Introducing CAL – the Cleaning Activity Levels model
With the issue of unrealistic productivity rates and insufficient hours allowed for cleaning in Victorian public schools in the media, it’s a very fitting time to take a fresh look at the way we set cleaning performance standards and how they relate to productivity rates.
Everybody loses in this story: the students, parents, teachers, Principals, cleaners, cleaning companies and the Government. And yet nobody seems to know what to do about it.
Since I began writing and researching cleaning specifications ten years ago, I have constantly looked for simpler and more accurate ways to write and price cleaning requirements, without compromising on accountability. When I came up with a completely new model we call the ‘Cleaning Activity Levels’ (CAL), I really thought it was too simple to be functional.
But it’s not – it works. We are now using the CALs model to:
- Schedule cleaning efforts more efficiently
- More accurately cost the labour requirements
- Simplify the way cleaning duties are communicated
- Provide a consistent and objective auditing framework
I truly believe that this model has too much potential to keep to ourselves so I’m sharing it far and wide. It is my hope that it will eventually be adopted as the basis for National cleaning standards and will change the way we set productivity rates so that everybody wins.
I’ve already presented CALs at the CleanNZ expo where it generated a lot of interest, and next I will be speaking at the ISSA Cleaning and Hygiene Expo Sydney, this coming Thursday 30th August 2018, at 2:20pm:
Please come along to my presentation, add your comments, and read on to find out more about it. Be part of a conversation about how we can raise the value of cleaning and to price it according to the work involved.
Re-thinking cleaning standards
Over the last ten years, I must have reviewed hundreds of cleaning guidelines, international standards and service specifications. In this time, cleaning specifications have shifted from a simple list of duties such as: ‘clean toilets daily’ or ‘dust desks weekly’, to wordy, complex legal documents – some are over 100 pages long and require a law degree to understand!
As English is a second language for many cleaners, I wanted to develop a less complicated way to communicate cleaning duties. However, complexity isn’t the only issue. The whole approach to setting and measuring performance outcome standards is fraught with problems.
One night, at 2am to be precise, I awoke with a question: “why do cleaning standards always focus on the type of soil to be removed?” I jumped out of bed and scribbled down a diagram that became the Cleaning Activity Levels – affectionately known as ‘CAL’.
Before I explain how it works and why I believe it could radically alter the way we specify, measure and price cleaning standards in Australia – I need to explain what I believe is wrong with business as usual.
Current cleaning standards
In the drive for greater accountability, cleaning standards have become long lists of every possible type of soil that a surface must be free of (i.e. the desk shall be free of dust, debris, spillages and smears), while performance is rated by visually assessing how much of that dirt is left behind:
- 1 = lots of dirt (fail) and
- 5 = no dirt (excellent).
While there are no National environmental cleaning standards, the Cleaning Standards for Victorian Health Facilities, 2011, is being followed by several other States and New Zealand. We expect hospital cleaning standards to be detailed due to the high risks of infection, and this document doesn’t disappoint: it contains 6 pages of performance standards for cleaning each type of building element found in hospitals and covers five separate aspects that must be cross-referenced:
- Building areas / elements / surface materials
- Risk categories and priority areas
- Cleaning outcomes defined via soil types to remove
- Frequencies and timeframes
- Auditing and scoring methodologies
And yet, even in healthcare, cleaning standards are still defined by the types of soil that must be removed from them, and measured via visual assessment. This requires auditors to look at a surface and determine how much of each soil type is left on it – a process that is neither consistent, accurate nor objective. And it certainly cannot be called “evidence-based”.
If we think about it, this approach actually defines an unclean surface – not a clean surface. It can’t factor in how dirty the surface might have been before the cleaner started, or how often the surface will be touched, or the time, effort, skill, equipment and process required to clean it.
You may be asking – but why can’t cleaning professionals just do what is needed? Isn’t that their job? Well, money, of course.
Most occupant organisations out-source their cleaning services in Australia, even in healthcare and agedcare facilities, and we proudly boast some of the highest productivity rates in the world. (Meaning we clean really fast!) So let’s take a look at the two main ways contracted cleaning services are specified, and the limitations attributed to each.
Prescriptive specifications detail every cleaning duty and when to do it. Some, like this horrific example, contain so many daily tasks they are impossible to deliver, setting the cleaner up for failure and creating an adversarial relationship. Issues with this approach include:
- It leads to arguments over minor omissions and how long dead flies should remain on stairwell window ledges, or if coffee spills should be cleaned the night they occur, rather than wait till Friday because that’s when the spec says to spot clean carpets.
- It undermines the cleaning operator’s skill and autonomy to assess the daily priorities as they see them and encourages short-cutting.
- And it has very little relationship with the m2 productivity rates that were used to cost the tender.
