I was recently invited to contribute to a publication called The Parliamentary Review on the subject of best practice in commercial cleaning. It gave me the opportunity to talk about the work we are doing at DOC, but it also made me stop and think. How do we actually spread best practice in our industry?
The fact is cleaning is a highly fragmented industry, where it is easy for a new company to compete with much larger existing outfits without risking too much in financial terms. There is nothing wrong with that, as any industry needs challenger companies coming in and shaking things up with a fresh approach. However, ease of market entry also means companies can launch themselves into the market without fully understanding the challenges of cleaning and, if this leads to service problems, it can easily reinforce scepticism on the client side about the ability of our industry to regulate itself properly.
Which brings me to my point. I have always been concerned that, as hard as our UK trade bodies and professional associations work given their limited resources, without their own management accreditation it is difficult for them to permeate best practice as well or as forcefully as they might do. BICSc, of course, offers comprehensive training for front-line operatives, albeit at a cost. Both BICSc and the CSSA promote a general code of conduct to which members must adhere. However, membership of our professional associations does not in any auditable sense confer competent status on members or enforce adherence to standards. Which means that to boost credibility with potential clients, contractors must additionally acquire and adapt a whole string of generic accreditations, such as ISO9001, 14001 and 45001, SafeContractor and so on. A quick look at the footer of an established contractor’s letterhead or website is testament to the lengths they go to reassure clients of their reliability.
As anyone who reads my column knows, I feel strongly that we need a single standard that covers both front-line training and the management of cleaning companies as a whole. It has been tried with CIMS (Cleaning Industry Management Standard) from ISSA. CIMS is promoted as a cleaning-specific, whole company management accreditation that saves contractors having to bend generic accreditations to our industry’s requirements. It is not clear why it has not taken off in the UK, as it is an auditable standard with similar costs to ISO9001. Perhaps our own associations could develop something similar?
Either way, a hands-on industry accreditation that can become an auditable symbol of quality, recognised both within the industry and by clients is something I believe our industry needs. If it means ‘educating’ the client community to understand its value, then that is a challenge which can be met by enlisting the help of the wider FM family, with a concerted public relations campaign targeted at explaining the benefits of appointing a contractor with the standard. But what an incentive for contractors to sign up to it, if it could be shown that client organisations genuinely valued it, or better still required it.
Anything that spreads good practice and helps raise the bar in our industry has got to be good for the industry as a whole. As is often the case in our industry, however, it is not as simple as it sounds.