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Workloading to lower cleaning costs

How facility managers can assess whether they're spending too much on sanitation
Thursday, January 8, 2015
By Leah Waldrop

Most school administrators must grapple with the question of whether they’re paying too much for cleaning — usually when budget time comes around. And since the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences estimates that cleaning typically represents about 35 per cent of a facility’s total maintenance and operations budget, with the bulk of it related to labour, it’s not a question school administrators want to take lightly.

It is fairly easy, for instance, to estimate how much time cleaning takes and what it is expected to cost if the custodial workers are only involved with the cleaning and maintenance of a few classrooms. But consider a facility with three floors of classrooms, large restrooms with many fixtures on each floor, study and private office areas, as well as cafeterias, and the equation becomes more complicated.

So to answer the question of whether school administrators are paying too much for cleaning, the answer for most is that they simply don’t know.

Some janitorial distributers now offer free web-based dashboard systems or software programs for purchase to help administrators better understand how long it should take to clean their facilities and how much it should cost. These processes can also provide insight into how to make cleaning more effective through streamlining, which can help reduce cleaning costs over the long term.

The process is called workloading. And while it is not necessarily new, in recent years, more administrators of large facilities such as schools and universities, as well as cleaning contractors and in-house cleaning professionals, have turned to workloading to more scientifically determine what is needed to maintain their facilities.

Defining workloading

Workloading is defined as a “technique that helps both in-house cleaning professionals and cleaning contractors more precisely determine the labour hours and related costs involved in cleaning a facility.”

The process helps answer such questions as:

  • How long does it take to complete a task or clean an area?
  • How will changing the frequency of a particular task affect cost?
  • How are costs impacted if square footage is added or subtracted?
  • How will the overall budget be affected if custodial worker wages change?
  • How can cleaning procedures be made more efficient, and how will this impact costs?

Usually discussion of making cleaning more “scientific” refers to how effective a cleaning chemical or machine is at removing soils and contaminants from a surface and leaving the surface clean, sanitized, or disinfected, if a disinfectant has been applied. While effectiveness should always be a goal of cleaning, the emphasis with workloading is the process of cleaning, described in greater detail below.

Putting the process to work

Restrooms in an educational facility are a challenge for a variety of reasons. For example, there is much more emphasis today on conserving water and using it more efficiently. Restrooms are also heavily used — and sometimes abused — by students, elevating their upkeep and maintenance needs.

But when it comes to costs, the big challenge with restrooms is that they can require a considerable amount of time daily to clean and maintain. If this amount of time can be reduced, custodial workers can be freed up to perform other cleaning tasks and it may even result in fewer custodial workers needed, both of which can generate cost savings.

The workloading process bases the total amount of time it takes to clean restrooms on the number of fixtures, at three minutes per fixture. This is the average amount of time it takes to clean fixtures and floors, including travel time between restrooms, emptying trash and refilling dispensers, as determined by various testing procedures, according to ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association. This average time also assumes the cleaning workers have a custodial cart at hand, filled with all the appropriate supplies to complete their tasks.

An example: Say a building has several restrooms totaling 100 restroom fixtures including toilets, urinals and sinks. The total amount of time designated to clean these restrooms is eight hours every night — 2,080 hours per year — and the custodial workers performing these tasks are paid accordingly. However, when the restrooms are workloaded, it is determined that the total amount of time should be closer to five hours per night, or 1,300 hours per year.

Why the 700-hour discrepancy? Before jumping to conclusions, school administrators should conduct their own time study. There may be specific reasons why the restrooms are taking longer to clean, and if so, administrators must determine why their estimated time varies from industry standards. However, what very often happens is that school administrators discover that the workloading times are reasonably accurate, meaning they have allotted too much time and money to cleaning the restrooms.

As in this scenario, because excessive hours and funds have been allocated to cleaning restrooms, when school administrators wonder if they are paying too much for cleaning, the answer provided by workloading appears to be yes.

Leah Waldrop is the marketing manager for AFFLINK’s eLev8® process.