The reality is, that even if the contract specifies “vacuum traffic areas daily and full areas weekly”, cleaning staff only vacuum the dirt they see because that is how their work is judged. Consultants like me love to adjust frequencies in the scope of works to give our clients efficiencies, but this saving is actually impossible to measure using the current pricing model.
Performance-based cleaning standards, on the other hand, are non-prescriptive and leave processes and even task frequencies to the expertise of the cleaning company. Performance measures often rely on subjective visual auditing carried out by the cleaning supervisor, and by the number of occupant complaints.
However for performance specifications to work, it is essential that the standard of ‘clean’ is clearly defined and communicated. Otherwise differing expectations about what is an acceptable level of clean between the cleaning company, the client and the staff and visitors, will lead to conflict.
The need for a new approach
Which brings me back to my 2am question:
Why do cleaning standards focus on the type of soil to be removed? Shouldn’t a just-cleaned desk look the same regardless of whether it once held a coffee spill, dust or a paper clip? Won’t the damp cloth that wiped the coffee rings away, also remove dust and paper clips? However, that same damp cloth may not remove the dose of E-coli or swine-flu that’s lurking on the desk. It may even leave some germs behind, after picking them up from one of the other 50 desks it just wiped, or from the edge of the waste cart it was hanging over… Or it may leave a cocktail of chemical residues…
But no one will know, because you can’t see germs, or chemicals. And in an era of superbugs, flu pandemics and chemical sensitivities, that is a problem.
Is rating dirt really the best way to define a role that is essential for the health of office workers, school children and aged-care residents, and can make or break the reputation of a hotel?
So first I wrote down three core principles:
- A surface cannot be accurately defined or measured as ‘partially clean’. It is either clean or unclean.
- The cleaning outcome is determined by the cleaning process: the method, the degree of effort and the frequency.
- Cleaning standards must be defined by how cleanliness is to be measured.
Then I mapped out a model that could be applied to any list of surface elements in any building, that I called the ‘Cleaning Activity Levels’ or the CALs.
The ‘Cleaning Activity Levels’ model
Adopting common cleaning terms, each level describes the degree of effort or level of activity that cleaners are to carry out on a listed surface. The ‘Cleaning Activity Levels’ model then works like this:
- The upper half of the CAL diagram illustrates how cleaning standards are set by describing the required cleaning process and outcome, and how the performance outcome of each activity level should be most accurately and viably,
- The lower half of the diagram shows how these standards can be documented in cleaning specifications and schedules.
Using the CALs model to set Cleaning Standards
The 5 Cleaning Activity Levels define the cleaning process as well as the outcome as shown in the table below:
Applying the CALs model to Cleaning Specifications
CAL can dramatically simplify the way Cleaning Specifications are written, because the same outcome per level of activity can be applied to all surfaces, soft or hard. For example, if the cleaner is required to spot clean a carpet to remove ‘isolated, recent, highly visible and easily removable marks, debris and spillages’, then it is their responsibility to identify the recent spots and to decide how best to remove them. This could be vacuuming up a piece of lint and/or damp blotting a coffee spill.
The CAL model can also be used to structure the organisations requirements per specific building area, surface type (‘elements’), materials, risk priorities, hygiene, safety and sustainability initiatives. As shown in the lower half of the diagram, CAL is applied to the Scope of Works (or work schedules) by setting the required cleaning levels, and how frequently they are carried out, for each area/building element.
We communicate this via a simple matrix that can be varied according to the level of risk, usage, and of course, your budget.
One of the key benefits of CAL is that it respects and improves the cleaner’s skill, which could help to drive a renewed interest in training qualifications. Because it was built to integrate with the CAMS building hierarchy, it will also be easy to apply efficiencies and to integrate with maintenance information systems (MIS). This in turn will enable future predictive maintenance and flexible scheduling models, in a way that demonstrates the value of the service.
The CAL model gives cleaning contractors the knowledge to improve efficiencies, and to leverage this expertise to increase customer satisfaction and profitability by:
- simplifying the way we communicate cleaning duties,
- providing a consistent and objective auditing framework,
- focusing the cleaner’s efforts and workflows more efficiently, and
- giving cleaners more autonomy and better cleaning skills.
About the Author
Bridget presented the CAL Model at CleanNZ Expo, April 2018, and it generated a lot of interest.
She will be presenting the CAL model next at:
- Sydney ISSA Cleaning and Hygiene Expo on 30th August, 2018
- QLD Strategic Operational Services Forum on 4th October, 2018
Let’s start a conversation
What are your thoughts? We are sharing the CALs model with you because we want to support the development of consistent cleaning standards, in Australia (and internationally!), that can measure the process of cleaning as well as the outcome. We welcome your comments and input in the box below.
This article was first published in Inclean Magazine May 2018.