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How To Expedite Spill Cleanup

Written by  Robert Kravitz

In any facility maintained by cleaning contractors, invariably, something will be spilled on the floor. It may happen more frequently in schools, and, of course, food service areas, but it can also happen often in office buildings, hotels, convention centers and airports.

When a spill occurs, hopefully it ends up on a hard surface floor. Spills on carpet can be much more difficult to clean up. And even more important, hopefully no one slips and falls because of the spill or gets sick as a result of the substance that spilled on the floor.

Because spills can be expected at just about any time and just about anywhere, it is a bit surprising that many cleaning contractors, as well as facility managers, don’t have a spill control program in place.

“Having a [spill control] program in place guides employees through a standardized set of steps [that] can help contain both the mess and any infectious germs,” said Dr. Hal King, president and CEO of Public Health Innovations (PHI).

The good doctor adds the words “infectious germs” to his comment because in many cases, we are not sure what the spill is. Because there is this uncertainty, cleaning contractors are advised to always assume the worst.

It could be a chemical solution of some type or, if it is the result of someone who has gotten sick, the ill person may have norovirus or some other communicable disease. To put it simply: we don’t always know, so assuming the worst just makes common sense.


Let’s assume our company has been awarded the contract to clean Midway Airport in Chicago. Though it is Chicago’s “second airport,” it is certainly sizable and hectic nonetheless.

Cleaning up spills is a daily occurrence. To deal with them, the cleaning crew has been instructed to do the following:

* Place warning cone(s) around the spill

* Mop up the spill in the immediate area.

* Leave the warning cone(s) up, then return to the area in about 30 minutes to collect them.

So what’s wrong with this scenario?

Answer: Several things.

First, the cleaning worker may only have one, possibly two, warning cones on his cart. That is often not enough. If the cleaning worker has to place the cone over the area and then walk back to the janitorial closet for more warning cones, there is always the possibility the spill will drift further over the floor, increasing the chances for a slip-and-fall accident to occur.

Further, it may take the worker a good 15 minutes to go to and from the janitorial closet. That opens the door to more chances of an accident occurring. Because he will have to go back to the area, remove the cones and place them back in the closet, that is a potential 30 minutes out of his work schedule - a real hit to worker productivity.

The next problem is that most mops and mop buckets in airports travel almost as much as the passengers boarding planes. They are used all over the place: walkways, restrooms, food service areas, cleaning up other spills - you name it - which means they may carry a variety of contaminants and pathogens. Using them to clean up that spill can redistribute germs and soils from one area to another.

Finally, the cleaning worker has made the right decision to leave the cone up for a while. Even if the floor is dry to the touch, it still could be slippery if walked on. The problem is that the worker has many duties and may not return to the area for quite a while. Warning cones lose their impact if left over an area for a prolonged period. We always want to use a warning cone for its designed purpose: to warn people that they should avoid an area and removing them when the danger is gone.


Dr. King worked with DayMark Safety Systems, to develop a spill control program. The program they designed is unique and may prove valuable for cleaning contractors as well as building managers. This is because what they created appears to help address all types of spills, clean the area faster and more thoroughly, and is safer for the cleaning worker and building users.

There is no magic wand involved. The key to effective spill cleanup is highly absorbent spill pads. Few cleaning contractors carry these as part of their cleaning arsenal. However, with the common occurrence of spills, they certainly are something that should be considered.

Usually about 20 inches by 24 inches, some pads are referred to as “highly absorbent” because they have far more absorbency than similar pads, several cleaning cloths, paper towels, or the like.

Very often, they are colored yellow, a color that universally indicates “caution.”

With an absorbent pad available, King, along with DayMark Safety Systems, whom he worked with to develop a spill control program, advise taking the following clean-up steps:

* Place warning cones over the area

* Wear protective gear such as an apron, gloves and goggles

* Have double-bagged, preferably yellow (cautionary) trash bags next to the area that needs to be cleaned.

* Cover the spill with the pad

* Spray or pour a broad-spectrum disinfectant over the pad and the surrounding area*

* Allow the chemical to dwell for the appropriate time

* Clean up the spill with the pad and place it in the trash bag

* Spray disinfectant over the same area again and wipe clean with a disposable towel

* Place disposable towel and gloves in a trash bag

* Place all materials into a second or third bag; tie the trash bag and discard in an outdoor dumpster

* Collect warning signs

* Wash and sanitize hands after discarding trash bag

At this point, it may be a good idea to clean the entire floor area again. It is always possible chemical residue has been left on the floor which could result in re-soiling. However, instead of using a mop, select a floor cleaning alternative.


“This process offers several improvements in spill control,” says Duane Carey of DayMark Safety Systems. “First of all, the spill is collected quickly and does not spread. This is why we use the term ‘control.’ The spill, whatever it is, is not drifting over a larger floor area.”

He adds this also helps protect the custodial worker. “The spill is now fully absorbed into the spill pad [and] using a broad-spectrum disinfectant has likely killed all pathogens.”

Spill pads are packaged in boxes that can be easily added to most janitorial carts. Once the job is completed, the area can be opened to foot traffic relatively quickly. Whether it’s Midway Airport or any other facility, our job in the cleaning industry is to keep people healthy and make sure we provide a safe and fully operating facility for them to use.

*The use of disinfectants is most necessary if cleaning up such things as bodily fluids. A “broad-spectrum” disinfectant is designed to kill most types of pathogens and is used when we do not know exactly what types of pathogens we are dealing with.

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry.


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