Covid-19 has placed the cleaning function front and centre. As organisations get ready for the return to work, we look at the changing cleaning processes.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought a new sense of urgency to cleaning operations, with regular cleaning happening more frequently, along with additional deep cleans.
Managing director of Pareto FM, Andrew Hulbert, said: “The focus is moving on to cleaning high-touchpoint areas several times per day.” Indeed, items such as door handles, kitchen sides and push buttons are now cleaned “at least every hour” so some areas are cleaned 10-12 times day compared with twice a day before the pandemic.
Besides increased frequency, Martin Reed, chief executive, Incentive FM Group, said little has changed in how the company supports its clients. Its response, however, depends more on the way clients work.
Take hot-desking, for example. Reed said that in the past hot desks would be cleaned overnight but now after someone uses a hot desk it has to be cordoned off so that no one else uses it before it is cleaned again.
Reed noted that some clients are separating desks with Perspex screens or using them to transform lifts into two-person carriers. “But you know somebody’s still going to touch the button.”
Hulbert said many clients are looking to cut costs across the facilities function. “In the provision of cleaning services we are specifically seeing clients simultaneously looking for a reduction in cost as well as an increase in frequency of cleaning of high touchpoint areas,” Hulbert stressed. “There can only be two outcomes here; either contract hours are used to clean elsewhere – for example, skirtings, walls, windows are cleaned less often and those hours used in high-touchpoint areas – or cleaning’s productivity rate will be expected to increase.”
Organisations requiring increased intensity and frequency of cleaning have been trying to offset the cost elsewhere such as through travel and expenses, said Phil Matis, regional director at Churchill Group, Scotland and North.
Specifications need to be amended and regimes enhanced to ensure safety. “This means revised schedules and amendments to specifications to either remove and change frequencies of less priority works, the reduction of work areas (such as the closing of floors or areas) or the removal or periodic works or additional services to simply cope with outgoings,” Matis explained.
Beyond the cost challenge, Hulbert noted that many cleaners have been furloughed, affecting teams’ ability to deep clean.
More often, though, external teams within a cleaning contract and not the on-site cleaners perform deep cleans. “Those cleaning companies that have been able to adapt are thriving at this time and they are completing several additional deep cleans, and a premium is being charged due to tight time frames and the critical nature of the works,” said Hulbert.
“When cleaners return from furlough, I anticipate that many cleaning providers would keep their newly formed deep-clean teams as there will be several hundred cases of staff entering the office who have symptoms which will require an immediate deep clean,” he added.
Mitie’s Technical Cleaning Services (TCS) team usually provides deep cleaning services, but James Gilding, managing director, cleaning and environmental services, said that during the pandemic “the team has been providing sanitisation cleans which are more appropriate, as they have a greater focus on ensuring key touch points are clean, in particular in high-traffic areas”.
Hulbert predicts the future will bring with it shorter cleaning notice periods for cleaning contracts as the long break clauses have presented challenges as the client cannot contractually force a quick reduction in cost. “There have been many fallings-out between contractors and clients at this time as clients look to reduce costs quickly and contractors quote the contract stopping them.”
Hulbert’s company waived notice periods to ensure the clients could quickly achieve reductions. “As always, in times like these it’s critical to operate as a partnership to ensure the longevity of the client/contractor relationship,” he added.
Gilding also stressed the importance of being flexible to accommodate clients’ needs, noting that “the most important thing at this time is to be as supportive and collaborative as we can”.
Access to cleaning supplies
Getting the necessary quantity and type of chemicals and equipment has been challenging because of the pandemic. “The increased demand for cleaning supplies has really brought to light the importance of a robust supply chain and strong communications with everyone in the chain and with dedicated procurement teams,” Matis asserted. “We have noticed a spike in costs but that’s typical for increased demand and hasn’t prevented us from securing the supplies we’ve needed.”
“PPE is, of course, a different story; and rightly so, as most supplies need to be directed towards the NHS and care establishments… we have a full team committed to forecasting the requirements for all of our clients so that we have all the PPE we need, without building up a surplus which could be used elsewhere.This allows us to be able to deliver cost effective solutions to all of our existing client base, as well as provide a multitude of enhanced service offerings.”
FM’s reputational boost
What has materialised in the wake of Covid-19 is an improved recognition of FM generally and cleaners specifically. Gilding said: “It’s also incredibly gratifying to see a genuine expression of thanks and support, not just from our customers, but the entire nation, for the hard work – often behind the scenes – of our cleaning colleagues.”
Laura Birnbaum, head of property at London Fire Brigade (LFB), has also noted a boost in reputation for the organisation’s property and FM service due to its response to the pandemic, such as by introducing deep-cleaning processes at the stations, which are residential with curtains and soft furnishings.
Birnbaum said that her team has “turned around deep cleans in around half the expected time, which is minimising station downtime”, which has led to the brigade reflecting on “cleaning and essential maintenance, and the wider supply chain that goes into helping that frontline service run on a day-to-day basis… we are really seeing the profile of facilities movement moving significantly further up the value chain in our organisation”.
H&S cleaning responsibilities
Under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations there is a legal duty to ensure that all premises and workplaces are kept sufficiently clean. Although there is no real legal definition of what constitutes a deep clean, there is reference within HSE guidance for the need for high standards of cleanliness for controlling exposure to substances hazardous to health.
The type and level of cleaning required prior to reoccupying your premises will depend on your risk assessment for your particular site and/or the activities undertaken.
There are a number of things to consider. For some businesses the workplace may have been closed down for a number of weeks, so you will need to consider whether anyone has periodically gained access to the facility to undertake maintenance or security-related tasks, are you aware of any of your workforce coming down with Covid-19 and had access to the facility during the lockdown period or simply when was the last time it was thoroughly cleaned.
Some businesses are seeing it as best practice to deep clean their premises, to ensure everything is as clean and safe as possible prior to bringing back the team. It is also a very visual reminder to the workforce that as a business you are taking safety seriously.
If you are looking to use your own workforce to undertake the cleaning process, ensure you follow the government guidance Covid-19: cleaning in non-healthcare settings. The guidance covers topics such as personal protective equipment, surfaces to focus on, what chemicals/substances to use and what to consider before placing used cleaning equipment in the waste.
Dale Jones is head of technical development at Alcumus SafeContractor
The Cleaning & Hygiene Suppliers Association (CHSA) has issued a warning to those buying cleaning and hygiene items to “beware of unscrupulous profiteers capitalising on the unprecedented demand for these products”.
There has been an increase in the number of new companies – primarily online – that are selling products such as hand and surface sanitisers, gloves, wipes, tissue and aprons.
The CHSA said that these products “carry an exceptionally high mark-up and there is no guarantee they meet industry standards”. Imports of personal protective equipment without any CE marking or even fake certifications have also increased. The association said the only way that buyers can be certain that they get what they are paying for is to buy from a CHSA member. All have signed the association’s rigorous code of practice, which requires a member to be “well established” in the industry and to maintain a high standard in the conduct of its business.