For centuries, buildings and other structures have protected humans from a number of common threats.
Four sturdy walls and a secure roof have offered people safety from hundreds of environmental hazards, including weather, animals, sickness and even other humans.
While the advantages of living in a structure were readily apparent, the need for interior cleaning was not as easily seen, and proper cleaning techniques were slow to develop.
In the grand scheme of history, cleaning and maintenance tasks are still in their infancy; just 100 years ago, the safe removal of dirt from a building required manual sweepers and impractical machines that sometimes needed gas or oil.
The first upright line of vacuums was not introduced until 1950, and professional vacuums meant for the hotel industry did not appear until the 1960s.
Cleaning tools such as mops, buckets and dusters took years to slowly evolve, and effective and efficient cleaning methods took years to develop as well.
Over the decades, professionals tasked with cleaning commercial building interiors operated on the premise of cleaning for appearance — if a surface appeared to be free of dirt and grime, the job was done.
But electronic measurement devices developed to gauge different facets of cleanliness and safety soon proved otherwise.
Quickly, the trend changed from cleaning for appearance to cleaning for a healthy environment.
Just like mom always said, “Looks can be deceiving,” and these gauges let building service contractors (BSCs) and facility managers know that surfaces and environments that appeared perfectly clean and safe to humans commonly were not.
Though areas had been cleaned following accepted industry standards, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) meters showed surfaces still could harbor dangerous and deadly bacteria.
Though the floors were clean and perfectly shiny, slip meters revealed one liquid spill and they could become the cause of common slip and fall concerns.
Though a facility’s indoor air was free of malodors and chemical residue, indoor air quality equipment indicated that some interior environments still contained gases and contaminants that were anything but healthy.
Today, more electronic testing resources are available to professional cleaning operations than ever before.
Results-based cleaning has become the industry standard, and meters and measurement devices are commonly used to test floor safety, surface cleanliness and air quality.
When it comes to legal liability in a public building, slip and fall incidents are one of the biggest concerns.
To address these concerns, a number of hard floor and walkway safety guidelines have been created by government entities and industry groups.
Existing Occupational Safety & Health Administration(OSHA) guidelines say “the walkway surface shall be stable, clean and slip resistant,” according to Craig Stephenson, vice president and a walkway auditor specialist with American Slip Meter Inc.
“Not a lot of information or guidance,” Stephenson notes.
Updated OSHA guidelines based on the tables and testing requirements put together by the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) are due to be released soon, Stephenson reveals, and they should include a requirement for trained personnel to perform testing and monitoring activities.
Stephenson explains that current slip meters are sled meters meant to be drug across a floor to measure the static coefficient of friction (SCOF); this is the amount of force needed to initiate the movement of one horizontal body against another.
The first step in increasing floor safety is learning the SCOF of an interior walkway, and this number can be obtained after a simple, quick test performed with this measurement device, Stephenson says.
According to Stephenson, meter kits can come with a meter and an accessory kit that includes extra feet, extra pads, glue and a calibration chain and pull lines for testing.
Stephenson states that, once purchased, internal programs using the meter can be set up with training and help from manufacturers.
Companies can direct customers to locate and purchase the safety standards that should be followed, and there are further courses available to cleaners if an operation has the need or desire for additional training.
Currently, if a floor’s SCOF reading falls below a high traction surface — 0.60 SCOF as called out in the ANSI/NFSI B101.1-2009 standard — a cleaner will know that attention is needed to increase the friction level.
With a SCOF number, a professional can plan on deep cleaning, etching or reapplication of a topcoat; without a SCOF number, the worker would be guessing how slippery the floor is and what steps are needed, Stephenson states.
“With test results, an individual or organization can react properly,” Stephenson says. “If someone just automatically treats or etches every surface, every time this could be a waste of time and materials.”
By providing an accurate assessment and following up with the proper cleaning and treatments in an efficient and economical manner, a cleaning operation can see its reputation and business grow, Stephenson concludes.
For surfaces, ATP meters are used to gauge the level of surface contamination present before or after cleaning, according to Tom Morrison, vice president of marketing for Kaivac Inc.
“[These meters] have been used quite a bit in food processing and in healthcare, but they’re relatively new to the cleaning world,” Morrison says. “We started using them about six or seven years ago.”
These meters measure the amount of ATP biological matter on a surface; ATP, a universal energy molecule, is typically invisible to the naked eye, Morrison notes.
Hand-held ATP meters sold in the cleaning industry include test swabs to rub on a surface.
After swabbing a small area, an included capsule of fluid is cracked, the fluid interacts with the swab and a reaction with the matter captured by the swab begins.
The swab is then placed into the meter, a button is pressed and 15 seconds later a numerical value is shown that indicates the presence of ATP on the swabbed surface.
Morrison states that the meters are easy to operate, and training can be provided by distributors, training consultants, videos and other available materials.
There is not a standard frequency of use for ATP meters in the industry, but some managers or BSCs may set up a timed regimen of testing, whether it is weekly, monthly or quarterly.
Also, Morrison says some BSCs will use ATP meters more frequently as they are training individuals, as they are taking on a new building to confirm their cleaning processes and as a proof of service for specific customers.
“I think that will start to flesh out more as the Clean Standard comes out, because we’re still a little bit in the pioneering phase here,” Morrison says.
As different standards for cleaning results are created and introduced in various industry sectors — like the upcoming Cleaning Standard in the education market — the regular use of ATP meters will become more important as cleaners need to provide proof of results, Morrison states.
Finally, the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) is a strong proponent of ATP meters, and their continued research in many facets of the cleaning market supports the use of this technology in the industry.
Turning back to OSHA, the agency states that indoor air quality (IAQ) for schools, offices and other workplaces is important for both worker comfort and overall health.
Poor IAQ has been linked to physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating and irritation of eyes, nose, throat and lungs, according to OSHA.
The agency’s list of IAQ factors includes a few subjects directly attributable to the cleaning and maintenance industry.
The most applicable sources for indoor air concern are:
- Cleaning supplies
- Contaminants including dust and other debris
- Recent remodeling.
For testing IAQ, there are a number of portable, all-in-one meters that indicate the presence of different contaminants.
These meters test for a number of possible IAQ culprits, including:
- % RH
Advancing technology means these IAQ meters are now lightweight and easy to transport, and they frequently offer users real-time results.
Also, the meters include compatible software for computers, and they can be connected easily to allow for graphing, data review and IAQ reports.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and OSHA produced a Building Air Quality Action Plan in 1998, and the plan includes an eight-step checklist put together for facility managers, cleaners and maintenance personnel.
Step two in the checklist, Develop an IAQ Profile of Your Building, recommends conducting a walkthrough to assess a building’s current IAQ situation, and it is in this step when an IAQ meter would be most useful.
Based on testing results and information saved, as workers follow the rest of the checklist and take steps to improve IAQ, the effectiveness of the tasks performed can be supported by the changing IAQ meter readings.
Using electronic meters and measurement devices to prove cleanliness and safety is already ingrained in many phases of the cleaning and maintenance industries, and the use of measurement technology promises to trend upward in the future.
Instead of feeling technology trepidation, facility managers and BSCs should look forward to providing their customers as much information as possible.
Today, the best cleaning operations utilize effective hiring practices, provide the proper training and follow up-to-date processes to generate outstanding results.
Now, using measurement devices, these operations can finally provide the test results to prove it.