BCC and member columns in the news

Businesses adapting to ‘perfect storm of staff shortages’

By Delia Cannings, Chair of the British Cleaning Council (BCC).  (This column first appeared in Tomorrow’s Cleaning magazine).

In my last column, I wrote about our latest research report – the document we release annually which gives a detailed survey of the current condition of the cleaning, hygiene and waste sector.

One area covered extensively in the report deserves greater discussion – the recruitment crisis currently facing the sector.

The research describes how the industry as a whole faces what it calls a ‘perfect storm of severe staff shortages’.

As the report points out, the industry continues to struggle to replace staff who left the sector in the wake of the pandemic and Brexit, including staff who switched to new roles outside the industry and employees originally from overseas who left the country.

Staff shortages are, of course, a national phenomenon. Last year, UK job vacancy rates remained at historically high levels compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report highlights one set of figures for online job adverts for domestic help, showing vacancy rates immediately after the pandemic at times running at double pre-pandemic levels.

Similar trends could be seen across catering and hospitality, wholesale and retail and the construction sectors. Employers in the cleaning sector are having to adapt to a rapidly changing workforce if they are to win this frantic battle for workers.

Existing staff are often having to work tirelessly to fill gaps and maintain standards which begs the question of how employers can support them.

With one in four people in the UK experiencing a mental health problem at some point, it is essential that employers promote and support employee well-being. Workplaces which help people to flourish and reach their potential benefit employees and the business, helping to attract and retain staff.

Support measures such as occupational health services or employee assistance programmes must be put in place and line managers be given the guidance they need to support their teams, have sensitive conversations and signpost expert help when needed.

Other measures help such as encouraging staff to have a good work-life balance, making it clear they should not come into work if they are ill and line managers taking the time to listen to what their colleagues have to say.

Wages are also key to attracting and retaining staff and the BCC urges sector businesses to commit to paying a real Living Wage to all their staff.

The sector’s professional, skilled staff have a crucial, frontline role keeping people safe, well and healthy and they contribute to the nation’s health and wealth. They deserve to be paid accordingly.

Our industry is worth nearly £60bn, and pay rates should reflect this huge contribution to the economy.

Supporting in-work progression is another key way to attract and recruit staff, by investing in training and development and providing pathways to promotion.

In this sphere, the industry really has something to shout about. The opportunities for progression for cleaning and hygiene staff are huge, with employees often able to move very quickly from entry level roles into supervisory/managerial roles.

I think the longer-term solution to the industry’s staffing issues is to formalise, improve and promote the industry’s offer in terms of career progression in order to attract the brightest and best new joiners.

The launch of the Level 2 Cleaning Hygiene Operative Apprenticeship and the Chartered Practitioners Register were both important steps in that process.

We are currently discussing with our members proposals for an exciting project which will help address the lack of educational structure in terms of pathways for staff progression in the sector. Watch out for news of that in the coming year.

FWC leads meeting on powerline safety

By Steve Kennedy, Vice Chairman, Federation of Window Cleaners (FWC) This column first appeared in Cleaning and Maintenance online).

Every year, tragic incidents underscore the grave risks faced by window cleaners working near overhead power lines.

In 2021 alone, two lives were lost when water-fed poles inadvertently made contact with live wires, resulting in fatal electrocutions. These sobering events highlight the urgent need for collaborative action to enhance safety protocols in the window cleaning industry.

The Federation of Window Cleaners (FWC) has taken a proactive stance by convening a crucial meeting with extension pole manufacturers and key industry stakeholders. Scheduled for May 22, 2024, this gathering aims to forge partnerships between the FWC, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Electric Networks Association (ENA), and industry leaders to address this pressing issue.

Power lines are often uninsulated and can carry up to 400,000 volts. Live equipment can be mounted on poles as low as 4.3 meters. An overhead line does not need to be touched to cause serious injury or death, as electricity can arc across small gaps, resulting in deadly flashovers.

Water-fed poles can reach as far as 20 meters or more, yet many have not undergone any form of electrical testing, and may not be insulated against electrical hazards. Gloves or rubber boots cannot reliably protect against electrocution, especially when wet or dirty.

In recent years, the UK Power Networks, the HSE, the FWC and others have worked to educate and inform window-cleaners of the dangers and the steps they can take to work safely but we at the FWC believe more should be done.

The May meeting will explore innovative solutions to mitigate the risk of electrocutions associated with extension pole use near power lines.

By fostering collaboration and sharing expertise, the goal is to establish robust safety measures that safeguard the lives of window cleaners and all workers operating in proximity to overhead wires. This pivotal meeting not only marks a critical step forward in prioritising safety but also sets the stage for ongoing efforts to revolutionise safety practices in the industry.

The FWC would also like to encourage any other interested parties to get in touch with us if you wish to participate in this on-going initiative. Contact the General Secretary Beryl Murray on 0161 432 8754 or email beryl@f-w-c.co.uk if you are interested in attending the 22 May meeting.

Toilet Commissioner needed to level up public loos

By Raymond Martin, Managing Director, the British Toilet Association (BTA). (This column first appeared in Cleaning and Maintenance online).

Living in a modern, transient and hopefully clean and caring society, there are a number of essentials that we all need to function productively.

Roads and transportation, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries, shops, restaurants and cafes are all important for modern, city life – as are public toilets.

Having direct access to a publicly accessible toilet while out and about is inherently essential to our everyday health and well-being, important for social and community inclusion and must be a fundamental provision for equality and human rights. The provision of toilets for daily public use is essential and vital to a fair and decent society.

For over 20 years, the BTA has been continuously working with, and on behalf of, all users and accessible groups whose lives and well-being depend on being able to find urgent relief.

For everyone travelling away from home, there will be a need to find a decent clean and hygienic place to go to the toilet or, at the very least, wash their hands to prevent and avoid transmission of dangerous pathogens or disease.

The Covid-19 pandemic dramatically raised the issue of improving cleanliness and hygienic standards and we must learn that lesson.

It is our primary mission to work with all those organisations, charities and officials who understand the dangers of allowing our once world-leading standards in the sphere of public toilet provision to continue to evaporate and decline.

This is, however, becoming increasingly difficult as public facilities continue to close. In a continued period of forced austerity nearly every UK local authority or local council is facing severe budget pressures and a lack of physical resources to maintain public toilet facilities.

Growing numbers of retail shops, stores and commercial providers seem unwilling and, more often, unable to cope with the increasing demands of a wide range of consumers trying to find relief in our busy towns and cities.

We need Government to work with industry specialists to find new and exciting solutions to this serious decline in standards of hygiene and sanitation and the resulting social care issues. It is now estimated that publicly accessible toilet numbers have been cut by an estimated 60 per cent in the last 12 years.

The BTA, along with many like-minded organisations, is urging Government that a managed solution must be found, to provide decent, clean and accessible toilets that protect our personal cleanliness and hygiene needs as well as our safety and dignity.

We are therefore calling on all public authorities and publicly-owned organisations to create and implement an action plan for the provision of toilets for the public and that a national Toilet Commissioner or similar should be identified and given the power and funding for the coordination and support of such plans, as well as supervising their implementation.

The creation of a Toilet Commissioner had been proposed as part of the Government’s Leveling Up and Regeneration Bill but the idea was dropped last year and it urgently needs reviving.

  • The BTA is a not-for–profit member’s organisation which provides technical support, advice and guidance to all suppliers and providers of “away from home” toilets and campaigns to change political awareness and encourage ministers, planners and senior management to develop localised plans and future strategies for the correct levels of provision of public toilet facilities.

 

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