THE CLEAN STANDARD: Measure to Minimize Risk
A lot of the evaluation of cleaning processes has been built around the concept of ‘huffing and puffing’: if we work and we sweat, that must mean the surface is clean. But the reality is a lot of our processes are faulty; in fact, often we are doing more ‘dirtying’ than we are cleaning. Testing and measuring proves whether a surface is clean or not. You can spend a lot of money and tell people about your great equipment, but if you really want to know how effective it is, you have to be able to prove, with science, that your process worked and produced the desired result.
One of the things we lack in the industry is a standard of clean. We have standards about how you do the work, but in most cases we don’t have standards as to what is ‘clean.’ The usual standard for clean is, if it doesn’t look dirty, it’s clean. With the science we have available today – in devices like ATP meters, pH paper, microscopes and gloss meters – that’s not just inadequate, it’s potentially dangerous.
People often establish processes that don’t work, or, more often, don’t work correctly. For example, you don’t need a sterile bathroom floor when what is required is a clean bathroom floor. Identifying and establishing appropriate levels of clean helps us determine what is required and what is needed to maintain different surfaces and environments.
This determination is what measuring devices bring to the equation. They enable us to set a quantitative measurement for clean, rather than just qualitative. So what if it looks clean; but you test it and discover an ATP reading of 500 on the surface, or 1,000, or 2,000? These devices give us a quantitative way to measure and validate the work we do, the chemicals we use, the equipment we put to work, the processes we use and even the individuals we employ.
The cleaning industry is very resistant to change. Recently, though, we’ve started employing some different processes, products and equipment, and we need to make sure these things actually work. Over time I think the proven processes and measurement systems will be married into the equipment we use, integrated into the buckets and mops and the surfaces that we’re working on, automatically telling us whether these things are clean. The process will be automatic.
Today, however, we are starting at the beginning.
Take a rag and wipe down two desktops. Before going any further, you test them and find out that the bacteria and soil has not been removed, so you alter your process. Simple.
What if you didn’t test? In that case, whatever labor was spent, be it 4 hours, 40 hours or more, depending on how many people are operating in the facility, was completely wasted because they didn’t actually do any cleaning!
That’s what measuring devices are all about. They validate the work. From them you can establish a benchmark standard of clean, giving you an inexpensive way to prove the process obtained the desired results. Otherwise, it’s all qualitative: you can look at it, touch it and smell it, but you don’t have anything else.
There’s an old axiom: ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.’
Most of the measuring devices being used today did not come from the cleaning industry: we borrowed them from other industries where measuring is required and standards are often better established. Now we’re starting to apply and use these devices for the benefit of our customers, the industry and society as a whole. People are becoming more willing to use measuring devices to show the results of their process and methods, to demonstrate that their systems are better than others, allowing them to say, ‘Hey, if you use this process, you’re getting a cleaner surface, and here’s a way to prove it.’
Measurement devices and the training to use them are not for everybody. There will always be those who don’t care and don’t see the value of them. These types of processes are for organizations trying to improve their system, who understand the value of cleaning and have a critical need for its results. If an organization doesn’t understand the value of training, they probably don’t understand the value of cleaning.
The two do go hand-in-hand: you can’t train someone on a device and not train them to perform the actual cleaning. There are organizations that see the value and are doing training now, and they’re already seeing benefits like reduced costs; improved work quality; reduced complaints; reduced turnover; reduced injuries. The move toward quantitative analysis is another step in bringing validity to the work we do, and training is part of the process.
We’ve been cleaning wrong for years. We’ve been throwing away billions of dollars doing it wrong, and not just on the wasted labor; it’s the cost of the people who get sick on the job because we do it wrong, the kids who can’t come to school because they’re sick, the work that doesn’t get done by the people who occupy the buildings because they’re out sick. The real cost and the real savings is not in the cleaning; it’s in the enhanced production of the people using and occupying the facilities we clean.
The savings to be realized from training on processes and measurement, validating what works and what doesn’t work, is so great that the cost of the training and even the equipment becomes irrelevant.
There are key factors to keep in mind with regard to measurement and measuring devices. Consistency and documentation are both critical to the process. If you don’t have consistency and the ability to perform tasks in the same manner time and again, it isn’t going to give you any useful information. If you don’t document what you’ve done, you can’t set a baseline or modify your process; the collected data must be written down.
The other point to remember is that we are in the rudimentary phase of this process. We have to find our way, blaze a path and develop this process as we go through it. We need to apply it as best we can, learn from it, modify it, and continue to use and implement it. It will start in healthcare and education, food processing, places where cleaning is critical. It will distill down to other areas where it is less critical but is recognized as a best practice, and good sales tool; another great way to separate yourself from everyone else.
Testing and measurement brings more professionalism, more recognition and more profit to the industry. It will become more and more critical as we learn more about how cleaning works, how the testing applies and what difference it makes, and how it applies to the production and health of the people in the buildings. We’re in the early stages of progressing from one or two studies done 20-30 years ago, to field studies that can be done every day, on the job, in real-work situations.
There will be some distractions. Some people will look and say, ‘Oh, why are you doing this, that’s a waste of time and energy.’ Well, people said the same thing about cars, about airplanes. Look at what we’re building today as creating the blueprint for the first Model A. What we started driving in 1909 is not the same car we drive today. The plane you fly on today is not the same plane flown at Kitty Hawk.
We’re going to be learning as we go, but I’m convinced it’s the right path to follow. We will see major benefits in cost savings, health and productivity as we go, getting more and more sophisticated in the process.