Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

The Best Way To Prepare For The Worst

September 19, 2010

All over the globe, cleaning managers and business owners responsible for cleaning public facilities got a wakeup call last month.

It''s called H1N1 influenza, or swine flu.

The highly contagious virus has caused school closings in many states and has caused concerned citizens to avoid air travel and crowded public venues.

Meanwhile, prepared facilities operations and cleaning staffs are following emergency response plans, while others are "winging it," figuring out the best way the handle a pandemic as it unfolds.

Whether it''s an infectious disease outbreak or a natural disaster, emergencies can happen anytime, anywhere.

Unfortunately, many organizations are not prepared.

ISSA''s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) requires compliant organizations to have an emergency response plan and also calls for a plan for responding to natural or manmade disasters.

Whether your organization is CIMS certified or not, this is one piece you''ll want to pull from the standard and take back to your facilities.

Organization-wide Plan

Every cleaning department or business should have a comprehensive and frequently updated emergency preparedness and response plan.

This plan, though mostly specific to cleaning operations, should come from or align with a bigger, organization-wide plan.

In an emergency situation, what impacts one department or function within an organization impacts another.

Also, cleaning staff might be called on to perform tasks for other departments, depending on the emergency.

This is why all key departments within an organization — facility operations, communication, finance, human resources, security, food services and so on — should be involved in emergency preparedness planning and execution.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers some guidelines for writing emergency preparedness and response plans.

The plan should include an accurate description of various emergency situations — from natural disasters, such as floods and earthquakes to accidents like chemical spills and fires to pandemics and so on.

Each situation should be described in phases from beginning to end, including appropriate steps in responding to each phase and who or what department executes response steps.

Emergency Cleaning Plan

Not all emergencies will require the involvement of cleaning departments.

At a minimum, cleaning managers should be able to quickly account for cleaning staff.

During the threat of a pandemic, however, the spotlight will be on cleaning operations.

Your emergency preparedness and response plan should include as much detail as possible for who cleans what, how, when and with what.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posts updates to its website frequently regarding the status of outbreaks and how to respond to them, including cleaning recommendations.

In your emergency planning, appoint one or two people to be responsible for checking the CDC site often.

The emergency response plan for cleaning operations should include a list of high-touch or high-risk surfaces.

The plan should establish a frequency for cleaning these surfaces and training regarding how to clean the surfaces and with which products and tools.

Cleaning managers should have the proper equipment and tools — including personal protective equipment — readily available for cleaning staff.

Staff should also be trained on proper use of gloves, respirators and surgical masks.

The plan should include a communication for letting building occupants know organization-wide that these surfaces are high-risk, and that frequent, proper hand washing is critical.

Finally, like any other department within the organization, cleaning departments should plan for smaller staff sizes during emergencies because some workers will get ill or will refuse to come to work.

Emergency plans, though detailed by playing out emergencies from beginning to end, cannot include every possible outcome.

But, cleaning managers can prepare for the worst in the best way by reviewing and updating their plans at least annually or as needed and by communicating plans with cleaning staff.

For further peace of mind, cleaning organizations that go through CIMS certification have their emergency and disaster plans reviewed and validated by an expert, third-party accreditation specialist.

David Frank is a 30-year industry veteran and the president of the American Institute for Cleaning Science. AICS is the registrar for the ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standards certification program.