Laboratory freezer samples

As many frontline cleaning managers know, prepping one’s team on the important details of a facility prior can be pivotal to ensuring a quality job is done — and perhaps even more importantly, it can prevent catastrophic incidents. For one laboratory in Troy, New York, back in September 2020, this lesson was an incredibly costly one. 

As reported by Fox News, a lawsuit was filed following an incident in which a custodian shut off a storage freezer at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) because of an incessant beeping sound. This wasn’t any ordinary freezer, however, as it was being used to preserve cell cultures in a multi-decade study on photosynthesis. As part of the experiment, the cultures needed to be maintained as -112 degrees Fahrenheit, but the temperature rose to -25.6 degrees Fairhenheit following the freezer being turned off. As a result, nearly all of the samples were either destroyed or severely compromised. 

Per the report, the custodian who shut off the freezer worked for Daigle Cleaning Systems, a contractor tasked with the facility. While the freezer displayed a sign explaining that the freezer was under repair — along with instructions on how to temporarily mute the alarm — the employee failed to read the instructions which also mentioned that cleaning wasn’t necessary in that area. The damages were costly both for time loss and money loss — which are projected at about 25 years and $1 million respectively. 

The legal team representing RPI condemned the negligence that lead to the incident. The cleaner who shut off the freezer claimed that he thought he was turning on electrical breakers to fix what were “annoying alarms,” but in reality, he had inadvertently shut off the breakers. Safety staff investigating the incident deed indeed determine the cleaner erred by not carefully reading the instructions on the sign. 

The importance of training is an evergreen topic in the commercial cleaning industry, and one with some of the biggest pitfalls if not properly conducted. To read about overlooked strategies of successful custodial training programs, click here