Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

A Commentary On Cleaning Standards

April 14, 2011

Editor''s note:

The cleaning industry needs to be recognized for what it is — an industry.

Many onlookers view custodial professionals as uneducated and dispensable workers who comprise the bottom rungs of the industries in which the facilities they clean and maintain are classified.

Recognizing the need for a universal standard to change the way our industry is perceived, Allen Rathey, president of the Healthy Facilities Institute (HFI), offers the following insights.

There has been much talk about establishing definitive cleaning standards within our industry, but efforts have met with mixed success.

I believe the reason is basic: A cleaning standard must be defined by a cleaning purpose.

If to “clean to protect or enhance health” is the purpose, the standard will be quite different than to “clean for appearance.”

If to “clean” within budget or to save time is the purpose, the standard will be defined in less ennobling ways.

The bottom line is that the cleaning industry, in its current state of thinking, cannot create one unified standard — though it can create specifications based on particular customer requirements — because the thinking about cleaning is not unified.

For example, if a mother cleans because she doesn''t want her family to become ill or to optimize the indoor environment because she loves her family, that''s a different motive and process than to clean because company is coming or because she wants to save time or money.

Simply stated, since cleaning is currently performed for different purposes, cleaning will consistently be measured by a variety of different standards.

In addition, as long as the customers of the cleaning industry think of cleaning in a variety of ways — many of them far less than optimal — the cleaning industry, a for-profit enterprise, will respond with a hodgepodge of “standards” that reflect a variety of different customer demands or purposes.

Thus, it is far more important to change the way people think about cleaning — starting first with the people within the industry and then embracing people outside the industry.

Since safety and the protection of human health are major standards drivers in other successful fields from electricians to engineers, one of the industry''s major initiatives should be to promote cleaning as an indoor environmental discipline — an applied science — in the public interest.

Once accomplished, a standard then becomes viable.

Until that happens, no standard is possible.

Moreover, I simply believe that to “clean to protect or enhance health” is the best foundation for the industry to build a lucrative and dignified future upon — with appearance, surface preservation, etc., as pillars of the structure.

Before such a dominant “health philosophy” that produces corresponding specifications, standards and things of the like can prevail, we must work at changing thinking.

We are all in the public relations and marketing business, you could say…

More Dignity Please

Having cleaned for a living for many years before becoming an “armchair expert” and witnessing the low self-esteem and lack of dignity afforded the cleaning worker in many instances, I have a personal axe to grind.

Our industry lacks heart and a dignified reason for existence — a motivating core belief, if you will.

By stark contrast, the medical profession has a credo known as the Hippocratic oath: “Do no harm.”

It is what inspires many young men and women to become doctors and nurses.

The ultimate standard of care is to “do no harm” and to promote healing and health.

That philosophical basis is what motivates many health care professionals to work long hours — not to mention the need to pay medical school bills and afford high liability insurance premiums.

Still, medicine is a business; it must deal with many business realities and, for this reason, care is not always optimal.

As such, other standards must be adopted to achieve a practical standard that is also affordable.

But, medicine — at its core — has its dignity.

The cleaning industry is not so fortunate; it is a much-maligned field with a low place on the proverbial totem pole.

What the cleaning industry needs first and foremost is an ultimate “standard of care,” a reason for being, a philosophical foundation equivalent of “do no harm.”

Just as it is very important to know why a doctor decided to practice medicine, it is also important that we know why we clean.

I believe that to “clean to protect or enhance health” is such a core philosophy upon which an industry can redefine itself.

All the other standardization aspects will follow when the industry finds dignity and deep purpose — dare we say inspiration — in its core beliefs.

To clarify, this commentary is in no way directed at APPA, ISSA, the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) or other organizations with leadership standards in the marketplace or hopper, but was intended solely to highlight a fundamental issue with aligning the cleaning industry around a single standard for clean or healthy environments.

This should not discourage the development of laudable standards, but serves to highlight the challenge of achieving widespread acceptance based on the fragmented market situation that exists.

Still, an industry must start somewhere and, therefore, we support credible efforts to create improved or benchmark standards.

Our main point is you must work hardest at changing thinking; a “standard” can help do this.

But, it is only the beginning of — rather than an end to— successful change.