Top 10 Carpet Cleaning Concerns

Custodial trainees alert their instructors to industry’s future needs.

By Martin Escalante and Severin Rizzo

Five instructors at the City College of San Francisco, CA, have been training Bay area cleaning workers for over 30 years. The students include trainees and experienced cleaning workers pursuing other industry opportunities. Unionized custodians in the Bay area can earn up to $17 an hour.

The course emphasizes cleaning procedures, chemical use, tools, equipment, workplace safety, building security and professional conduct. The study of economics also is part of the curriculum.

Based on student input, the instructors compiled a list of 10 issues or concerns they believe will be of growing concern into the next decade and how to handle them.

Bloodborne pathogens: Cleaning and facility managers and their employees should be aware of the potential risks of blood and human waste cleanups. The issue led the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to draft its Bloodborne Pathogen Standard.

Some custodians still clean restrooms without wearing gloves or other protective equipment, and they have various methods for cleaning potentially hazardous spills instead of one approved policy.

Concern about bloodborne diseases seems to be fading in some areas, yet the risks are still too great to ignore. Managers who don't properly train their cleaning workers are open to liability. Insurance carriers and OSHA will not tolerate lax standards.

Ergonomics: Back injuries in the cleaning maintenance industry are common, so managers should review proper lifting methods with their workers. There are new cleaning tools and products that can minimize back strains or pulls water buckets that drain without lifting, trash containers that empty more easily, mop wringers that minimize strain when wringing a mop.

Cleaning workers increasingly suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome caused by repetitive motions. Workers' wrists, arms and elbows can suffer from the stress of repetitive use of cleaning equipment and methods.

An effective preventive program depends on using ergonomically designed tools and equipment, and providing proper training in their use.

Hazardous equipment: As the pressure increases to do more cleaning with fewer workers, more efficient equipment must be used. Self-propelled automatic scrubbers and propane-powered floor-care equipment, for example, can slash labor needs.

But the technology may carry with it some adverse effects from use of equipment powered by propane, battery or some other fuel. Storage and operation safety must be addressed. The goal is to save time and labor, but it's important not to ignore potential dangers to operators and the public.

Specialty cleaning: There are two theories on specialty cleaning. One is that every cleaning operator should be a generalist because customers don't want to contract out specialty cleaning work. The other contends that operators should avoid being generalists and emphasize a cleaning specialty to attract clients and improve their expertise.

Managers will pay more attention to areas that once were delegated to higher priced specialty companies. Economics don't allow for exorbitant profits on specialty cleaning items. The client will eventually find a cleaning service that performs quality specialty work at reasonable prices.

Professionalism: The cleaning maintenance industry has made strides in promoting a professional image. As the wage gap widens between the unskilled worker and the trained custodian, customers will expect a professional cleaning technician to service their buildings. Cleaning workers will have to be neat and clean, be expert at their job and be able to interact professionally with customers, occupants and the public.

The cost of carrying out cleaning services has traditionally taken precedence to worker demeanor, appearance and training for customers and facility owners. But a competitive cleaning industry requires workers to be skilled, courteous and personable. Managers will have to take into consideration these desired worker characteristics when interviewing potential employees.

Lead paint: Old lead paint poses health and litigious hazards to humans. Cleaning workers don't have to be lead paint removal specialists, but their managers should determine lead hazards that may exist in the cleaning workplace.

Dry dusting of lead-based paint is a way to create health hazards for employees, visitors or tenants. Cleaning and facility managers must not let their workers remodel or paint over lead-paint surfaces unless proper safety procedures are implemented.

Asbestos: Asbestos dust is a carcinogenic hazard requiring immediate attention and notification to anyone exposed to it. Custodians working around asbestos must take every precaution to protect themselves while cleaning. The building owner or manager must take steps to protect all occupants.

Integrated pest management: An integrated pest management (IPM) program is designed to reduce the use of toxic sprays and chemicals yet maintain an effective pest control operation.

Cleaning workers should be a vital part of any IPM program because they're often asked to eliminate the pest problem. They're often told by their managers to monitor potential infestations and to apply the chemicals to eradicate pests.

Hazardous chemicals: Training in the use of potentially hazardous cleaning chemicals can reduce injuries and ensure the correct product is used. There will be little tolerance for poor training or lack of training in this area over the next decade. Failure to train will increase the risk for liability.

Sick building syndrome: Complaints from customers and tenants about dust, odors, pests, poor ventilation, irritating cleaning chemicals, allergic reactions and faulty cleaning methods add up to what has become known as sick building syndrome.

It forces managers to become more experienced in analyzing complaints and to provide training for custodians to clean critical areas where disease or chemical reactions may spread.

Martin Escalante is director of the Custodial Services Department, San Francisco, CA, Unified School District, and Severin Rizzo is facilities services manager for the Custodial Services Department, San Francisco International Airport.

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