Maintenance professionals in schools and educational facilities are facing an unprecedented test as they fight to protect staff and students. It's a daunting task, but a properly planned, scheduled, and tracked cleaning and disinfecting schedule backed by school asset tracking software can help ensure a truly safe learning environment.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, government agencies have stepped up with comprehensive guidelines. Let's look at the information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), and as we go through the recommendations, we can see how CMMS software makes things both more manageable and more effective.
But first, two important definitions.
Cleaning and disinfecting: working definitions
Although we often use them to mean the same thing, there are important differences. In the end, though, it comes down to this: Cleaning is physical. Disinfecting is chemical.
Also, you need to remember to clean first, disinfect second. It's easy to remember because C comes before D. Clean then disinfect.
Cleaning is the physical removal of germs and dirt from surfaces or objects. When you're cleaning, you're using elbow grease to move the germs. You're not killing them, though. You're just moving them off the surface or object. This is helpful because by lowering their numbers, you're making it less likely the germs can spread.
Disinfecting is the use of chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. There's no elbow grease here, so you're not necessarily removing any germs. You're just killing them. Here, the term "germs" means bacteria and viruses.
The idea is to use both cleaning and disinfecting to remove the absolute maximum number of germs possible. First you try physically removing them. Then you kill with chemicals whatever you missed. Both cleaners and disinfectants are available in ready-to-use sprays and wipes as well as concentrates.
How are cleaning and disinfecting different from sanitizing? It can be confusing because sanitation is often used as a more general term related to keeping places clean and healthy. If a restaurant fails a visit from the health inspector, it's because of their "unsanitary conditions." But when talking about COVID-19, there's a narrower definition. Sanitizing is a chemical process, but it only kills bacteria, not viruses. So when trying to keep a classroom free of germs, we want cleaners and disinfectants.
Telling cleaners apart from disinfectants
Now that you know how they're different and how you need to use them in combination, it's important to be able to identify them. So, looking at a product, how can you tell if it's a cleaner or a disinfectant?
Read the label carefully. And then read it again. You need to check and double-check to ensure you have what you need. Then you can go to the EPA's website and punch in the product's EPA registration number, which should be on the label. Here's an example of what they can look like: 65787-2. The site tells you if the product is an EPA-approved disinfectant for fighting the virus that causes COVID-19.
Why cleaning and disinfecting are so important
Now that we know what they are and how we need to use them, let's remind ourselves about why they're so important. Scientists now believe SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is transmitted mostly from person-to-person contact. However, it can also spread through surfaces, so it's important to keep high-touch surfaces as free of germs as possible.
And for a lot of schools, this is where the maintenance team comes in: keeping high-touch surfaces free of the virus. It's a big important project with a lot of moving parts. How do you know you have a good school asset tracking system? In the end, you need to be able to answer the following questions:
- How often?
- How well?
Let's start looking at putting together a program that answers those questions and how the right school asset management software can help keep schools safe.
Planning your schedule with school asset tracking software
Here you're building your answer to the question "What?"
You need a list of the surfaces and objects to keep free of the virus, and although no two schools will have identical lists, there's going to be a lot of overlap. When deciding what to include, make sure to look at:
- Doorknobs and handles
- Classroom desks and chairs
- Lunchroom tables and chairs
- Light switches
- Buttons on vending machines
- Buttons on elevators
- Shared desktop computers, including keyboards and mouses
- Shared mobile devices, especially the screens
- Bus seats and handrails
- Pencil sharpener handles
Once you have your list, you can start working on your answer to "How?"
The CDC suggests a six-step process.
Step one: use the right products
We covered this in an earlier step, but the CDC wants you to be sure you're using an EPA-approved disinfectant. Once you're at the site, you can punch in the EPA registration number, which is on the label.
Step two: read the directions
The directions have different sections, and you need to read all of them. Check the use sites and surface types to ensure you're matching the right product to the right objects and materials. And pay special attention to any precautions. The last thing you want is something getting sick from a program where the whole purpose is protecting people. If using the product requires personal protection equipment (PPE) like gloves or a mask, you need to know that, too.
Products come in ready-to-use sprays, wipes, and concentrates, which means in some cases you need to prepare them before you can use them. Make sure to carefully read any instructions on mixing or preparing the product. One thing to look out for is where you do the mixing. A lot of chemicals should not be mixed in enclosed spaces or near an open flame. We can use an extreme example to get the point across. Don't mix things in that small room by the gas furnace.
Step three: clean the surface
Here's where it's important to know the differences between cleaning and disinfecting. At this step, you're cleaning, which means physically removing dirt and germs. According to the CDC, this step is necessary when the disinfectant specially mentions it or when the surface or object is visibly dirty.
Step four: follow the contact time
Disinfecting is a chemical process; the products need time to work. Make sure the surface is wet the entire time. One of the things we learned with COVID-19 is doing the job right takes time. A good example is how everyone was told that when they're washing their hands, they needed to sing Happy Birthday before rinsing off the soap.
Contact times can be found on the label or by looking up the product on the EPA website.
Step five: remove gloves, wash hands
You want to make sure you get all the germs off objects and surfaces, and then you want to make sure to get all the disinfectant off yourself. Remove any PPE and then wash your hands. Make sure you're removing the PPE in the right order to avoid accidentally getting any on your skin. For example, if you're wearing a face mask, make sure you don't try to remove it while wearing protective gloves still covered in chemicals.
Step six: secure all cleaners and disinfectants
There are two really good reasons you need to keep everything closed and secure. First, cleaning and disinfecting products should never be mixed. The results can be deadly.
Second, you never want children to have access to them. Even just inhaling the fumes or getting some on their skin can have severe consequences.
