Let’s be honest: We face some pretty big hazards in the cleaning and restoration industry. Many of these dangers can be eliminated (or at least greatly reduced) when your staff has (and uses) personal protective equipment (PPE).
A focus on safety is not only good for your production—since techs can’t work if they’re injured—it’s also the law. (Ever heard of OSHA?) Depending on the task, the required PPE could include hearing protection, safety glasses, dust masks or respirators (and spare cartridges), rubber or latex gloves, Tyvek suits, rubber boots, knee pads, hard hats, and even fall protection.
As an owner-operator, it’s easy (if you remember!) to use your PPE. When you add a helper, you can constantly remind them not to forget the PPE. But once you grow into a multi-truck company with “loose cannon” employees, your PPE challenges increase dramatically.
Simply wearing and using PPE isn’t the only thing that matters. For each technician, there is also the continuous issue of restocking and stuff that goes missing—disposable gloves, shoe covers, and protective suits get used, discarded, and not replaced; respirator cartridges lose effectiveness, expire, or, you guessed it, aren’t replaced. And of course, you’ll always have the challenge of damaged and lost PPE.
Whenever my managers made one of our surprise quality assurance inspections—which are very important—we invariably found PPE problems. Our techs’ excuse for not using PPE was always, “This van doesn’t have any (or enough) PPE.” And too often they were correct.
I had a potentially serious problem here. Just one surprise OSHA inspection or a bad worker’s comp claim could seriously hurt or even bankrupt my company. Plus, I knew I had an ethical obligation to provide a safe workplace. After all, I truly liked my employees.
We tried just putting more PPE on each truck, but the very same restocking and lack-of-care troubles quickly cropped up again. The problem? No one was being held individually accountable for PPE care.
You must add this individual accountability for every task, action, or goal in a company trying to grow. If not, the old saying will be proved true again and again: “If no one is assigned a task, then ‘no one’ will do it!” Once we zeroed in on individual accountability, it became obvious that there was no easy answer. Unlike a manufacturing company where each worker performs the same routine, measurable tasks in the same spot every single day, our business was a total zoo. In my cleaning and restoration operation, our employees were constantly changing job assignments, shifts, trucks, and crews depending on cancellations, same-day urgent jobs, and emergency water losses that rolled in 24/7.
It wasn’t unusual for a van to be on the road 24 or even 48 hours straight, with rotating crews doing residential, commercial, and emergency water mitigation. Plus, my employees often wound up working on different trucks, with different crews, and doing different things. A tech might start the day with a routine list of residential jobs, be suddenly pulled off for an emergency water loss, and then finish up the day doing a commercial encapsulation account for another employee who had to be elsewhere.
We realized we needed a different approach to tackling the PPE issue.
One day, I realized all the PPE equipment a tech needed could fit in a medium-sized soft bag. So all techs got their very own PPE bag with everything they could possibly need, no matter what or where they worked. Each PPE bag contained eye and hearing protection, several types of protective gloves, a respirator with spare cartridges, a properly sized Tyvek suit, tape, hard hat, rubber boots, etc.
Now, when the techs arrived at work, they grabbed their job folders with their Production Day Sheet clipped on top. (Jan/Feb 2018 Cleanfax) They then picked up their Personal Tool Box (April 2019 Cleanfax) and their PPE bag.
Every tech’s toolbox and PPE bag stayed with them all day. If the job called for PPE, a tech had everything needed and would restock their PPE upon return to the shop.
However, it wasn’t enough to just give a tech PPE. We also had to make sure they cared for and used this protection—which was for their own good! We held them accountable for this in two ways.
First, upon receipt of his PPE bag, each tech signed a Personal Protective Equipment Inventory List in which everything was itemized out along with this individual accountability paragraph:
“I, _____, acknowledge receipt of the personal protective equipment and bag listed above. I agree to keep this bag with me in my service vehicle during my working hours and to store it in my company locker before I leave. I recognize that all items will be inspected monthly and that any loss or damage will be deducted from my employee efficiency bonus. I understand that the items listed above remain company property and are not for my personal, non-company use. While these items are in my care, custody, and control, I will care for them to the best of my ability.”
Every month we held a surprise company inspection of all techs’ Personal Toolboxes and their PPE bags. If everyone on the tech team passed the inspection with flying colors, they received a “shared bonus” in addition to their employee efficiency bonuses. If even one tech failed, the whole tech team lost their joint bonus. (Now that creates some serious peer pressure to take care of your stuff!) Then any missing (non-consumable) items were deducted from the failing tech’s own employee efficiency bonus.
Note 1: We also verified our employees were using their PPE with our random quality assurance inspections. Look for more on this in an upcoming article.
Note 2: You cannot legally deduct any loss or damage caused by an employee from his or her base paycheck. But you normally can deduct funds for loss, damage, and/or underperformance from an employee’s bonus. Always check with an attorney or your state’s labor department before changing compensation plans.
Once I implemented (and enforced) this PPE Inventory List, my company improved on many fronts:
Since my employees were now accountable for their “own” PPE, they took care of it and restocked every night.
My techs worked safely and were protected from injury and disease, which meant they could keep making money… for me.
My company avoided OSHA fines, worker’s comp claims, and potential lawsuits due to unsafe working conditions.
Even better, adding this PPE Inventory List let me have fun again in my business since I wasn’t fielding calls from complaining techs asking, “Where’s the respirators on this truck?”
The more routine, written systems and procedures I built into my business infrastructure, the smoother my company ran. Incorporate this PPE Inventory List concept into your company, and you can see that improvement, too.
When each tech has his own PPE bag (and is accountable to care for and use the PPE), they’ll be happier and more productive. Plus, you’ll be one step closer to owning a business that runs smoothly with—or without—you.
Steve Toburen started and ran a world-class cleaning and restoration firm for over 20 years. He is now the director of training for Jon-Don’s Strategies for Success program, which helps cleaning and restoration companies create a complete, turn-key business infrastructure for cleaning and restoration companies. Toburen founded www.homefrontsuccess.com, a resource portal with training programs for contractors working in customer’s homes. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.