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A healthier future for your workforce

19 July 2019

In this article, Robert Scott’s business development director, Steve Courtney, discusses the importance of educating janitorial staff and management teams on ways to reduce the usage of harsh chemicals in their daily cleaning routines, while introducing smarter cleaning practices that are both healthier and more environmentally-friendly.

Sustainability is a word on the tip of the tongues of industry, and is set to become only more prevalent as technology becomes smarter, products become more efficient and most importantly, businesses takes more responsibility for their environmental impact and staff wellbeing.

Earlier this year, a study published by Norway's University of Bergen found that regular exposure to cleaning chemicals significantly affected lung function over the measured period of 20 years. The study of 6,000 people was the first long-term research into the effects of cleaning chemicals on humans. 

Adults in the study, published in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, were followed for two decades. Their lung function was measured by looking at how much air people could forcibly breathe out – the amount declined more over the years in women who cleaned at home (4.3 ml per year) and women who worked as cleaners (7.1 ml per year). 

The authors suggested that chemicals in cleaning products irritate the mucous membranes that line the airways of the lungs, causing long-term damage. 

In light of the research, the cleaning industry needs to think seriously about sustainable alternatives that are less harmful to the health of end users and the wider environment.

Robert Scott has put a significant focus on sustainability, as a business and with its customers, and is currently working with a number of its distributors to assess and evaluate cleaning processes and products to help customers make more informed decisions. 

One example is the Toucan Eco disinfecting and cleaning system, which has been developed to offer customers a product that significantly reduces the use of traditional cleaning chemicals, while also providing a cost-effective and more environmentally sustainable cleaning alternative by reducing plastic waste produced by chemical containers and packaging.

Another more sustainable switch that businesses can make to their cleaning regime is the use of microfibre cloths. Microfibre is proven to improve cleaning and hygiene performance of all cleaning solutions, again reducing the need for large volumes of harsh chemicals. Due to its design, microfibre also reduces water usage and the products can be used many times over, providing there are adequate laundering facilities on site. By making a simple switch from disposables to microfibre, any facility can drastically reduce its waste output, waste water and chemical usage. 

Of course, any cleaning regime is only as effective as those who are implementing it. Every facility is unique, as are the janitorial staff that carry out the daily, weekly and monthly tasks. One of the biggest barriers we find when visiting customers is the inconsistency in cleaning protocol and the lack of awareness around reducing waste and the use of chemicals. 

If staff are involved in the process from the beginning, it gives the management teams a chance to obtain feedback first hand and look at where efficiencies can be made – whether that’s introducing a microfibre mopping system that uses pads which can be changed throughout the clean to avoid cross-contamination, or identifying areas that could be cleaned with a chemical-free solution, or less water and chemical solutions. Making your team active participants in the company’s environmental strategy will no doubt deliver their buy-in, boost morale and increase the overall performance of staff. 

Adequate training is also essential, not only training in the operation of any new systems, but that training in the use and application of solutions is delivered to all staff as an integrated approach to cleaning and disinfection. The understanding of how and why solutions work will give staff the confidence to trust both chemical and non-chemical products. 

By evaluating your company’s cleaning practices there are numerous benefits for the health and wellbeing of your staff. The lightweight nature of new materials, and the modern design of most microfibre mops, significantly contribute to reducing the risk of strains or injuries from heavy lifting, and by using a trolley or caddy system you ensure that staff are able to respond quickly and safely to affected areas with the necessary equipment. As well as this, reducing or eliminating the need for some cleaning chemicals and hazardous substances by using microfibre, with dramatically reduce the risk of skin irritations or more long-term health implications that can be caused by use of these products, creating a healthier, happier and more sustainability-conscious workforce altogether.