity, or special cleaning projects with no students or staff around to worry about.
It is fair to say that custodians do not get a lot of recognition for the routine, though vital, work they do. Even if you have an employee recognition program it can be improved. Take time to think of more ways to acknowledge your custodial staff when they perform well. Some ways to consider are: performance evaluations, award cerificates, a simple person-to-person thank you, trophies, putting their photo in a newsletter, having a custodial newsletter, scheduling a department picnic or awards ceremony, a thank you pizza party for the crew, special hats, award pins, or t-shirts, etc. The main point is that this is one of the most effective, but least utilized ways, to boost staff morale and establish pride in the work outcome.
It is time to put your regulatory house in order. The main two are O.S.H.A.’s Bloodborne Pathogen Standard and Hazard Communication Standard. We trust you are fulfilling your requirement for annual training for both. Be sure to have your Material Safety Data Sheet books fully updated and in place at all your school sites. Your custodians and the rest of the school staff should have easy access to these books at all times. The same access consideration should apply to your Exposure Control Plan for Bloodborne Pathogens. Here are four additional suggestions: (1) train and orient all your new custodians on these Standards before they begin work; (2) be sure to have body fluid spill materials and personal protective equipment in place all the time (a good way is to make up your own emergency response kits with everything you need inside and have them at each school site); (3) make your main disinfectant an HB Quat so that you will always have a disinfectant handy that complies with the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard (your’re not going to use a reactive product like bleach anymore, remember?); and (4) train your custodians that mop water goes down the sink drain into a sewage treatment plant, not out into the flower bed or street gutter where it ends up in a lake or the ocean
! Also, (5) please keep a folder for each employee with signed acknowledgement forms for all the training they receive, regulatory and otherwise.
RESILIENT FLOOR CARE
The vinyl asbestos tile is gone and custodians miss it. Looking back with the new tile we have now the old floors seem indestructable. Wear and tear on the new tile in classrooms can be mitigated in four ways: (1) invest in carpet or felt snap-on glide protectors for the classroom chairs, desks, and tables (unless you can get how many thousands of tennis balls donated to the schools). Glide protectors are available through your custodial supply or chair glide company; (2) put enough floor finish on the floor to last until whenever you plan to add more. I always found that a fully stripped floor needed three coats of sealer and six coats of finish minimum in a school classroom to last from summer to summer. One can argue this point, but, two coats of finish is not going to protect your floors for very long. Also, if you have custodians who love to strip floors all the time then you are wasting a lot of time and money. If you apply enough product to the floor in the first place then you will be able to deep scrub and re-coat (or even burnish) which is more efficient and much more cost-effective; (3) evaluate your matting program. An eight by twelve foot walk-off mat at your entry doors will keep a lot more dirt and sand out of your school then the small mats one might find at many school sites today. Isn’t it better to leave the dirt at the door?; and (4) spend a little more when you buy furniture and insist on the soft rollers for desk and computer chairs. If you get the chairs with the hard plastic rollers you will find your finish will be worn off the floor in a matter of days.
Feel helpless? There are really some ways to help prevent injuries and help get workers back to their regular duties besides the backscreen criteria mentioned in #2 above: (1) Train your supervisors on workers compensation issues and filling out the paperwork fully and correctly each and every time. Make sure that your forms are detailed enough to document all the specifics of a particular injury; (2) Provide the appropriate personal protective equipment and enforce it’s use. Protective gloves and safety glasses or goggles are needed when using and spraying cleaning chemicals. Let the M.S.D.S. be your guide; (3) Strive to accommodate work restrictions so that injured employees can come to work and do something productive, within their restrictions, even if it is working somewhere at a desk job or for another department. Work with your human resources department closely on this one; (4) Establish a safey committee to review work injuries. This could include asking the involved employee to come in and talk about the injury and how it might have been prevented; and (5) Take corrective action right away to address needed changes in procedures, working conditions, or other safety issues that will help prevent similiar incidents in the future.
GENERAL WORK RULES
If you have not formulated, updated, and distributed custodial work rules and policies then do so. Custodians deserve to know what the rules are and what is expected of them. They should all sign for a copy of the rules so they can’t say later that they “didn’t know.” After you have done this train your supervisors fully on the progressive discipline procedure in your organization. Make the role and responsibility of the supervisors clear to them. This will help the organization run more smoothly and help in making certain that all employees are treated the same. The custodial supervisors need to participate fully in the documentation process at the beginning levels of progressive discipline. Any organization where everyone follows the rules will have less chaos, much better productivity, and better morale.
Close cooperation with the school staff can only help the custodial services department. A custodial representative should try one or more of the following: (1) Attend teacher meetings to get feedback on cleaning issues – find out their “hot” issues in advance; (2) Meet with the principals regularly and have them walk with you on your custodial inspections as well. You will learn a lot about their cleaning priorities; (3) Teachers and students can be asked to help in ways like helping with re-cycle activities, placing chairs on top of desks at the end of the school day, or keeping the classrooms cleaner and easier to maintain; (4) If you have consistently hard rooms to clean ask the principal to help you out by talking to the teaching staff; and (5) Attend PTA meetings, they might be interested in helping you purchase a piece of cleaning equipment or volunteer to help on a special project around the school.
TRAINING AND MORE TRAINING
Much of what many school custodians know is based upon what someone told them when they first started, and, that person didn’t have any decent training either! Things can never change by doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. Establish training classes for your custodians in the basics: classroom cleaning, restroom cleaning, infection control, how to dust, how to vacuum, how to maintain equipment, how to clean windows, how to maintain a custodial closet, how to collect and remove trash, how to sweep a floor, mop a floor, how to maintain a custodial cart, electrical safety, and all the items on the Site Safety Inspection Form discussed earlier in #1. Uniformity in the product you produce each day is critical to good customer service. Therefore, all of your staff should be doing the job with the same tools and methods and getting the same results. You cannot do that without training. Let your staff understand that they are cleaning professionals and there are skilled ways to do the job correctly that they can learn and put into use each work day.
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