Maintaining buildings is important for all sorts or reasons, not least slip safety. By that we’re talking about proactive maintenance of the surface, and the environment to remove contamination. For example, a floor surface will change over time for various reasons, particularly wear, change of use and its cleaning regime.
Let’s assume that you have chosen the correct floor. And let’s assume that it’s been installed properly. And let’s assume that it’s being maintained from a cleaning perspective. Well, you will still see changes to that floor over time. Now this could be months years, decades, centuries, the floor surfaces will wear, and they will change. You’ve only got to visit a church to see this likely to find that beautiful old stone floor weathered by years and years of foot traffic and worn away. Therefore, having become smoother and either etc so floors do change over time. Where is one fact one reason that this could happen.
Wear can also be produced through an incorrect cleaning regime. Use of abrasive or diamond cleaning pads on a surface will fundamentally affect the top of that surface and this can have a dramatic effect on its slip resistance.
Another is change of use. So, we might have a high street shop that currently sells clothes but the lease expires and a butcher’s takes over. The floor that would be perfectly suitable for a foreseeable clean and dry environment now would be unsuitable for a foreseeably wet and contaminated environment. Within a shopping centre, you might relocate a food court into an area with a floor surface that if not particularly slip-resistant because previously it was simply a general thoroughfare mall environment where the risk of contamination on the floor was much lower. If you are going to repurpose your building like this, consider the floor surface, its use and the likely contaminants.
Floors’ characteristics can change over time due to cleaning regimes. I’ve seen countless examples, in our work with tile suppliers for example, where the floor surfaces chosen and correctly specified with the right advice are installed. But within weeks or even days, the floor company gets a call saying, “your tiles are rubbish, we can’t clean them” or “your tiles are slippery”. In many cases this is solely down to the way that the floor surface has been cleaned, in other words badly maintained.
If you think about a floor in very simple terms, for it to have a good level of slip resistance it is likely to be fairly textured. But yet, the more textured or profile the surface, the easier that dirt gets trapped within the pores of the surface. And therefore, a layer of contamination can build-up. And importantly, this doesn’t necessarily have to be visible contamination so it could be contamination that is his present, but we can’t see it. The floor may look clean to the naked eye but actually it’s got a layer of contamination.
That contamination as we talked about acts as a barrier between the heel and the floor. So you could have the best specified slip resistant floor surface for the environment you’re operating, but if it was covered in a layer of contamination, whether visible or not, the heel of your foot would touch the contaminant, not the floor, and therefore a slip could occur.
In many cases therefore, slips occur on floors which people expect to be slip resistant. As we’ve said, people are subconsciously taking in their surroundings as they walk, so a surface that looks like it should be slip-resistant but is not due either to its design or its maintenance, can pose more or a risk than one which looks slippery because people are likely to take less care.
Some of the CHIMES, as you’ve already seen are less controllable than others. However, I cannot think of a single floor in a commercial area that doesn’t have some sort of cleaning process undertaken on it. The vast majority of floors, I believe, are claimed on a daily basis, if not more frequently than daily. It follows therefore that cleaning is perhaps your best control measure on a day-to-day basis.
The flip side of that is that cleaning itself can introduce risk. So cleaning is something that needs to be thought through very diligently and managed very carefully to ensure that it’s effective for you. Most cleaning is done using a wet process. By introducing some moisture onto the floor we are inherently increasing the risk of a slip occurring. As we have said before, a clean dry floor is safe; a wet and contaminated floor might be unsafe. So thinking about how you logistically deliver cleaning is one way of potentially de risking things. If you could for example, undertake all of your cleaning overnight out of hours in an office building, when nobody would be there other than perhaps the cleaning staff themselves plus security guards and the old workaholic, that is likely to be much better from a risk profiling perspective than if you were attempting to clean the office during the day, when more people would be around.
