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Traditionally, vacuuming, particularly in schools, medical centers and professional buildings has been limited to carpeted areas, but a recent case study conducted at Colorado State University has proved it is just as effective, if not more so, on hard surface floors. With building wellness, air quality, competition in the marketplace, and the
ever-increasing need to reduce costs at the forefront of the cleaning industry, in-house cleaning managers must constantly be alert to new and different methods, products and equipment that will give them a leading edge. It was this sort of awareness, a commitment to professionalism, a questioning of the old way of doing things, and preliminary results of an ongoing study that led Bruce Stark and Jeff Wooldridge to consider replacing their dustmops with both backpack units, and walk-behind, battery-operated, wet/dry vacuums.

Striving to Satisfy Today's Customer Needs
Stark, building services manager at Colorado State, and Wooldridge, an assistant manager at CSU, are both veterans of the environmental services profession, and both understand well the unequivocal need for process improvement to boost cost effectiveness, quality management, and customer satisfaction.

As a member of the university's indoor air quality (IAQ) committee, Stark was concerned about dust control in the building. The need to use resources wisely, and ensure a healthy environment for customers led Stark and Wooldridge to develop a new process for removing dust and debris from hard surface floors. This included challenging progressive manufacturers of vacuums and custodial equipment to meet the school's cleaning and IAQ goals, resulting in onsite testing of multi-stage filter backpack vacuums, and prototype equipment including a battery-powered, walk-behind, wet/dry vacuum for use in hallways. Though empirical results with the walk-behind vac are promising, CSU's primary test data to date substantiates improvements using backpack vacuums.

According to statistics, approximately 95 percent of outside dirt enters a building by way of foot traffic and an average academic building at CSU is subject to the foot traffic of up to 15,000 students per day. The university's front-line custodial staff of 121 FTE's (full-time equivalents) has diverse duties, including floor care, and stretching available work hours to service the entire campus' 95 academic buildings totaling 4.3 million gross square feet, and including more than 3.5 million sq. ft. of cleanable space is a daunting task. Wooldridge could see no possible way the staff could increase their frequency of dustmopping to provide more effective dust control. The only solution would be to find time-saving methods and implement very specific task scheduling that would, in turn, enable better management of available labor hours.

Time Studies Result in Productivity, IAQ Solutions
Stark and Wooldridge began conducting time studies of various custodial tasks, one of which focused on dustmopping a 1,100 square-foot classroom with 95 desks and a rubber asbestos tile floor. On a given day, Wooldridge and a custodial field supervisor worked together, moving the desks and dustmopping the classroom. Their labor time, together, totaled 35 minutes. Standing back to observe the quality of their work, they found much to be desired. They could still see little bits of debris around the legs of the desks, as well as a dusting of fine grit, left behind by the dustmop. Not only was much of this grit being ground into the floor, causing additional wear and tear over time, some of it was being crushed into microscopic particles and becoming airborne to create nests of dust bunnies as well as potential health hazards. Damp mopping the test classroom required 12 more minutes and two buckets of cleaning solution, to total 47 minutes elapsed cleaning time.

Wooldridge and Stark realized that to achieve their goal of creating a healthier environment, the dust would have to be removed altogether as opposed to being pushed around and left behind by a dustmop. The old method of cleaning hard surfaced floors was not effective enough to meet the needs of the university's customers the administration, faculty, students, visitors and support staff. The best way to remove the dust, Wooldridge decided, would be to vacuum the floors.

The following week, at a designated time, Wooldridge slipped on a backpack vacuum obtained from a reputable equipment supplier and completed the task by himself, once again carefully noting the time required to clean the room. "I found I could vacuum the entire classroom, using a paddle tool which both covers open areas and is easily directed into corners and crevices, in 17 minutes and all the fine dust was gone from the floor surface," he said. "

In addition, it took only a few seconds to clean the chalkboard trays and erasers." Later, when the floor was damp-mopped, only one bucket of water was needed, compared to two buckets following the dustmop procedure and the after-process water was cleaner than before. Time required for damp mopping was 8 minutes, for a total elapsed cleaning time of 25 minutes. The entire procedure was repeated once more, during the third week, and the estimated labor saving with the new method was determined to be accurate. Initially, Wooldridge was most excited about the time/productivity factor. Using a backpack vacuum and paddle tool, he had been able to cut his cleaning time approximately in half. Also worth noting, the backpack allowed him to vacuum around and under the desks without actually moving them and he felt less tired.

He had saved:

  • Energy;
  • Labor time, which translates into monetary savings;
  • Capital expense, the life of the floor's surface will be extended and restoration will be faster and easier.
  • And, of course, he had created a healthier environment for his customers.

About 40 percent of CSU's floors are carpeted. The remaining 60 percent are hard surfaced vinyl asbestos, concrete, terrazzo tile and brick pavers; plus scattered hardwood floors in older buildings (some 125 years old). Aware that dustmopping is even less effective on concrete and brick than on vinyl, asbestos or wood, Wooldridge took his vacuuming experiment a step further into the brick paver hallway outside the classroom. Again, he was able to increase his productivity and remove the fine dirt and grit.

Typically, the hallway was dustmopped in the evening, and every morning large dust clumps would gather along the edges, fostering frequent complaints from faculty members. "They would say, Jeff, they haven't swept that area for weeks." Yet, we knew our employees had dustmopped," Wooldridge said. "They had done their job, yet much of the dirt remained on the floor. When we vacuumed that surface, instead of dustmopping, we found it took three days, rather than 24 hours, for dust clumps to reappear. Not only did we have an opportunity to increase our productivity, we could also reduce task frequency. As we pursue this method, we believe less and less dusting will be required and the building's occupants will be healthier."

Stark pointed out that perception plays a large role in customer satisfaction, and the day after the hallway was first vacuumed, faculty members noticed and complimented the custodial staff. Seeing the pollutants vacuumed and removed, rather than just being moved around, made a big difference.

We like to think we're a big part of recruiting new students to the campus, and we do that by showing our commitment to providing a clean, healthy environment, Stark said.

(Author's Note: Stark has served on CSU's facility maintenance services staff in some capacity for the past 29 years; Wooldridge has served on the staff for the past 20 years.)

This article was published on Monday 04 August, 2008.
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