Playing by the rules
by Richard A. Matthews
MYTH: “Managers and engineers do not shed particles!” “Who says?” “Managers and engineers.”
REALITY: Everyone sheds particles. Any person who enters a cleanroom or controlled environment space is a potential particle generator.
All humans shed particles — from their skin, their hair, their clothing, their breath, their cosmetics. Numerous studies conducted in all types of clean environment situations demonstrate this. We shed particles. It is a natural phenomenon.
Millions of dollars are spent by the cleanroom community to capture these particles and control this natural shedding.
The degree of cleanliness required in an environment determines the kinds of clothing and other protective equipment required for people working therein. Several Institute of Environmental Sciences & Technology (IEST) contamination control recommended practices provide guidelines for the proper clothing by class of air cleanliness. These range from a simple smock to a mini space suit depending upon end-user quality criteria.
The slightest relaxation of the rules for the garmenting of personnel compromises cleanroom protocol.
Consider the case of the plant manager or process engineer in street clothes, who wants to open the cleanroom door for just a brief conversation with someone inside or just pop in for a quick visit; i.e., “I will only be a few minutes so nothing bad will happen.” Or, the maintenance person who wants to do a quick fix on an equipment problem using his regular (non-cleanroom) tools. Then there is the technician who says I cannot “feel” my machine with gloves on or “hear” it clearly with my ears covered. And then, of course, there`s the cleanroom worker who leaves the clean space for just a few minutes to run down a non-clean corridor without properly de-gowning. Would you want your surgeon who wears his “greens” between operations while eating lunch at the hospital cafeteria to wear those same “greens” when he does surgery on you?
Cleanroom garmenting is a two-way street. First, personnel working in clean space must be garmented to protect cleanroom integrity. Second, cleanroom garments themselves should not be compromised by being worn outside the clean space. Anytime designated cleanroom clothing or protective gear leaves clean space it is compromised.
These examples point to a need for courageous discipline. This discipline must start at the top of an organization, applying to everyone. There can be no exceptions to appropriate cleanroom behavior. Bend a rule in a clean environment and you put the entire clean area and its products at risk.
Management must enforce and practice good contamination control technique. It can never be the exception to its rules.
One last example: I visited a manufacturer who produced a high-quality product in a Class 10,000 cleanroom complex. The production personnel were required to wear smocks and shoe covers. Interestingly, these were expensive reusable calf-length anti-skid shoe covers. The smocks were also reusable but had been worn far too long as many were dirty and torn. Head covers were not used.
When asked about the absence of head covers, management indicated that was because of labor relations. It seems the male operators wanted to continue wearing their baseball caps, which it turns out were placed on their heads at home first thing in the morning and were not removed until bedtime. Their female counterparts did not want their hairdos to get “messy.” These operators were regarded by management as their most important workers. Therefore, management had to go along with the breach of protocol regarding head covers. Ironically, the manufacturing process was becoming more sophisticated and yield was falling due to people contamination. Management was afraid to address the head cover problem for fear of offending these important workers.
Would you operate your business this way or do you have the brass backbone required to ask everyone to live by the rules?
Good discipline is there for all of us to use everyday.
Richard A. Matthews is founder of Filtration Technology Inc. (Greensboro, NC), a licensed cleanroom general contractor and a manufacturer and distributor of industrial filter equipment. He is chairman of the International Organization for Standardization Technical Committee ISO/TC 209 “Cleanrooms and associated clean environments.” He is past president of the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology, and is vice chairman of the standing committee of the International Confederation of Contamination Control Societies. He is also president of Micron Video International, a producer of training programs for cleanroom personnel. He is on the CleanRooms Editorial Advisory Board.
Personnel working in clean space must be garmented to protect cleanroom integrity.