An invaluable but ageing resource

Date: 22-Jan-2019

We recently carried out a straw poll among some of our aged care facility managers and were a little surprised when the overwhelming response to a question regarding cleaning operations was the welfare of their staff.

But it really should not have been a surprise when the average age of cleaning staff is taken into consideration.

A 2016 survey into Australia’s aged care workforce found that the average age of a residential aged care employee was 46. However, the average age of cleaning staff is more than likely in their mid-50s.

Cleaning is and always will be a physical activity. There are no magic wands for cleaning a toilet bowl, contrary to some advertisements. Among the list of cleaning actions that require a physical effort are:

• wiping down a bedside table
• cleaning a handrail
• cleaning a chair after a resident has had an accident
• dusting furniture
• cleaning a sink.

There are machines to help with some activities but are the correct machines being used? Or is there a resistance to invest in a very valuable resource, that is, the cleaners?

Cleaners are a vital part of the team. Without them, the facility would not be able to operate. Cleaners see and are told things by residents that might be kept from care staff and nurses. This is because residents generally feel comfortable with the cleaning staff. They are not perceived to be authoritarian and are carrying out tasks familiar to residents.

Architects and interior designers walk a fine line between what is aesthetically acceptable, what is practical and what is safe. Unfortunately, cleaners bear the brunt of a great idea that looks good but is impractical. The tile that catches all the fluff or glass surface that constantly shows hand marks.

There are standards that must be met for slip resistance. All wet area floors, such as bathrooms, must have at least a P4 rating. P5 is the highest level of slip resistance. The problem is that it is very hard with conventional cleaning tools to clean a P4 or P5 rated surface.

Shower screens are gone and so we have curtains, which is good as curtains can be laundered. Or there are no curtains. This can work if the bathroom has been well designed but not if everything gets covered in soap and wet when the resident is showering.

Carpet in residents’ rooms can be aesthetically pleasing but they can be totally impractical if the resident has dementia or medical problem. And some carpets can be very difficult to clean.

Timber-look vinyl is very popular as it offers good slip resistance, doesn’t look clinical and can be easily cleaned with the correct tools. New styles of flooring combined with greater slip resistance mean that conventional cleaning methods not only don’t get the best results, they are also physically hard to clean.

Some flooring can simply not be mopped with a traditional string or spaghetti mop. Flat mops struggle which means that machine cleaning is the only answer. But some older cleaners are resistant to change. So many times we hear things like ‘I’ve been cleaning for 30 years and I know how to mop a floor’.

But the flooring has changed and the traditional mop and bucket don’t work anymore. “Mops will always be required in cleaning but the traditional string mops are being replaced by flat mops.”

Efficient plate or in some cases cylindrical brush machines are needed. And how easy is it to use a machine that all you have to do is guide it around the floor. Less water and chemicals are required and with the excellent squeegee systems the floor is practically dry removing the wet floor slip hazard.

There have been many studies showing there is less resoiling, less water and chemicals required and the floors are cleaner when scrubbed with an efficient automatic floor scrubber. And the latest machines are not intimidating for residents, staff or the operator.

Mops will always be required in cleaning but the traditional string mops are being replaced by flat mops. The traditional wringer mop bucket required with a string mop holds about nine litres of water, which should be emptied regularly to stop cross contamination. Added to this is chemical more than likely sourced from a chemical mixing station located in the cleaner’s storeroom. If the procedure is to change the mop and bucket contents every room and the cleaner cleans 10 ensuite rooms in a shift, 180 litres of water and chemical is discarded and at least 180 kilograms has been lifted (one bucket for the room floor and one for the ensuite). There is also a lot of time wasted returning to the cleaner’s room to refill the bucket. Using a microfibre premoistened or water wand style flat mop system, the water usage could be reduced to as little as 10 litres and when used correctly, the floors would be left much drier, further reducing the slip hazard. I am not getting into the argument over whether carpets should be in rooms or corridors but if installed they need to be cleaned regularly. There is a requirement in hospital cleaning in clinical areas that a Hepa filter be installed on all vacuum cleaners. The Hepa filter helps stop the spread of airborne bacteria. Aged care is starting to adopt this worthwhile procedure, which protects both residents and staff. The preferred low pile carpets wear extremely well but can be difficult to vacuum with a straight suction machine due to lack of airflow at the floor tool. Upright vacuum cleaner or barrel style machines with a power or turbo brush head are much easier to use on the carpet as they tend to pull themselves along helping the operator’s posture and eliminating the repetitious back and forth motion. The brush action means that there is plenty of airflow to extract the sand and grit, which accentuates wear. Regularly shampooing carpets keeps them clean, extends their life and removes odours and bacteria. Self-contained instead of hose and wand machines are much easier for staff to use. They have a brush that assists in the cleaning process that means less water is required, which improves drying time. A hand tool can be attached for stairs, upholstery, spots, and edges. Bathroom cleaning can be where more energy is spent than any other area. The toilet bowl must be cleaned but there is no need to bend over with a conventional toilet brush when long handled brushes are available. And the toilet lid should be closed when flushing to stop any airborne bacteria being inhaled by the cleaning staff. There is a trend for vinyl sheeting to be used on walls. Instead of a scourer no bigger than a fist, a window washing t-bar and abrasive cover used with an appropriate chemical can clean a large area very quickly. When attached to a short extension pole, there isn’t a need for excessive reaching or ladders. A window squeegee is ideal to remove any residual cleaning solution and dry the walls. If it is a daily service, floors don’t need to be scrubbed every day but any water can be squeegeed to the floor waste with a soft rubber squeegee that moulds to the shape of the floor and gets into the grout lines or slip-resistant surface. These are but a few of the techniques and tools that can make the task easier and help to sustain one of an aged care facilities most valuable resource, the cleaner.

John Taylor holds the role of innovation and business development at CleaniQ, which incorporates the Cleaning Supply Shop, a business he owned for 34 years.