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Tackling trouble areas: Snow removal and entryway

September 19, 2010
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Tis the season for snow! Most of us have already received early visits from Jack Frost and Old Man Winter, but these delightful pastimes can wreak havoc on floors within the buildings we manage.

Once upon a time, it was great to wake up in the morning and look out the window, only to see a beautiful blanket of white fluffy snow covering the yard and streets.

But now you’re in charge of cleaning it up, and making sure building occupants and guests are safe when entering and exiting the buildings you service.

According to Cleaning Management Institute® (CMI®), it costs around $500 to remove one pound of dirt from your buildings, 90 percent of which comes in through entry points.

During the seemingly never-ending winter months, these figures are sure to increase.

Winter woes and foes
Facilities managers are gearing up to deal with a winter foe worse than snow and sludge: Ice melt — a dirty phrase to most custodians.

While it can make snow and ice removal easier, ice melt — when tracked inside — will act just like stripper used to remove floor finish, turning this custodians’ friend into a foe.

But there are several key methods you can implement to reduce the damage brutal winter weather can leave behind.

Develop a plan of attack
A facilities manager should develop an effective and efficient snow removal plan before the first snow falls, and have the necessary equipment and materials on hand, thus making the job easier.

To ensure the safety of everyone who enters and exits the building, all sidewalks and stairs should be kept clean and free of ice.

Open communication with your team is essential in achieving this. Inform all custodial staff that snow and ice removal is part of their responsibility, clearly state your expectations, and offer them the necessary training to get the job done.

When snow and freezing temperatures arrive, your custodial staff should be prepared to meet them at the door.

Your plan should include the following steps:

  • Custodial supervisors should work with custodians early on to make sure they are stocked with several bags of ice melt (salt or magnesium chloride) and snow shovels.
  • Assign specific custodians to areas of grounds to make the salting process easier on everyone. It also ensures that areas aren’t missed.
  • Urge custodians to keep an eye on what is tracked into the building and to clean the mess promptly. This will result in less damage to the floor finish, saving money and time.

Advanced snow removal
Some facilities managers will have to deal with snow and ice at a larger level, especially those that serve school campuses and other large sites.

At Southeast Missouri State University, the grounds staff is responsible for cleaning the streets and sidewalks, and use snow blades and salt spreaders to get the job done.

Six riding mowers fitted with heated cabs and snow blades are assigned to specific areas throughout the campus, as well as a utility vehicle equipped with a spreader, which makes salting sidewalks a lot easier.

The grounds crew is also responsible for keeping campus streets and parking lots clean and free of ice, and four trucks fitted with snow blades and salt spreaders are used for this purpose.

It’s important to remember that the better job you do at keeping your sidewalks and entryways clean, the less snow, water, mud, and ice melt will be tracked into your buildings.

It’s impossible to keep all of the winter mess out, but several methods can help you catch as much as you can.

Good matting protocol
The ideal situation in keeping grime at bay is to have at least 18 feet of matting at all entrances, which if maintained correctly, will collect about 80 percent of the dirt.

The best way to accomplish this is to have three stages of matting:

  1. First, an aggressive, “scraper-type” mat outside of all doors, to catch the larger particles.
  2. Second, medium texture matting in the breezeway or foyer, to trap the smaller particles.
  3. Third, a fine texture, or a “wiper-type” mat, placed just inside the interior entrance, is the final line of defense, catching the smallest particles and liquids.

This matting system offers enough room for your visitors to wipe their feet as they enter the building.

And, for those who don’t bother to wipe their feet, you have provided approximately six to eight steps for the material to be removed from the bottoms of their shoes before they hit the finished floor or carpeted areas.

An alternative to the three-stage matting system is recessed mats, but these systems need to be planned in advance since they are generally implemented during the design stage of a building.

A valuable tip: Mats may need to be reorganized prior to a storm to achieve maximum effectiveness — and to keep your outside mat from disappearing under the snow.

Implement good entrance cleaning procedures
Even with the best matting system, you won’t be able to keep all of the dirt, snow, and ice melt out of your buildings.

Winter weather conditions force all of us to modify our work schedules to meet the need and demand of our jobs as facility service providers.

Unless you have an unlimited overtime budget, time spent outside shoveling snow and spreading ice melt can result in less cleaning time inside.

It is very important to use available labor to keep entrances as clean as possible, which helps keep sludge and slop from being tracked throughout the building.

Keep your mats clean
The purpose of matting systems is to catch and trap dirt and liquids as people walk over them, keeping the dirt from attacking expensive floor surfaces.

Dirty matting can actually do more harm than good because it loses its ability to trap dirt, and allows people’s shoes to pick it up as they walk across.

Shoes will then redeposit the dirt at the next area that can hold it: Your clean floors and carpets, leading to dirt spreading throughout the building.

In addition to keeping floors clean and tidy, reduced “slip and fall” hazards are another very good justification to purchase more matting, and it can pay for itself by preventing just one personal injury claim.

But with the trend and emphasis on doing more with less, sometimes there aren’t enough available funds to purchase this type of system for every entrance within a facility.

If budget constraints are an issue, here are some tips that will help you get the most out of your matting system:

  • Keep a few extra mats on hand and rotate them as you clean the dirty ones. Another option is to clean matting while your facility is closed, and replace them at the opening of the next business day.
  • Evaluate the traffic flow through your entrances to determine the high-traffic areas, and provide extra matting at these areas.
  • Dedicate the time needed to keep your entrance matting clean. The facility will get more use out of it, and again, keeping it clean will cut down on time spent cleaning floors.

Use correct product for best cleanup
The correct use of products, such as a neutralizer or carpet rinse, will help minimize the effects of ice melt. Use your pH scale to help you.

Considering that the pH of the Great Salt Lake is around 10 and the pH of sea water is around 8, you can assume that the snow you are melting with salt is going to have a pH of about 8-10.

The sludge left behind will be on the alkaline side of your pH scale, so it’s necessary to use an acidic product to help neutralize it.

Several companies can provide you with a neutralizer product that will work extremely well with this type of alkaline residue.

Long-term savings
Focusing on entry points during inclement weather will result in long-term savings.

Your conscientious and persistent efforts will increase the life span of carpeting or floor finish, and reduce the chances of slip and fall claims against your institution — resulting in substantial budget savings in the long run.

So when Old Man Winter comes knocking at your door, take a few minutes to step back and enjoy the beauty, knowing that you have already put a winter plan into action to minimize the negative effects.


Terry Major is manager of Grounds, Custodial, Support Services, and Fleet at Southeast Missouri State University.

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