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Cleaning standard audits

First impressions colour visitors’ opinions and if the cleanliness of your premises isn’t up to scratch this may reflect badly on your whole operation. Mike Boxall explains how auditing can eradicate this risk.

3 June 2014

Cleaning may be just one element of facilities management, but maintaining consistent, effective cleaning standards is likely to be a high priority to all FMs.

Cleaning standard audits are an ideal method to promote and monitor continuous improvement. They offer an evidenced-based visual management tool for recognising and rewarding the good work of cleaners, as well as identifying issues. They can monitor contract performance and have the potential to be used as a basis for financial penalties when agreed service levels are not being met.

1. Know your spec
Before embarking on the audit process, it should be recognised that there are generally three types of cleaning specifications:

Band A: This is commonplace in healthcare settings and corporate head offices where all areas of a building should be clean at all times. Cleaning shifts are generally scheduled for early mornings or late evenings, and supplemented by daytime janitors or housekeepers to ensure that standards are maintained during the working day. Under this specification, audits should be conducted from the eyes of the building user. Any soiling seen (removable foreign matter – dust, debris, litter or stains) is generally deemed as a failure.

Band B:
This is a characteristically a daily clean, where areas need to be clean at the start of the working day. Cleaning audits should be completed as soon as possible after cleaning has taken place. If an audit is completed several hours after cleaning, soiling can build during this time, resulting in an unacceptable audit score. The longer the gap between cleaning and audit, the more subjective the results.

Band C: Generally applicable to back-of-house areas such as, administration or warehousing – areas of low priority that may only warrant cleaning, say, twice a week. In this specification, an auditor needs to understand what constitutes an acceptable build-up of soiling between clean-ups.

Regardless of setting or band specification, auditors need to know whether certain elements are excluded from the cleaning specification, or if they are part of a periodic routine. This could include areas such as high-level cleaning of vents and grilles to the removal of graffiti.

2. Embrace the value of management

Auditing should be an inseparable and continuous part of the day-to-day culture, process, and management. Cleaners should be directly involved and encouraged to check their work after completion. This should be supplemented by daily informal monitoring by working supervisory staff, as they are best able to identify and remedy issues quickly.

Formal auditing should be conducted by non-working supervisory or site management staff, yet many organisations are forced into reducing the proportion of management time allocated to contracts. This in turn leads to a lack of appropriate resources and time available for auditing, but it is crucial to recognise that short-term gains will always result in long-term loss.

In high-risk settings formal auditing is typically completed weekly, compared with monthly or even quarterly in low-risk settings. Consistency and regularity are vital to build an accurate picture. In instances where there is more than one auditor, an initial combined audit involving all is highly recommended to guarantee a consistent approach.

3. Don’t over-complicate!
Keep audit scoring simple. A scoring system of 1-10 may be acceptable for calculating an advocacy score, but it is not appropriate for a cleaning audit. A maximum of three scores for each element is recommended:

1. Completed and acceptable;
2. Completed and not acceptable; and 
3. Not completed.

Or, as is common within the NHS, a simple pass or fail system can be used for each element in each area. An acceptable pass rate should also be agreed – 100 per cent is not realistic.

Area scores can be weighted in accordance with importance or risk – a public toilet may have a higher weighting than a storeroom, yet the criteria to measure whether it is clean or dirty remains the same. Scores can also be weighted by task – with soiling on carpets weighted higher than soiling on high-level ledges. But whatever the system, it should be applied consistently.

Rotating auditing staff from building to building is also good practice to identify causes of inconsistent results. Areas for auditing should be randomised to ensure that higher standards are achieved and maintained. The frequency and scope of auditing should be increased in line with the number of failures – the lower the auditing scores, the greater the frequency and scope of audits. The more areas audited, the greater accuracy of results.

Data collected should be suitable for management reporting and clearly must identify the reasons for failure, be it operative error, equipment failure, or a building fabric issue. Manual paper-based audit systems may be fine for smaller sites, but handheld electronic auditing systems will enhance the ability to identify trends and individual training issues.

Audit results should be used transparently and shared with all parties to communicate progress, and to recognise the good work of cleaners. Audits should be viewed as a positive step, and a chance to collectively raise and maintain good standards of cleaning provision.  

Mike Boxall
, managing director of i-Clean