Building Services Jobs Up
Industry improves while overall employment remains same

Despite headlines that report low employment levels across most industries, private-sector building services jobs are on the rise, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor.

The bureau defines building services jobs as housekeeping supervisors, cleaning workers, pest-control workers and maintenance jobs.

In the industry’s fifth consecutive monthly gain, the number of private sector housekeeping and maintenance jobs rose by 7,000 from June 2002 to July 2002.

Although the hospitality industry has reported mass layoffs since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of last year, the BLS July 2002 employment situation summary reports a 16,000-job increase in that sector, since last July.

The overall U.S. unemployment rate — 5.9 percent — and total nonfarm employment level — 130.8 million — did not change in July. Most other industries have experienced job loss or little changes since February 2002.

Bizarre Benefits Twist Taps Janitorial Jobs

Retiring teachers in Texas are cleaning house to the tune of more than $450 million in unintended benefits from the Federal Social Security system.

A little-known loophole allows teachers to spend a single day — their last working day — as a janitor, pay as little as $3 in Social Security taxes for that work, and collect an average of $93,000 or more in spousal retirement benefits over the rest of their lives.

Under federal law, retirees with state or local government pensions cannot receive full spousal Social Security benefits, even if they would otherwise qualify. A provision of this so-called Government Pension Offset, however, allows those additional benefits to be collected if a retiree’s final working day is spent in a job covered by Social Security, even if only transferred there for one day.

Schools that have caught on to the practice are benefitting, as well. Some are charging as much as $500 in “employment application fees.”

The Texas Retired Teachers Association, which feels the loophole is unfair and inappropriate, plans to repeal the rule this year.

New Invention Encourages Potty talk

One man who is sick of the spread of public restroom-generated germs has invented a device to remind restroom visitors to wash their hands.

Gus Vlahos, a Chicago restaurant manager who cannot stand it when people don’t wash their hands, came up with a patented small electrical unit that is about the size of a smoke detector. It uses a computer chip that reacts to the frequency of a flushing toilet and plays a recording.

“Please wash your hands,” it says. “Stay healthy, wash your hands.”

Any message could be recorded on the device. In hospitals, the message can remind staff that failure to wash hands puts patients at risk of acquiring nosocomial infections.

A recent Chicago Tribune article reported that 75,000 people die in hospitals each year, the victims of nosocomial infections.

While this restroom reminder is the first invention of its kind, other gadgets have been introduced in the past to encourage employees to wash their hands after using the restroom.

In the late ’90s, one company offered a monitoring system linked to employee badges that would set off an alarm if they left the restroom without washing their hands.

Operations Advice Only a Phone Call Away

Sharing valuable management lessons with peers and experts nationwide is as easy as picking up the phone.

The Teleconference Network of Texas (TNT) Facilities Management audio series links facilities management professionals in health care and educational organizations via phone once a month to discuss anything from developing an employee sick-leave program to selecting the right paper dispensers.

The series, which started in 2001, began as a tool to provide continuing education for health care providers, focusing on cleaning in hospitals. The series now includes discussions for colleges and universities, as well.

Managers who sign up for the monthly teleconference acquire continuing education credits. Those who register for the conference — held on the second Wednesday of the month from 10-11 a.m, Central time — call in on speaker phones. They listen to the featured speaker, then telephone lines open up for questions and comments. TNT sends handouts to participants one to two weeks prior to the scheduled conference.

TNT is looking for speakers and topic ideas. For more information, call (800) 982-8868 or use the TNT link above.

Avoiding Asbestos Build-up with Better Cleaning

A Connecticut school district is starting out this school year with a new cleaning strategy after environmental consultants discovered high levels of asbestos in its four facilities in May. Brookfield (Conn.) School District ended classes early last school year to test and clean its buildings after health problems were reported.

Now it is spending more than $150,000 on a series of efforts, including hiring three new custodians and purchasing special filter vacuums, to prevent any further asbestos dust build-up.

Environmental consultants say the origin of the contamination varied from school to school, with sources such as heating pads in chemistry labs, protective gloves in a metal shop, pipe insulation and floor tiles. But in all cases more thorough soil removal techniques could have reduced or even eliminated the exposure problems building occupants faced.

To prevent a problem in the future, the district purchased HEPA vacuums for each full-or part-time night custodian to use nightly on tile and carpets. In the past, carpets were not completely vacuumed at night and floor tiles were cleaned with a push mop.

In addition, carpets will be cleaned every six months using an industrial-strength carpet-cleaning process. For extra cleaning, dry mops with special chemicals will be used in cafeterias, corridors and in the gymnasiums.

Horizontal surfaces in classrooms, corridors, cafeterias, gyms, libraries, locker rooms, bathrooms and offices will be dusted each month using HEPA vacuums and microfiber cloth wipes.

Entrances to buildings will have floor mats to collect soil or moisture from being tracked in. All throw rugs and mats will be thrown away every year to avoid soil build-up.

Radiator filters will be changed at least four times annually and duct work will be cleaned every three years.