In terms of the physical system of cleaning we see a lot of bad examples of this. Almost universally cleaning is not done effectively from the perspective of slip resistance. That’s not to say we’re criticising cleaning companies or cleaners themselves, because my own personal experience having worked with, trained and helped cleaning staff for the best part of a decade is that the vast majority of them want to do a good job. Yet, what we find is that there’s a very superficial level of advice or a superficial level of understanding, which leads to suboptimal results when it comes to safety.
Most cleaning contracts that I’ve seen are being delivered in line with the contractual terms. But the contractual terms don’t tend to have anything to do with safety of floors, they just talk about aesthetics and aesthetics are very subjective. I might look at a floor and think it’s a three out of 10, you might look at the same floor and give it a seven out of 10, someone else could look at that floor and think it’s a nine out of 10. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Whereas the slip safety floors, is a scientific measurement, just as the level of contamination.
How would we clean for slip safety rather than aesthetics? The first thing is you need to understand that you can achieve different levels of slip safety through different cleaning methods. If I took you to a shopping centre with a with a ceramic tiled floor and I took six or seven different areas with the same floor tile, I could clean them in six or seven different ways and achieve broadly the same level of aesthetic results, but very different results when it comes to slip safety.
Now we talk at a high level of a clean floor being a safe floor. But to be correct, that really means clean. Not just aesthetically clean, but clean and free of contaminants.
I would advise people to scientifically quantify how effective their cleaning regime is by using the pendulum test. Test the floor as it is. Then clean it using a certain method and test it again. That will give you an indication as to the effectiveness of that cleaning method. If you don’t get the result you are seeking, try a different method and retest. You can use trial and error to figure out an effective way of maintaining that floor.
If we had a kitchen floor which had a wet PTV of 22 for example, we can clean it and retest. Should the wet PTV not improve, that tell us something: that this cleaning method will not improve the floor but also that it may not necessarily make the floor worse. If we test and see a reduction in wet PTV then we should stop that method straight away. If we find something that increases the wet PTV, perhaps that is the best method to use.
So what are the variables when it comes to cleaning regime, and specifically when it comes to cleaning for slip safety? Cleaning is a science and the way to clean a particular environment of a particular size with particular contamination and a particular floor needs to be thought through quite carefully. But the way that we maintain that environment could be radically different to the way we maintain a different environment with different contamination, of a different size, etc.
The key components to a cleaning regime are as follows:
- By this we mean the time allowed to do the task. So if we were asked to clean the London Bridge train Station concourse, which happens to be the closest mainline station to where I live (for context, this is a floor, probably, 40 or 50,000 square metres or even larger) and we were told that we had one person and two hours a day to do it, what level of cleaning could we achieve on that floor? How does that compare to if we were told we had four people for 10 hours a day to clean it? So the physical time allowed to perform the cleaning task has a massive impact. Often this is where people can go wrong because we are under pressure when it comes to costs and budgets and cleaning is often seen as ”just cleaning”. It can be that we are simply not investing enough time to do the job properly. The amounts of time needed to clean 100 square metres will also vary by the environment and the type of floor and the type of contamination. So 100 square metres of a smooth marble in a hotel lobby versus 100 square metres of a textured style and an industrial kitchen are going to take a vastly different amount of time to clean effectively. When it comes to time we tend to see things like time and motion and that’s all about trying to do things and quickly, but often we forget the, the part that it needs to be done effectively. So what’s the time we need to do the job properly in this area?
- So let’s go back to the London Bridge example, if we were told that we had our four people for 10 hours a day but that we could only clean twice a year, then that’s going to have a certain impact on the cleanliness. Whereas if we had our four people for 10 hours a day every single day, the outcome would be radically different. So how frequently a floor is cleaned is one of the factors to consider. Taking that a layer deeper, we have cleaning from the perspective of maintenance day-to-day, versus deep cleaning. So we might have a daily cleaning regime, which has as a certain level of effectiveness, but that could be supplemented by deep cleaning in which case how frequently is that deep cleaning done?
