Culture of Cleanliness

Window cleaner using a squeegee to wash a window with clear blue sky

The new year brings new focus to a familiar theme. “Cleanliness, which we’re referring to as the ‘Culture of Cleanliness,’ is the first step of a three-step process starting this year,” said Health & Safety Analyst Anthony Tagliaferro.

The process begins by reemphasizing the importance of cleanliness; it is part of the company culture, and it impacts the company’s reputation as well as health and safety. The second and third steps in the process are deep cleaning and 5S, respectively.

The initial emphasis is on basic cleanliness standards and expectations. “We haven’t relaxed our standards but there’s room for improvement. That starts with ensuring everyone understands cleanliness standards and expectations,” Tagliaferro said. “Everybody may have different explanations of cleanliness. Our goal is to make sure the definition is the same across our teams.”

Director of Safety & Training Matt Dawson described the Culture of Cleanliness as a sustained “campaign” for work areas, buildings, grounds, vehicles, equipment, etc. “Generally speaking, start small and maintain progress,” he said. “Make cleaning a daily habit and topic.” Dawson advises meeting in different areas, near vehicles and around equipment so cleanliness can be seen and highlighted.

“Implement a ‘clean as you go’ policy, leaving areas and things better than when they were entered or used,” Dawson said.

Why focus on cleaning? Dawson said there are several reasons:

  • Health and safety—Clean areas and things improves health and safety, prevent illness. Reducing slip-trip-fall hazards, removing fire hazards and general cleaning increases the attention paid to areas, buildings, equipment and vehicles.
  • Morale—Most people sincerely appreciate a work environment that’s as clean as possible and will tend to follow the lead of others who work to keep things clean, boosting morale. 
  • Professionalism—Unreasonably dirty areas, things, vehicles and people are consistently viewed as less professional. This can hurt reputations, which can impact business and even treatment of employees.
  • Related Benefits—Cleaning and cleanliness tend to lead to better organization and productivity.

Dawson also suggests dividing work areas into zones, assigning a responsible lead by zone, creating a chore list for all, determining frequency and standards and determining guidelines. Organize materials and supplies on hand in the zones, schedule time to achieve or maintain standards, limit access where possible to keep traffic and trash to a minimum, incorporate inspections and encourage incentives.

Similarly, for vehicles and equipment assign a responsible lead for each vehicle and all equipment, determine frequency and standards and organize materials and supplies on hand in the zones. Dawson again suggests scheduling times to achieve or maintain standards, cover or protect equipment where feasible, segregate “mess-making” items, incorporate inspections and encourage incentives.    

“Get it right and keep it right. Ask others to check and inspect—encourage accountability and healthy competition. Encourage reasonable ideas and understanding of realities but set and enforce standards that raise attention and care,” Dawson said.

As stated, step one is complying with the culture of cleanliness. Step two is a deep general cleaning of all facilities and step three is company-wide implementation and encouragement of 5S principles. 

Most employees probably share a similar understanding of deep cleaning—remove what can be removed, clean rigorously from top to bottom and clean what you temporarily removed before putting it back in place.

Understanding 5S is a little more involved. It is a five-step method that focuses on putting everything where it belongs and keeping the workplace clean, which makes it easier for people to do their jobs without wasting time or risking injury.

The five steps are: sort, set (or straighten), shine, standardize and sustain. In other words, begin with getting rid of any unnecessary tools or equipment, organize the tools that remain, clean and inspect the work area, write standards for 5S and consistently apply those standards into the future.

“From now over the next couple of years the first wave is recommitting to the Culture of Cleanliness,” Tagliaferro said. “Following that and with some planning the expectation is for managers to deep clean buildings and facilities.”

Tagliaferro said the tentative goals are to attain cleanliness standards for buildings, equipment and vehicles in 2024, deep clean in 2024 and 2025, and start leaning into 5S by 2026; however, it’s still too early in the process to have a definite timeline. “This is going to be something that we continue to talk about and focus on over the next year and years,” he said.

“Managers who are able and interested are encouraged to start deep cleans and 5S sooner, but this is a marathon not a sprint,” Dawson said, adding that Training and Development is looking into 5S training and there are other efforts, but people are being asked to clean now, beginning today. “Start or restart and continue to maintain a Culture of Cleanliness,” he said.

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