By: Matt Hayas, Global Product Manager, Hydro Systems
All too often, custodians and other facility maintenance professionals perform labor-intensive and even risky jobs at low pay with little recognition for the essential services they provide. The average salary in the janitorial industry is under $25,000 a year, and many custodians are exposed to repetitive motions, muscle strain, potentially dangerous chemicals and high-exposure environments like hospitals.
While National Custodial Worker’s Recognition Day celebrates these individuals on October 2 each year, it’s important to recognize custodians’ hard work on a regular basis and highlight their role in maintaining clean facilities. This is more important than ever before as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the world and the cleaning professionals who are helping to keep others safe.
Risking It All
Throughout the pandemic, custodians have been on the frontlines of limiting the spread of the virus. As a result, they are in the group at highest risk of contracting coronavirus. Many janitors lack paid sick days, and a sizeable portion of custodial staff does not receive health benefits, meaning that any time off needed to recover from an infection is a significant source of lost income.
For instance, one housekeeper at a Chicago hospital reported working 60 – 70 hours a week in the early days of the pandemic. Though she is immunocompromised, she worked overtime because she wanted to contribute to the fight against coronavirus and needed the additional pay.
Unfortunately, some employers responded to the pandemic by asking their staff to use different types of chemicals than they’re accustomed to, without taking the time to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) or training. Some of these harsher cleaning agents may require that users wear PPE such as goggles or latex gloves. As a result, some custodians have had to work through physical side effects such as skin rashes and eye irritation. Training is also essential, as using a product at the wrong dilution can cause unpleasant physical reactions, surface damage and unsatisfactory cleaning results.
Supporting Cleaning Professionals
When custodians go to work, the goal must go beyond achieving cleanliness to include protecting the health and well-being of workers. Consider the following best practices to help these professionals clean safely and effectively:
- Use chemical dispensers – Dispensers properly dilute solutions and eliminate direct contact with chemicals. Using chemicals at the right concentrations helps custodians achieve a better clean, which is especially essential during a pandemic or outbreak.
- Conduct training – Especially if using harsh chemicals or new types of equipment, like portable sprayers, janitorial staff need training so they understand how to use and dilute chemical agents. Training helps reduce risks and can improve employee retention.
- Provide PPE – In high-risk environments like healthcare facilities, face masks and other PPE often goes to nurses and doctors first and there may not be enough left for janitorial and maintenance staff. A poll conducted by the Service Employees International Union during the pandemic found that 75% of respondents were told either that they do not need PPE or that they must ask a nurse for them. It’s important for workers to have access to these items so they do not become infected.
- Offer equal and sufficient pay – The median hourly wage is $12.55 for janitors and $11.43 for maids and housekeepers, which can make it hard to support themselves and their families. Custodians and janitors perform a critical function in society, and it’s crucial that they are paid accordingly with proper pay and benefits like healthcare coverage and paid time off.
Caring for Custodians
National Custodial Worker’s Recognition Day on Oct. 2 is an important celebration of janitorial and maintenance staff. However, it cannot be the only time that we recognize the hard work that these cleaning professionals perform.
While much of the world was quarantined at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, custodians continued to go to work each day. Months later, they are still at the forefront of the fight and their efforts deserve to be celebrated. Employers that provide employees with essential tools, proper training and sufficient pay help cleaning professionals feel supported during this critical time.