- This further breaks down into a few sections:
- The equipment that’s used, if any. This could range from a mop and bucket, to a deck scrubber to a scrubber drier, to a jet wash, to a microfiber flat mop and everything in between.
- Whether we’re using any mechanical assistance or whether we’re cleaning manually will have an effect, and that ties into the equipment as well. So, flat mopping a floor with a chemical versus cleaning that same floor with the same chemical with a scrubber drier may well achieve different results when it comes to slip safety, albeit though they may not achieve a noticeably different results when it comes to aesthetics.
- This is perhaps the biggest mistake I see. If we think about our dishes at home, if we don’t have a dishwasher and we have some stubborn dishes that need to be washed: what do you do? You stick them in the sink with some washing up liquid to let them soak. Soaking your dishes into a chemical isn’t cleaning the dishes. The cleaning parts of the process is actually when you rinse the contaminants and the chemical off of the dishes. And then you dry it. That’s the cleaning bit. But that detail, often gets forgotten when it comes to cleaning the floors of commercial buildings. If we are mopping a floor we’re not removing that contamination, we’re more likely to be just pushing it around. And therefore, is that really cleaning versus if we were mopping the chemical onto the floor, giving it time to work and then using a wet vacuum to extract it from the surface? Whether it is through rinsing or extraction, we’ve got to physically get the contamination off the floor.
One of the big challenges of cleaning shopping centres or train stations, airports big open areas of huge scales is that we use scrubber driers to do that. But if those scrubber dryer tanks have any chemical in them, even if it’s only a tiny amount, you are whizzing over these floors every day and the squeegee on the back of the machine is not removing every single last drop of that liquid on the floor. We are leaving behind some residue both chemical plus water plus the contamination on the floor.
- Agitation, this ties into equipment and manual vs. vs machine as well. So, in lots of environments, in order to effectively remove contamination, you need to physically dislodge it from the surface with some kind of agitation. I’ve done a lot of work and leisure centres over the years, and you’ll often find textured floor surfaces. The traditional way of cleaning in leisure was to get blue stiff-brushed deck scrubbers and scrub the floor. Now, what we’re seeing with these is that because they’re so stiff they’re cleaning the tops of the profiles of the floor, but they’re not actually able to get down into the depths of the floor into the pores of the floors to dislodge the dirt. The top sections of the floor are clean but the pores are dirty and actually it’s here that the dirt fills up which smooths the surfaces and makes them become slippery. So some agitation can be crucial, but there is detail in this too: there can be a different between what implement you use to undertake the agitation (e.g. a stiff brush vs a soft brush). With textured, profiled surfaces it is often better to use a softer brush, which will actually get into the grooves of the surface. Something else that’s also effective is what’s called a melamine pad, which is almost like a sponge and therefore with pressure can get very deep into the surface.
- So, if we are using a soft red pads to clean a floor with an effective detergent, but we lightly rub that pad over the floor for 60 seconds, versus putting down some serious pressure on that pad across the floor for 60 seconds, we are going to see a very different outcome in terms of both aesthetic and safety
Now looking more holistically at cleaning. We need to think about the training and support to the operatives as well. I’ve not met a bad cleaner over the years, but I have met cleaners that haven’t been given the right tools to do the job as we’ve discussed, but also the right amount of support to really do the job as well as they would like to. So training and distilling knowledge down to the people actually doing the job is really critical. What you’ll find is even people that have been cleaners for 30 years and therefore theoretically should be subject matter experts won’t have thought through any of this stuff in anywhere near as much detail as they might have done, and they won’t understand how what they’re doing can have an effect on the safety of floors. That’s not their fault, that’s just the fact that they’ve not been educated about them.
Equally support and monitoring is really critical because you know they need that ongoing support around. Following the processes, but also monitoring to make sure that it is working and the way using the most effective method. And we’re getting the sustainable results over time.