Cleanliness is a great virtue that is vital to the total existence of Humans especially in the area of health, productivity and profitability.
Cleanliness according to John Wesley (1778) is next to goodliness and this old adage actually adds to the myth that being clean is a sign of holiness and wholeness.
Unfortunately, its impact and contribution to Human existence has been undermined, overlooked and ignored to the detriment of the good growth of the society. Traditionally, cleaning has been viewed as a cost rather than an investment to a business.
I recently had a conversation with a retired lieutenant commander of United States Navy who is currently serving as Director of Facilities Services (DFS) for a university in North Carolina, USA. The topic for discussion was on the “role of cleanliness to human existence”.
His views sparked a burning desire within me to share the knowledge and insights I have gained over the last 20 years working in cleaning and hygiene related organizations.
My strongest desire and hope is to demonstrate the advantages of cleanliness to business and society in general in order to sensitize and raise awareness about the dangers and associated costs and negative image of an unclean environment. This understanding I believe will cause a proactive shift towards the issues of cleanliness and hygiene in the workplace, community and nation.
The DFS compared cleanliness to the air we breathe. “The air we breathe is never on our wish or to-do- list for the next day, month or year. But guess what, it’s the one most important thing we need in every second of our existence in order to achieve any other thing on our to-do- list”. The only time this gets anybody’s attention is when some medical condition requires you to pay attention to the air you breathe. Reports from some parts of Asia suggest that clean air is being package for sale due to heavily polluted air in those regions and I guess these guys will have “clean air” in their shopping list. This is exactly the way we take cleanliness for granted at home, workplace and the community as a whole, he explained further.
He related to me an incident of an outbreak on the university campus a few years back, which was traced to lapses in cleaning protocols and caused the closure of the institution for a whole semester. The resultant costs to the institution in terms of revenue, image, ranking, penalties and most importantly loss of confidence from the community was heavy on the university and it is still recovery time after several years. “Cleanliness and hygiene are top priority for the university board, and I was hired and tasked to revolutionize and adopt innovative ways of cleaning to ensure our students, staff and visitors experience a clean, safe, hygienic and productive environment always. We have invested adequately on cleaning and hygiene delivery processes and are gradually wining back the trust of the community and the numbers of intake is improving yearly.”
This story is not different from many other cases of outbreaks such as Flu, Cholera, Ebola and the current Wuhan Corona virus that led to major losses of lives and socioeconomic disruptions and a near economic shutdowns every now and often.
Cleanliness, as observed by Jacob Burckhardt , “is indispensable to our modern notion of social perfection.” According to Wikipedia, “Cleanliness is both the ‘abstract’ state of being clean and free from germs, dirt, trash, or waste, and the habit of achieving and maintaining that state. Cleanliness is often achieved through cleaning. It is of great value and is regarded as contributing to other ideals such as health and beauty. On a practical level, cleanliness is thus related to hygiene and disease prevention.”
The key word in the above narrative is ‘abstract’; this implies that the concept of clean is quite a perceptive and subjective matter. The levels of cleanliness required in the healthcare delivery industry are more stringent than the fashion retail industry. Whilst the former will usually require cleaning protocols such as clean, sanitize, disinfect and sterilize, just a clean is mostly okay for the latter.
Regardless of the level of perception of clean by an individual, organization or community, the implications are invariably the same. The primary objective is to verify how investments in cleaning and hygiene improves image, wellness and increase productivity and how being noticeably clean can actually generate revenue, enhance bottom lines to the betterment of the economy.
The International Sanitary Supplies Association (ISSA) which has for over seven decades been at the forefront cleaning evolution.
“Historically, cleaning has been viewed by senior management and building owners as a cost center. Consequently, decisions about cleaning have been one- dimensional and focused on the amount spent to clean the facility. However, review of the studies and empirical data reveals that cleaning activities impact a business’s bottom line in numerous ways and that developing a deeper understanding of cleaning’s economic benefits will produce greater savings.”
CEO of City Facilities Management Ghana Limited
Chairman, Contract Cleaners Association of Ghana