“When you walk onto a campus, you want it to be an educational environment that is conducive to learning,” says Larry Price, director of facilities at Everett (Wash.) Community College. “Good cleaning helps with that philosophy; when you walk onto our campus, you know you’re in an environment that will foster success."
One system, the (OS1) process created by Salt Lake City-based Management Inc., uses standardization, training and retraining to turn cleaning workers into multitalented professionals, often at a cost equal to or lower than traditional zonebased cleaning systems. (OS1) focuses on cleaning for health first, appearance second and emphasizes healthy, environmentally and ergonomically friendly chemicals, equipment and procedures, including limited, specific, Green Seal-certified chemicals in pre-measured packs; a Green Label backpack vacuum; flat, lightweight microfiber mops and two-chambered mop buckets that separate fresh water from waste water and job cards outlining exactly what tasks each workers should be performing where, and when.
Anecdotal evidence supporting (OS1) has been available from many campuses for several years, but recently, scientific data back up personal reflection. For example, when former facilities director Jim Alty came to University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill more than two years ago, he knew the level of cleaning at his new campus needed to improve. Alty, an engineering graduate from West Point with two master’s degrees from Stanford University thought that (OS1) might be a good fit for UNC, but he knew that change of this sort couldn’t come by edict or without evidence. So, before anything changed, Alty and a team of experts and stakeholders launched an investigation and later a pilot program, and the results were clear. (OS1) not only improved the appearance of buildings, but also actually improved their health.
Alty initially rolled out (OS1) in one building, for a 120-day test period. During the test, housekeeping kept the lines of communication open with the rest of campus.
“We had an (OS1) evaluation committee with representatives from not only housekeeping but human resources, environmental health and safety, a faculty member with an office in the building, so they could give their comments,” Alty says.
At the end of the pilot, the department announced that the (OS1) pilot program had shown promise. However, there was a bit of skepticism about the results, so Alty conducted another pilot, which also showed promise. This time, the promise came with scientific reinforcement.
“We had personal comments about how people felt, but scientifically, were we cleaning any better?” muses Alty. “We implemented a measurement program; we hired Dr. Michael Berry and got assistance from some contractors to do sample measurements of bacteria, fungi, dust mites and various pollutants, before and after the program.”
Berry, a retired UNC professor, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Indoor Air Quality Research Program, and a national leader in research on cleaning effectiveness, served as technical adviser to the (OS1) pilot program. Berry put the test together and worked with the environmental health department on campus, and did sampling at the beginning for a baseline, at the midpoint and at the end of the pilot, to compare the (OS1)-cleaned building with an adjacent cleaning that had stayed doing zone cleaning. And, the results, published as part a 52-page report released in October 2006, were striking.
“That was a good news story,” Alty says. “Dr. Berry showed we were getting cleaner results or the same level with less chemical or supply use.”
Especially encouraging were the results of the dust-capture study; the tests of the (OS1) building showed a 31-percent average reduction in carpet dust, a 120-percent reduction in hard-floor dust, and a 342-percent reduction in counter dust. Alty says the restroom bacteria count didn’t improve significantly (it was already at a reasonable level before), but under (OS1), janitors used fewer and safer chemicals, reducing the potential for exposure-related health problems.
Other campuses, though they haven’t studied their results at the same scientific level as UNC, report their (OS1) programs have led to similar benefits. For example, (OS1) has been in place at University of Massachusetts-Amherst since the mid 1990s, and Director of Auxiliary Services Ashoke Ganguli says the program has especially improved the professionalism and health of his workers.
“They use ergonomic tools and they have processes that are designed properly. They have chemicals that are environmentally friendly and it’s for the better health of the worker and the customer,” Ganguli says. “Workers know exactly what they need to do every day—it’s a workforce that’s consistently trained; there’s no goofing off in this system.”
Absenteeism, Ganguli says, is too low to measure, and turnover almost is exclusively made up of student workers graduating and custodians moving to other positions within the college. Price, of Everett Community College , says his (OS1) rollout, begun in late 2006 and still ongoing, is already showing results; the buildings cleaned using (OS1) look better and are workloaded more accurately than their zone-cleaned counterparts.
A Slow Road
After the successful pilot, Alty says he asked for permission from administrators to implement the (OS1) program campus wide. He says he was met with far greater enthusiasm than he would have been had he just jumped in without the extensive pilot programs or scientific study.
In fact, the UNC Employee Forum, a standing committee of university staff that represent employee concerns and interests, sent a letter to UNC’s chancellor, expressing their enthusiasm for the way Alty and the facilities department handled the pilot program and subsequent implementation, while condemning another university decision to outsource dental technicians as insufficiently supported by data and unwelcome by the campus.
So far, after a year and a half, there are four buildings using (OS1). “This isn't something to casually introduce,” says Alty. “It took a lot of effort. Here we are, a year-and-a-half later, with only four buildings. You do need to give it a lot of time and the system will prove itself if you give it a fair shake.”
Price, too, touts the value of proving the system and the department. “You got to have a plan to get where you’re going,” adds Price. “Gain credibility, then take it to the next step.”