Written by Heidi Wilcox

It is that time of the year again to talk about what happened over the past 12 months and how we plan to improve in the year to come.

We have made it through 2019, but unfortunately, we had some tragedies that are bound to leave some scars. For example, a manager at Buffalo Wild Wings here in Massachusetts lost his life when an acid descaling product that was already dried on a floor had rewet and activated by a chlorine bleach product. The chemical reaction that ensued caused the hospitalization for more than 10 people and resulted in one death.

Ryan was the 32-year-old manager on duty and was a newlywed with an infant son. His tragic death could have been avoided. Setbacks like this highlight the need for more comprehensive chemical policies, as well as training and more education for buying and using chemicals.

Although the last 12 months included some trying times, I believe 2019 also showed some promise.

As many of you know, technology is my passion and I felt the idea of onsite generation, electrostatic and other technologies in the commercial cleaning industry gained some momentum — and that is all I can ask. I do believe that if people would embrace technology in our professional lives like we embrace it in our personal lives, our jobs could be easier.

On The Road

There is no easier way to learn about new technologies than participating in education, networking with industry representatives and attending industry events. Fortunately, there were some new opportunities that opened up in 2019 to satisfy this need. Personally, I attended the following:

Clean Buildings Expo hosted its inaugural event in Baltimore in March. Overall, I thought this was a GREAT two-day event for cleaning industry end users, and it was free to all attendees. As a presenter, I thought it was spectacular that the 25 education sessions were highlighted and scheduled in a way that they would not fight with trade show hours. With more than 100 attendees in each room, all were able to focus on education without worrying about missing anything on the show floor. People were engaged, the atmosphere was light and good hearted, and it was a breath of fresh air. If you didn’t go last year, I advise you to attend this free event in Baltimore come March, as it will only get better from here.

In 2019, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, welcomed custodial and maintenance managers from K-12 schools to a joint event hosted by the National School Plant Managers Association (NSPMA) and the Southern School Plant Management Association (SSPMA). This was a great three-day event full of education, trade show and networking opportunities that rival other shows. Time was set aside for activities such as cornhole, casino night, dancing and karaoke, while making new and important friends. In 2020, the event will take place in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and I believe it is another event worth consideration, especially if you are in a school setting.

The Cleaning Summit — Midwest was a first-time regional event highlighting high-level education and networking that was facilitated by Trade Press Media Group, the parent company of this website. In lieu of the cost and time commitment necessary to attending larger trade shows, regional events like this are now available to provide a budget- and time-friendly opportunity for strong education and networking. The one-day event held in Milwaukee in 2019 had a great turnout and I’m told to watch for two new locations to be added to the calendar for 2020. I encourage you to sign up for updates so you can see if one is coming to a state or city near you.

A Look Ahead

Overall, I am encouraged about 2020 and all it has to offer. Our industry is changing, getting more technical and people seem to be stepping up to say the status quo isn’t working for chemicals, products and corporate attitudes. People are saying we can do more and I agree with them.

We need more data for the industry to promote new technology. We need more corporate stewardship regarding chemical use, instead of just public relations and marketing. We need to take responsibility. Trade associations need to do more. They need to do more supply chain work, sponsor more research and think outside the box — the way we’ve been doing things for the last 20 years doesn’t seem to be working.

Ours is an old industry in need of new breath, excitement, leadership and ideas. I’m excited to see that many of those who have made this industry our life's work are still here fighting for what is right and nothing is better than that. Watch out 2020, here we come.

Heidi Wilcox is an applied microbiologist, presenter, educator and trainer in the cleaning industry. She is also the president and founder of Wilcox EVS, a consultancy specializing in “cleaning and disinfecting for health.” Working in the worlds of science, engineering and commercial cleaning, Heidi examines challenges within facilities and provides solutions to streamline processes and protocols. She advocates for reduced use of synthetic chemicals, which will also decrease hazards and exposures to staff and building occupants. Heidi has been integral in working with facilities to set up proactive infection/mitigation protocols for infection control.