The CDC proposes a six-step process, but let's add one more. Now that you know what needs to be done and how to do it, it's time to make sure that that information is available to the entire maintenance team. It's not enough that you know; everyone in the maintenance department needs to know, too. And because there's a lot of information and a lot of it is brand new, you can't expect them to memorize it. instead, you need a way for them to easily access all that new information from anywhere, at any time.
Data-rich preventive maintenance work orders with education asset tracking software
If you're still struggling with older methods, there's really no room for all the information you need to include in a work order. How much can you scribble on a piece of paper? How much can you cram into a spreadsheet cell? Not enough.
A modern school asset tracking software lets you add everything technicians need to work efficiently and close out quickly, including:
- Interactive site maps and floor plans
- Step-by-step instructions
- Associate health and safety warnings
- Customizable checklists
- Associated parts and materials
- Comprehensive maintenance and repair histories
- Digital images, schematics, and O&M manuals
For a cleaning and disinfecting schedule, those first four are critical. People need to know where to go, what to do, how to do it safely, and how to reliably double-check they did everything properly.
Remember, you're asking the team to perform new task but without allowing any time for a learning curve. Work orders must contain all the information techs need so they can do everything correctly from the very start.
Fast, preloaded preventive maintenance templates with school asset tracking software
If you had to write out or enter in all this information every time you generated a new work order, it would be a nightmare. On top of the frustration, there are endless opportunities to introduce errors.
A modern CMMS solution solves this problem with templates for both on-demand and scheduled preventive maintenance work orders. Enter the info once, and you can call it back up with a click, pre-populating all the data fields. And because preventive maintenance templates work on both the desktop and mobile app, generating data-packed work orders is as easy from behind a desk as it is on the go using any Internet-connected mobile device.
Anywhere, anytime mobile app access with school equipment tracking software
Mobile CMMS apps also make it possible to access and update data in real time, on the go. Maintenance technicians can check their assigned work orders, accessing all the same information that they would see on the desktop version of the CMMS. But because they're working on a smaller screen, the app reformats the data to make it easier to see and digest. Everything is within a few quick taps or short scrolls.
Setting up your schedule with school asset tracking software
Here we're looking at your answer to "How often?"
Every educational facility has to develop the schedule that works best for them. Factors include the size of the facilities, number and types of high-touch surfaces, as well as the number and ages of the students.
On a general level, the CDC encourages schools to "clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least daily or between use by different students," and to "limit the use of shared objects when possible, or clean and disinfect between use."
More specifically, the agency provides suggestions for cleaning and disinfection times that include:
- Before any students arrive in the morning
- Between classes if students change rooms during the day
- Between use of shared surfaces or objects
- Before and after any food service
- Before students return from recess or breaks
- After students leave at the end of the day
In the majority of cases, it's better to clean while students are away from the area. For example, in cases where students move between classrooms during the day, cleaning should take place after the current group has left but before the next group arrives.
Push notifications with a maintenance app
Because your schedule includes different locations, times, and processes that are all new to the team, the easiest way to make sure they're doing everything on time and properly is to have a reliable system for reaching out with changes and reminders.
Modern maintenance management software does this with automatic push notifications sent through the mobile maintenance app. Techs don't have to constantly check their phones for new assignments. When they get one, their mobile device lets them know with a message that pops up on their screen. It's the same way a regular old landline phone works. You don't have to constantly pick it up to check if someone has called you and is waiting on the line. When someone calls, the phone rings right away. Once you have the tasks set up as preventive maintenance work orders, every time one is autogenerated, the assigned technician receives an automatic notification.
Direct image uploads and task comments with a mobile maintenance app
Push notifications help the maintenance team stay on schedule. But being on time doesn't matter if the work is not being done properly. Remember, a lot of the cleaning program tasks are going to be new for the maintenance team. New products, setup and teardown processes, and tasks. Even with work orders packed with instructions and explanations of best practices, there are going to be times when techs have questions. With older maintenance management systems, techs are forced to waste time running back to the office and trying to track down the maintenance lead or other members of the team.
A modern school asset tracking software solves this problem by empowering techs to upload images and add comments to tasks, both on the desktop and mobile maintenance app. Wherever they are, they can communicate with the rest of the team, adding questions and comments directly to the work order. Later, the department can go back and tune up the template instructions, heading off any future confusion. Being able to ask for help in real time is critical. In the fight again COVID-19, there's no time for a learning curve. Techs need to complete tasks the right way, right away.
Tracking your school schedule with equipment tracking software
Now we're looking at your answer to the question "How well?"
Once you've invested time in writing the PMs and scheduling them, it's time to make sure the team is following the program. Every organization has its favorite KPIs, but for preventive maintenance tasks, you can focus on the percentage of PMs completed.
Automated reports with school asset tracking software
With older maintenance management methods, these numbers are hard to generate and trust. If you're working with paper, you have to go through all the PMs, add them up, pull out the completed one, and then do the math yourself. Spreadsheet-based methods can be about the same, except now you're clicking through all the old PM files. And remember, even one mistake throws off your final numbers.
A modern CMMS solution keeps all your data safe and accessible. It also crunches that data for you into easy-to-read reports with graphs and KPIs. With a few clicks, you can see exactly how well the maintenance team is keeping up with the new schedule. And once you know the problem areas, you can fine-tune your program to fix them.
If you're looking for your first modern CMMS solution, or you already have one but it's not delivering what you were promised, now is the time to start reaching out to providers and sharing your current challenges. It's the only way for you to learn more about what's available and what's going to work best for you.
Facing unprecedented challenges, you need a new solution.