Training critical to meet cleaning challenges

Training is vital for businesses that wish to act responsibly and employ sustainable practices, explains ECNZ's Francesca Lipscombe.

Commercial, institutional and residential property cleaning is an essential service in New Zealand, protecting the health of building occupants and providing a pleasant living and working environment.

But the processes involved do potentially bring risks to cleaning employees, building occupants and to the environment. If cleaning services providers do wish to act responsibly and employ sustainable practices, proper training of their staff is critical.

It’s important that cleaning companies have a staff training plan and maintain a training record for each staff member to ensure the right training is completed before staff begin working independently.

Cleaning chemicals pose the most immediate risks both to people and environment as they can be harmful to the skin and emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can cause respiratory problems, as well as affect water quality if not disposed of properly.

Cleaning companies can make a big difference to the environment by careful selection of cleaning products, consumables and energy-efficient equipment. They can also make an impact through the cleaning techniques they use – such as employing micro-fibre cloths to reduce chemical use.

But that calls for staff to be thoroughly committed to these practices and that can only come from good training and emphasis on the importance of doing things right.  Cleaning processes also generate or accumulate wastes that have to be managed properly. It’s vital that cleaning staff are well trained in waste management and minimisation, and minimisation of fuel consumption through, for example, route planning and driver training.

The very nature of the cleaning industry poses challenges for training. It is an industry that employs many new migrants for whom English may not be their first language – and staff turnover is also high. As a consequence, training must take into account factors like limited English proficiency.

That’s particularly critical in the area of chemical handling, so we recommend instructions on dilution, use, and disposal of chemicals to be in easily understandable language with guiding illustrations where possible. The same goes for instructions on rinsing containers, returning them for refilling, recycling or disposing of them.

Environmental Choice New Zealand has a criteria document (EC-45) which covers all aspects of cleaning services; licensees who meet the specification have satisfied very stringent requirements including clear evidence of robust training practices.

Two New Zealand cleaning services providers, The Eco Pro Cleaning Co. and CrestClean, have embraced the criteria and incorporated environmental best-practice into their cleaning regime.

Eco Pro co-owner, financial controller and ‘eco warrior’ Anne Quaid joined the family business more than 20 years ago but has been involved in cleaning since she was a teenager.

With her father David Wilson (now retired) and husband Bob, she can point to around 100 years’ collective cleaning experience in the family. The learnings from that experience have been condensed into the company’s training processes, enshrined in its Operations Manual.

Anne says she’s always had an “eco” bent, which is strongly reflected in the culture of the company. New cleaning teams get a rigorous introduction to that culture before they even start working for Eco Pro, with a major emphasis on how to clean better, healthier and more ethically.

“We teach our cleaning teams that a proper green-cleaning programme is about protecting human health – theirs and that of the building occupants’ – as well as protecting the planet for future generations,” she says.

“That means educating them on recycling, how to spot a green wash, how to make good decisions on procurement and how their actions can impact on the environment.  At the end of the sessions we often see them becoming passionate about the whole eco concept – total converts.”

Anne says the Albany-based company, which has 30 contracted cleaning teams, constantly updates the Operations Manual based on changes and innovation coming into the industry and encourages its teams to attend ITO courses and obtain the NZ Certificate in Cleaning to Level 2.

It also provides on-the-job training, meets with all teams at least every six months, undertakes full site inductions for new teams on all sites, regularly reviews sites for hazards, emergency evacuation procedures and any changes to clients’ health and safety policies and procedures, and constantly tracks team performance – not just on the cleaning but all aspects of service delivery. “As a result – our teams are our success stories.”

Dunedin-headquartered CrestClean has more than 600 franchise operators around New Zealand.  Managing director Grant McLauchlan says having a strongly governed franchise system, with a rigorous ongoing training programme, helps ensure the company’s ECNZ compliance is upheld nationwide.

CrestClean is the largest trainer of cleaning personnel in New Zealand, hosting more than 200 training courses and workshops for its personnel nationwide last year; almost 1200 personnel took part. Specialised courses include: Hard Floor Care, Carpet Cleaning and Pure Water Window Cleaning.

The company also works closely with the Master Cleaners Training Institute (MCTI) delivering structured training programmes to ensure its people are trained to internationally recognised and accredited standards and MCTI has introduced the Certificate in Commercial Cleaning (CCC), specifically designed to meet the New Zealand cleaning industry needs. The course covers practical cleaning techniques, hygiene and industry-specific health and safety and environmental procedures.

Grant says CrestClean’s training programme includes a strong focus on environmental procedures, such as waste-water disposal and proper use of microfibre cloths and mops, which reduces chemical use. “Our personnel are trained in our standard operating procedures, Safe Systems of Work, which have been designed to minimise environmental impact.

“More importantly, it ensures consistency of our processes and cleaning techniques across the entire country. We can be sure that our environmental practices in Invercargill are the same as they are in Kaitaia.  We can also deploy changes, like the introduction of a new chemical or process, very quickly.”

New Zealand is well-served having two committed, resourceful, innovative and energetic cleaning services companies like CrestClean and Eco Pro setting the bar. We look forward to the continuing advances they will both bring to the sector. But there is still a lot of scope for other New Zealand cleaning organisations to make a greater commitment to environmentally preferable cleaning procedures and products, and good practice will only happen if training is also rigorous and well-informed.

Francesca Lipscombe is the general manager of the New Zealand ecolabelling Trust, which administers the Environmental Choice New Zealand ecolabel.

This first appeared in INCLEAN NZ magazine. To subscribe click here

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