vacuum cleaner cartoon

As pandemic restrictions ease and more people head back to the workplace, many are doing so with some degree of reluctance. This is due in part to an unwillingness to give up the relative freedom of working at home, but also, the pervasive worry about COVID-19 safety as it pertains to the work environment. As such, building service contractors (BSCs) are increasingly being asked to implement daytime cleaning programs in order to put their efforts into maintaining a clean, safe environment front and center. 

In some respects, this is theater — albeit a “play” that must transcend mere performance — meant to assuage the concerns felt by returning building occupants. And this, among other issues associated with daytime cleaning programs, presents a challenge that must be carefully managed. 

“The staff will need to recognize they are ‘on stage,’ and more people are watching them, seeing what they do, how they do it,” says Mike Sawchuk, consultant and coach to the cleaning industry at St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada-based Sawchuk Consulting. "This will shape occupant perception, which is more important to them than reading or being told that the cleaning crew is doing a great job.” 

Heightened scrutiny aside, cleaning in occupied spaces also risks exposing people to noise, dust, chemicals and other associated hazards. It can generate complaints from facility occupants about disruptions, says David Trinks, CEO of Trinks Consulting Group LLC., Milford, Massachusetts. 

“Daytime cleaning is a multifaceted process encompassing air quality, surface cleaning, and so on,” he explains. “What you want to do is lower the overall bio-burden, dust and bacteria, so it must be undertaken with overall air quality in mind. When you do this, it reduces the overall labor required.”

According to Trinks, most daytime cleaning programs are currently geared toward high-touch points. But as these programs increase in frequency, vacuuming will likely play a more prominent role.  

Consequently, BSCs are having to evaluate their vacuum equipment choices and the potential impact on the workspace and people, says Scott Uselman, vice president of OVOL — High Point, a Houston-based jan/san distributor. 

As Uselman explains, BSCs loathe the prospect of disturbing the occupants that are working in the building. Because vacuums are an important component of any cleaning program, they are of particular concern due to their noisiness.  

What are the basic must-haves when it comes to vacuums in daytime cleaning operations? Uselman says low decibel levels are essential, since the lower these are, the quieter the machine. For example, the average noise level of a vacuum is between 60 and 85 decibels (dB), compared to a normal conversation at 60 dB. Most backpack vacuums operate at 68 dB, making them an ideal option for day cleaning programs.  

When considering decibels, it’s also important to be aware of regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), which specifies decibels and duration of exposure. The regulation outlines that BSCs must implement a hearing conservation program when noise exposure is at or above 85 dB averaged over eight consecutive working hours. This shouldn’t be an issue, since frontline staff will have to stop roughly every two hours to change filters, and most vacuums operate under the 85 dB threshold, but it is a rule BSCs should have on their radar.  

Because vacuums have the potential to stir up dust, filtration is also important. Consequently, choosing equipment that has high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration will keep the air cleaner and prevent fine-particle dust from settling on surfaces.  

Finally, given that “time is money” — especially when it comes to contract cleaners — speed is of the essence. This is why Uselman advises opting for battery-powered vacuums, which will help staff move through the job more quickly (no cord management), and reduce the likelihood of building occupants tripping over a cord in a work area. 

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Indoor Air Quality Factors to Consider When Choosing Vacuums