Keep it clean!

Chris Parkes explains the importance of ensuring that hygiene standards are maintained at the highest levels

It is widely accepted that the working environment has a direct impact on productivity. Commercial organisations invest in cleaning to create the right impression and to help their staff feel more comfortable and motivate them to higher levels of efficiency. Schools and colleges shouldn’t be any different. A clean learning environment sends the right message to staff and students, letting them know they are valued and that their comfort and welfare is a priority. A spotless school or college encourages pupils to take pride in their surroundings. Cleanliness can even have an impact on Ofsted inspections, with pristine facilities being noted in official reports.

Regular, professional cleaning, also contributes to the health and safety of the educational establishment by improving hygiene levels and reducing the spread of infections. Illness is the most common reason for absence from schools, accounting for more than half (58 percent) of school days missed. Consistent and effective day-to-day cleaning can reduce sickness levels dramatically. This should involve detailed floor-care work to restore surfaces affected by heavy footfall; vacuuming and dusting; emptying bins and wiping down surfaces, ensuring that facilities not only look immaculate but germs are cleaned away.

It is important to keep frequently touched areas such as door panels, banisters, door handles and toilet flushing mechanisms immaculately clean to avoid bacteria spreading. Furthermore, having a colour-coding system ensures that different cleaning equipment is used to clean toilets, classrooms and food areas, eradicating the risk of cross-contamination between these areas, minimising the risk of epidemic outbreaks occurring.

Those contract cleaning organisations which specialise in the education sector take full advantage of the school holidays to deep clean floors and ensure surfaces are thoroughly disinfected before pupils and staff pass through the doors once again.

With tens of thousands of students using schools every day, there are many different demands on the cleaning team and there is often huge variety in the environments and surfaces to be cleaned. For example, some schools have listed buildings, whilst some may be undertaking a rebuild programme which requires additional cleaning programmes.

The variety of flooring materials in schools has an influence on the type of cleaning equipment and techniques that are needed to clean each surface thoroughly and hygienically. Gyms, kitchens, theatres, labs and studios all have different floor types and surfaces to be cleaned.

The right cleaning procedures can ensure that quality flooring lasts for as long as possible. Marble, wood, parquet and vinyl flooring will all need to be treated in different ways. All cleaning operatives should be fully trained on key issues, including health and safety, site-specific requirements and new and existing cleaning methods.

Chewing gum’s sticky properties make it particularly difficult to remove, and it is one of the main challenges in day-to-day cleaning, particularly in schools. Chewing gum is often trampled into carpets and stuck to the underside of tables. There are a variety of ways to remove chewing gum from surfaces, some more effective than others. These include using a steam-cleaning machine with a chewing gum solvent remover, applying ice to turn the chewing gum rigid before peeling it off and high-pressure jet washing.

Routine cleaning of IT equipment should also not be overlooked in the cleaning schedule. Even primary school children as young as five use computers nowadays and they are particularly vulnerable to infection. Computers are regularly touched by hands, which are one of the most frequent transmission routes for many types of infections because they come into direct contact with the mouth, nose and eyes. Lurking under those seemingly innocent computer keys are food debris, hair particles, dead skin, dust, not to mention bacteria, which can be easily spread around schools.

Rigorous health and safety systems should be in place to ensure cleaners, staff and pupils are not put at risk. The area that needs to be cleaned should be carefully researched and audited before any cleaning is undertaken, to make sure the right techniques are used. Environmental, quality and occupational health and safety management systems used by the contract cleaner should be independently assessed. This commitment gives schools confidence in the quality and reliability of the cleaning.

Use of pure water systems, microfibre cloths and diamond-encrusted pads all help to reduce or even eliminate the need for chemical cleaning agents. And where cleaning products are required, chemical-free ranges provide the same level of results as those with chemicals.

Security is essential within the school environment. Commercial organisations providing services to schools, such as contract cleaning, need to be vetted in the same way as any other staff working within schools. While some organisations settle for disclosure and barring service (DBS) checks – which replaced CRB checks – these are useless if the ID in question is fake: fictitious people will not appear on criminal records. People who don’t officially exist will pass the check – and give you a false sense of security.

Julius Rutherfoord, for example, has vetting procedures which include facial recognition techniques and passport and identity document scanning technology, similar to that used by customs personnel at international airports. Every passport and ID document is scanned to check its authenticity against an international database which holds the details of passports and other forms of ID from over 200 countries. This technology enables imposters and fake passports or ID documents to be identified in seconds.

In addition, the company uses time and attendance systems. Employees log in using either a biometric system which reads their fingerprint or with a short phone call from a dedicated line within the school premises that is linked automatically to a time and attendance system. This uses voice identification software, caller ID to check where the call’s been made from and a pin code employees must enter.

Chris Parkes is operations director at Julius Rutherfoord Ltd

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