They say necessity is the mother of invention. That was certainly true at Spring Harbor Hospital in South Portland, Maine. With a lease about to end and a move imminent, the psychiatric facility’s housekeeping department needed to cull down its chemical stockpiles to bare minimums. The less to move, the better.

The organization’s relocation initiated a chemical consolidation program that has created amazing results for its environmental services department.

“We had some products that we couldn’t use up in 10 years ...” says Bruce Blanchard, director of plant operations. “... so we got rid of them. We even had some unopened products that we were able to return.”

The hospital has gone from stocking more than 50 chemicals, including items brought in from janitors’ homes, down to just nine strategically selected products, all from one vendor.

These new environmentally preferable products pose less of a safety risk to employees and patients.

Other benefits of stocking fewer chemicals include a 50 percent reduction in storage space, fewer material safety data sheets (MSDS) and labels to manage, and better product performance.

“You know your product, you go to it, you use it,” Blanchard says. “You don’t have to worry about which product to choose.”

This change led to big savings. The initiative will save the hospital between $8,000 and $10,000 annually, Blanchard says.

Chemical inventory considerations
The first and most important step in chemical consolidation: a detailed inventory.

Identify every chemical in the building, referring to your MSDS file. Visit every storage area to make sure there are no undocumented chemicals in use.

Ask the following questions for each chemical: What is its intended use? How much do we use each month? Does it perform the same function as another chemical in the inventory? Does it perform well?

“We had products floating all over the building,” Blanchard says. “We looked at what we had and tried to determine which products we truly need. We got rid of duplicated products and kept only those that work best.”

The inventory process is also a good time to re-evaluate product suppliers — especially if you have multiple vendors or are unhappy with your current supplier.

Identify a group of suppliers during an initial testing phase. Contact as many as a dozen vendors.

“You definitely want a vendor that’s available in town that can support you,” says Richard Michalek, custodial director at Mesa (Ariz.) Public School District. “We have a clause in our contract that our vendor will repair or replace any vending unit that goes down within one day.”

Mesa Public School District
Mesa Public School District spent nearly a year testing chemicals and dispensers before narrowing 11 vendors down to just one. The cleaning staff used each vendor’s chemicals exclusively for two weeks in at least one site.

Michalek created a ratings system for the chemicals, dispensers and vendors. He looked at everything from fragrance and ease of use of the products to reliability of dispensers, and training and follow-up from the vendor.

“I basically have an entire bible on this because this program grew and grew,” Michalek says. “When you are making a five-year commitment, you want to be careful. This is the bulk of our cleaning products, so it is critical we get it right and we feel we did.”

Michalek decided to invest in a chemical dispensing system to help reduce waste and streamline inventory management.

Waste was a big problem at the school district, Michalek says. The school’s disinfectant was supposed to be diluted 1:64, but he found janitors diluting it at 1:10 or 1:4.

“With turnover in our department, and in our industry in general, it is hard to get people trained on how to mix properly. Most mix too heavy and there are cost and quality problems,” Michalek says.

“As people are becoming familiar with the chemicals, they are not using as much. We haven’t quantified the new program yet as far as cost savings but we do anticipate savings on quantities.”

The winning vendor had the best product, provided the dispensing systems at no cost, and offered training to the cleaning staff on using the new chemicals and dispensers.

University of Central Florida, Orlando
The University of Central Florida, Orlando, recently switched to a chemical dispensing system to better manage its inventory and save money. Last year, the school’s housekeeping department added three more buildings to its cleaning roster, even though its budget was cut.

Brian H. Wormwood, assistant director of physical plant, says his department made it through the budget crunch by cutting down on chemical costs. Provided by the vendor at no cost, the new dispensing systems allow the staff to reuse plastic bottles and reduce wasteful measurement mishaps.

“What comes out is the correct amount,” says Wormwood. “It eliminates the ‘glug’ method — three glugs is enough.”

Changing inventory methods take time
The Mesa Public School District has 100 sites. Michalek began implementing the new dispensing system in three phases. The first phase was initiated in April. The entire project may take up to a year to complete.

Michalek stresses the importance of getting employee buy-in early for the new cleaning-product management system. Let workers know what is coming, train them on any changes, and work with the purchasing department to ensure there is always enough product on hand during all phases of implementation.

“Have in-house people, managers and supervisors, be present at all of the installations and for the training,” says Michalek. “Show support, be there to answer questions, and be there to learn the systems.”

Screening chemicals
Before any chemical purchase, first ask some questions. Is there a real need for the chemical? What is a justifiable quantity? Is there excess already available that could be used? What is the shelf life of the product? Is there storage space for the supply?

“When we bring in new products we look at our MSDS sheets and ask: ‘Do we need it?’” Blanchard says. “For example, we have new floors in this building that will need special cleaners and we’ll bring in a few new products for that. But we won’t duplicate what we already have.”

As painstaking and time-consuming that a chemical consolidation project can be, those that have been through the process testify to its benefits.

“Do it if at all possible because it will save you time and money and it is much safer and easier to manage,” Michalek says. “The benefits are well worth any problems.”

“It’s just a wise financial move,” Wormwood says. “It’s been a really tight budget year. That’s not unusual in this industry. A tight budget makes everyone examine the dollars they spend.”

Becky Mollenkamp is a free-lance writer based in Des Moines, Iowa.