Essential role of contract cleaning sector in reopening the economy

Essential role of contract cleaning sector in reopening the economy

Ireland’s economy cannot reopen and remain open without the contract cleaning industry. That’s according to the Irish Contract Cleaning Association (ICCA), which today (18.05.20) is highlighting the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its members as 1,500 retailers prepare to reopen to the public this week.

Following the publication of the Government’s ‘Return to Work Safely’ protocol last week, as many sectors move to reopen the economy, the ICCA is calling on all workplaces to plan carefully for essential sanitisation and disinfection requirements, and to ensure they engage with trusted, professional service-providers for contract cleaning.

Onus on employers to ensure enhanced cleaning regimes

ICCA board member Cormac Sheils said: “The cleaning industry is undergoing significant change as a result of Covid-19.

“Previously, ‘visible’ cleaning in workplaces and public spaces was the priority. From now on, however, the focus will move to enhanced hygiene services, with an increased emphasis on sanitisation and disinfection. Visible cleaning and sanitisation removes and lower germs; and disinfection kills germs. To combat Covid-19, we need a combination of all three.

“In the ‘Return to Work Safely’ protocol, the Government has stipulated a new regime of twice-daily cleaning of touchpoints, bathrooms and communal areas to protect staff and customers. The protocol places an onus on employers to ensure workplaces are thoroughly cleaned throughout each working day. This is not a temporary measure, specific to the re-opening phase. Rather, for as long as we are living with this virus, this enhanced hygiene regime will be the daily reality in every workplace.

“Proper disinfection of workplaces and public spaces can only be conducted by qualified, trained cleaning professionals. We are calling on employers and public organisations to be cognisant of this, and to refer to our industry association for advice and support in engaging professional, trusted cleaning contractors.

“ICCA members have invested in the specialist equipment and training required to ensure all cleaning services are delivered in compliance with government guidelines. By engaging with an ICCA member, workplaces can ensure they are getting the best quality cleaning service.”

The ICCA’s membership represents approximately 75% of contract cleaning companies. Overall, the contract cleaning industry contributes approximately €900 million to the Irish economy each year, and employs approximately 30,000 people.

Layoffs – and increased demand for specialist services

Mr. Sheils said the industry has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic on a number of levels, but ICCA members have responded quickly to the changed circumstances and are “ready and willing” to play their part in the reopening of Ireland’s economy.

“In common with many other industries, some of our members have experienced sharp downturns in demand for their services in recent months,” he said. “The closure of retail, education, leisure and corporate buildings has greatly decreased the scope of contract cleaning work, leading in turn to staff lay-offs for some cleaning companies, which will hopefully be temporary.

“On the other hand, however, many of our members have seen increased demand for specialist cleaning and emergency response services, with a significantly increased demand in pharma and healthcare settings. This has led to some members redeploying staff into higher-skilled and higher-risk working environments. Obviously, this comes with additional requirements to ensure staff are properly equipped with PPE, appropriate training and clear guidance on working protocols.

“Throughout this pandemic, our cleaning staff have been on the frontlines – in hospitals, factories and care facilities – ensuring essential workplaces are clean and germ-free. Cleaners are themselves providing an essential service during this difficult time. We have stepped up to the mark without hesitation, and we are ready and willing to continue to play our part in the reopening of Ireland’s economy. To ensure we can, it is vital we receive support on PPE issues and recognition of the additional costs incurred due to the pandemic.”

The experiences of cleaners during the Covid-19 pandemic

The ICCA highlighted the stories of a number of individual cleaners today – to demonstrate how the industry is playing an essential role in Ireland’s response to Covid-19.

One such cleaner is Costel Lupu who as part of his role in the Discharge Team at Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown, he already had extensive experience of disinfection. Commenting on how Covid-19 has increased the significance given to cleaning work, he said:  “I think that maybe now we all realise how important cleaners are in the hospitals: we make it possible for everyone to do their jobs. We do our part to keep patients, staff and visitors safe.

“I clean every room as if my wife might be the next patient to enter it. I think people appreciate that even more now that there is such a greater risk.”

Theresa O’Flynn is the on-site cleaning supervisor at St. Stephen’s Psychiatric Hospital in Glanmire, Co. Cork. She said her role has been much more hands-on since the outbreak of Covid-19, with an increase in regular cleaning and extra hours to disinfect the rooms of suspected patients.

“We’re a team of 21 here at St. Stephen’s and, at times, we’ve had up to eight or nine colleagues self-isolating while awaiting test results, she said. “Luckily, they’ve all come back negative, but of course people in the team are anxious. At the beginning, it was like an avalanche of uncertainty. We were all conscious of the risk to ourselves and our families. I could see the fear on the faces of the girls when they came in, but we have a great bond among the team, everyone has supported each other through this learning curve.”

Speaking about the additional training she has received in response to Covid-19, Ms. O’Flynn said:  “The training was vital to give us confidence in the practical steps of putting on the PPE and we’ve gotten into our rhythm now, we’re more familiar with the process. The team are pros at it now.”

Ms. O’Flynn is sharing her own expertise with others in her local community: she has provided training in isolation cleaning to care workers at a local residential unit, after being called out to provide an emergency clean of a suspected Covid-19 patient’s room. After completing the clean, she subsequently returned on her own time to provide training for the staff.

“It was partly about supporting them to feel confident putting on the PPE correctly, following the steps. We role-played it, so if they do face this again, they won’t be nervous, they’ll know what to do.”