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Cleaning: the frontline, essential service. Before, during and after the pandemic

It’s been 20 months since we went into lockdown on 23rd March 2020 and like many industries, cleaning services has been through some significant changes. Jamie Wright, the Managing Director of Incentive QAS, the contract cleaning division of the Incentive FM Group, has worked in the cleaning industry for over 21 years and has witnessed lots of changes in regulation and attitudes. “I honestly feel that the future of the cleaning industry has the potential to be the best it has ever been.  We need to capitalise on the improved perception, and the need for our services that we experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

There have been many positive changes in the industry throughout Wright’s career. Minimum wage and the Living Wage Foundation have safeguarded cleaners from exploitation. Health & Safety regulations have been introduced, as-well as training developments, equipment and software Innovations. However, for Wright the most significant improvement is the recognition of how important this service is. “When I joined the industry the majority of contracts were completed by part time operatives, working a 2- or 3-hour shift, usually outside of office hours. The introduction of daytime cleaning over the last 20 years has improved massively. We are employing more and more full-time members of staff that view cleaning as a full-time career. Things are definitely moving in the right direction.”

It appears that the Covid-19 pandemic dramatically improved perceptions of the cleaning industry, validating it as an essential service. In mid-Feb 2020 Wright and the Incentive QAS management team began discussing the potential threat of Coronavirus. “We started by discussing ‘if’, followed by ‘when’ then finally ‘what do we do now!’  It was a worrying time for everyone, we were trying to protect the health of our staff, but also their futures.” 

The cleaning industry is a labour reliant market – whether a cleaning contractor or supplier of consumables, equipment and materials or a washroom, waste or pest control service partner. “Thankfully the introduction of the Job Retention Scheme meant that our staff were safe, and allowed us to focus on the next challenges; the supply of PPE, hand sanitiser and keeping commercial and public spaces safe for essential workers. We were having daily commercial discussions with our clients and also trying to look after our staff who couldn’t work from home and had no option to be ‘furloughed’.”

Throughout the pandemic the cleaning industry stepped up across all of the essential front-line industry sectors, providing cleaners and the equipment to keep people safe. Most of the cleaning professionals that continued to work throughout the pandemic were working increased hours, often following new processes and procedures and learning new techniques. At a management level cleaning companies were becoming trusted advisors to their clients. Advising best practice, how to disinfect properly, how to adjust service delivery in line with government guidance, assisting in the procurement of pandemic stock and re-writing business continuity plans in an ever-evolving situation.

“When the early panic began and we were all getting to grips with what we were facing there were lots of interesting conversations around ‘fogging’ and other preventative cleaning techniques for offices and commercial sites. We needed to explain to clients that in order to be safe we needed to clean the area, before disinfecting it – we had to demonstrate our expertise and explain the correct processes in order for our services to be most effective.”

According to Wright and his counterparts cleaning has always been essential in the day to day operating of the country. However, it appears that the pandemic that enforced this message. 

“That momentum needs to remain. We need to ensure that the cleaning industry maintains its place at the top table as an essential service. The operatives that work in our industry deserve respect and recognition for their work. We need a collective approach across all areas of the cleaning industry, to promote the message that cleaning is a frontline service. Without the cleaning industry the world would be a very different place right now.” 

The British Cleaning Council continue to lobby government on behalf of the industry to improve recognition and The Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners have launched their Chartered Practitioners Award to promote the cleaning industry as a recognised profession. Numerous associations and committees such as the CSSA, CHSA, ISSA, BICSc are working tirelessly to promote the industry. 

“We need to congratulate, reward and thank the many cleaning professionals we encounter on a day-to-day basis. Make them feel valued as often as possible – they deserve it!” concludes Wright.


About Sarah OBeirne

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