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A window to the inside

September 19, 2010
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A key indicator of how well a company is doing or how well-managed a facility is can usually be determined quickly by the condition of its grounds.

If a business is declining, one of the first budget cuts is to grounds care and maintenance — often followed shortly thereafter by cuts in interior cleaning and maintenance.

On the other hand, if a retail business or suburban office complex is thriving, or if a hospital, school or university is well-managed, that success is reflected in clean, well-maintained grounds that are appealing and seem to reach out and invite visitors and workers to the facility.

At such businesses and facilities you will most likely find the following:
  • A lawn that has that lush, green carpet look that comes with regular mowing, the application of fertilizer and water, and the raking of leaves
  • Well-trimmed and shaped hedges
  • Trees and shrubbery that are properly pruned, dressed with mulch and appropriately complemented by flowers or ground cover
  • The absence of litter coupled with strategically placed smoking receptacles and trash cans
  • Freshly painted buildings with fixtures that are in proper working order
  • Walkways and parking lots that are free of snow and ice in the winter and clear of leaves and debris in the spring, summer and fall
  • The absence of pests or pest damage.
Getting started
To accomplish this, in-house facility directors and building service contractors (BSCs) must have staff tackle grounds care and exterior maintenance projects with the same fervor that they show when vacuuming carpets, cleaning restrooms, or stripping floors.

BSCs and in-house directors should consider the following with respect to grounds care and exterior maintenance:

  • Determine staffing requirements to get the job done right, then adjust that scheduling of staff and projects to adapt to what Mother Nature brings, such as that unexpected snow or ice storm, torrential rains or high winds.
  • Provide the proper equipment — snow plows and ice melt in the winter; mowers, trimmers and rakes in the spring, summer and fall — coupled with a maintenance program that will keep such equipment in tip-top operating condition.
  • Complete how-to training that stresses the safe and proper use of grounds care and exterior maintenance equipment as well as the proper application of fertilizers and pest control products.
  • A dedicated quality assurance program that monitors the continually changing appearance and condition of the exterior of buildings, and the grounds and landscape around them.

Much like cleaning and maintenance projects that are conducted inside a building, outside grounds care and exterior maintenance work should be staffed correctly through workloading.

Some projects can be standardized since they are performed on a regular basis.

For example, lawn mowing is normally done on a regular schedule. Staffing takes into consideration the area to be cut, the number of mowers used, and the number of people to run the machines and rake, bag and dispose of the clippings.

Many other projects such as painting, trimming trees, changing exterior light bulbs and picking up trash and litter can be routinely scheduled and staffed.

Other projects, while standard in nature, may require different, flexible staffing requirements because it is impossible to determine their frequency. A good example of this is snowplowing and the application of ice melt.

Depending upon where you live, the facilities you service can experience severe winter weather one year, and little or no snow and ice the next.

Adjusting accordingly is the key.

If you don’t feel you have the staff to accomplish a rigorous grounds care program, you may want to outsource some of the work to an independent contractor.

If you are a BSC who does some portion of grounds work, you may want to consider expanding in the grounds care areas to keep staff working during slow periods of the year.

Proper equipment selection
Major manufacturers provide a wide range of equipment designed specifically for grounds care and exterior maintenance.

Mowers and snowplows are the biggest and most expensive examples of equipment that is needed. Other items include carts, rakes, trimmers and specialty tools for painting and carpentry projects.

When making equipment purchases, actually test drive the equipment, where appropriate, and consider:

  • Ease of operation
  • Safety features
  • The company’s reputation in the industry and the number of years it has been in business
  • Warranties, service agreements and routine maintenance programs that may be available to extend the life cycle of the equipment
  • The availability of parts and service.

A wide variety of techniques is available for training workers in grounds maintenance. These range from hands-on or on-the-job training programs, to grounds maintenance manuals and instructional videos.

Training programs should include the proper operation of equipment, safety training, hazard communication, and even proper work etiquette when workers encounter visitors and users of the facility before workers are sent out on the job.

Initial training should be followed up by frequent retraining and review.

Quality assurance
The condition of the grounds, the landscape and the exterior of buildings is constantly changing, often for the worse.

To maintain that clean, well-maintained look, your staff must find the time to conduct routine patrols of the outside areas you service.

Litter, trash and other debris can accumulate seemingly overnight and can give your operation an instant “black eye.” Being aware allows you to allocate resources to correct the situation.

Regular patrolling of your grounds and facilities can also be preventive by helping to keep little problems from growing into major projects.

For example, peeling paint or cracked concrete can be touched up and then scheduled for major attention at a later date.
Finally, a quality assurance program allows you as a BSC or in-house facility director to be confident that your properties and facilities always have that clean, well-kept and appealing look.

Sofia Modesto is an engineering manager with more than 15 years of experience in mechanical engineering, product management, and research and development at Tornado Industries.
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