Cleanroom cleaning demands highly skilled professionals.
by John Haystead
The level of training provided to cleaning personnel is the number one discriminant for anyone considering an outside service for cleanroom cleaning. Personnel training touches on just about every other aspect of concern, from risk assessment to liability issues to quality control to cost-effectiveness.
In fact, the cleaning technicians responsible for this critical work are full and critical partners in the successful operation of contamination-controlled facilities. They are required, as everyone else entrusted with entrance, to work in full cleanroom garb and to receive in-depth training in cleanroom protocols, standards, and procedures.
Given the importance of the cleanroom cleaning company, companies should spend far more time evaluating their potential or current choice. They should make sure that not only are they getting the best value for their dollar, but that the capabilities, focus, and skill-level of this crucial service provider is commensurate with the investment made in the facility they will be servicing.
Worldwide or Home Grown
Cleanroom janitorial services vary in size and area of operation from local franchises with one or two employees to international firms with dedicated cleanroom divisions. The type of firm best suited to servicing a company's cleanroom depends on its own unique requirements, the level of risk it is able to accept, and the amount of money it is willing to spend.
Advanced Cleanroom Microclean Corp. (ACM) in Santa Ana, CA, trains in-house, providing employees with a series of cleanroom training courses, including basic behavioral training, cleanroom operations, microbial and particle count training, de-ionized water, cleaning methodologies, and customer communications skills. According to ACM President Janet Ford, “We want our employees to have as much knowledge as we can give them to make good judgements while they are in the field.”
ACM specializes exclusively in cleanroom cleaning services, and has offices principally located in California and Arizona. Ford believes ACM's specific focus on the high skill level required for cleanroom environments is an advantage. However, she notes that, “It's not clear whether it's market or area driven, but there seems to be a delineation between companies that prefer to separate their basic janitorial service requirements from cleanroom services, while others tend to want to combine the two.”
Porter Industries of Loveland, CO formally trains its employees to read SOPs, following Standard Cleaning Procedures (SCPs), gowning, and actual hands-on cleaning techniques. The company maintains an on-site training facility equipped with audio-visual materials and other training aids.
Trainers use a combination of nationally produced and in-house training materials, and the company requires employees to pass a final test and receive a proficiency certificate. According to Division Administrator Steve Hendrickson, the company works closely with customers to establish the areas where proficiency is required, and provides the appropriate training both in advance of working in the cleanroom and at the workplace.
Porter services the Colorado region, providing both cleanroom cleaning and general janitorial services as well as emergency cleaning services. Hendrickson observes that outsourcing cleanroom cleaning services is becoming increasingly attractive to many companies. “One of the key advantages is that you don't have to keep a full staff of employees during lulls in production cycles or when you're retrofitting your cleanroom,” he says.
Jani-King International, Inc. of Addison, TX has also developed its own internal cleanroom training program. According to R&D Director Damien Lamb, because there is such a wide variety of cleanroom applications, Jani-king designs its program to be as broadly applicable as possible, so that participants are not limited to one application. “We've found that in cleanrooms, if you try to teach a specific application, when people finally get on the site and find it's not the exact same application, they're not prepared,” he says.
The company operates about 7,600 franchises in 17 countries. It works closely with each customer's cleanroom manager or manufacturer representative to develop cleanroom cleaning specifications on a site-by-site basis. However, Lamb notes that cleanroom cleaning is a niche business, so Jani-King has only five or six regional offices providing this service.
Cleanroom cleaning requires a special type of individual, Lamb says. “One of the trickiest things about cleanroom cleaning is that you can't see what you're cleaning,” he observes. Therefore, workers must be extremely methodical about often highly mundane tasks. “Some of our customer sites require every single surface to be wiped eight times a day,” he says.
Even a good worker may be unable to deal with a cleanroom’s closed environment where they might have to work 3 hours without a break, and be prohibited from wearing cosmetics or from smoking even before they come into the cleanroom. To address this issue, Jani-King suits out everyone being considered for employment in Class 100 or lower cleanrooms in complete cleanroom garb during classroom sessions. “This helps sort out those people who might have problems working with outer garments on constantly,” says Lamb.
Environmental Cleaning Services, Inc. (ECSI) of Suwanee, GA, is moving into a new facility, which has a Class 100 cleanroom space, with its sister company Ultrapure Technology. One of the cleanroom's functions will be to provide ECSI's cleaning technicians with a hands-on training environment. According to ECSI President, Jeffrey Smith, when a company trains strictly from manuals or videos, the cleanroom can be a very foreign environment. “We want to provide our people with on-the-job in-the-cleanroom training as well, so they actually apply the correct methodology of wiping walls and windows, vacuuming, using the correct supplies, and even donning cleanroom garments, he says. “This also allows our people to learn what type of cleaning tasks they are best suited for,” says Smith.
ECSI concentrates exclusively on cleanroom cleaning, primarily servicing companies in the southeastern US. Smith points out that in addition to providing cleaning services for new construction, ECSI also often functions as the overall protocol manager on the job site. “Here, we train the personnel of the other subcontractors as well, such as electricians, plumbers, and HVAC technicians in basic cleanroom protocol,” he says.
Also on the franchise side, the Downers Grove, IL-based ServiceMaster Company is a billion dollar corporation that operates cleaning service franchises worldwide. In addition to cleanroom cleaning, the company's services include landscaping, general housekeeping and complete plant operation, and maintenance services.
Larry DeShane, director of technical support for ServiceMaster's Business and Industrial Group, says that the company deliberately chose not to set up its own independent, internal training program. “We wanted to make sure that our program was not only being done right, but could be certified as such.” ServiceMaster's training is certified by both Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, AZ and the Research Triangle Institute in Research Triangle Park, NC.
All ServiceMaster franchise managers must go through an advanced five-day training course conducted in conjunction with (ASU) and successfully complete a final exam. The course covers both particle contamination concerns as well as pharmaceutical facilities and GMP. ServiceMaster's GMP training program is backed by the GMP Institute in Cincinnati, OH.
DeShane says all ServiceMaster personnel assigned to work in microcontamination environments are franchise employees, although he adds that occasionally the company only oversees a customer's own personnel.
Protocol, Inc. of Beaverton, OR, provides microcleaning services to the western region of the country, including Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona, and Texas. The company now has a commercial cleaning division, says Don Frazier, Protocol's president. “However, Protocol is a small family-owned corporation, and can be responsive to the company's needs. Our overhead is lower than larger, more dispersed companies, which typically allows us to offer more competitive pricing,” he says.
Protocol uses union labor almost exclusively. “As a result we work closely with the unions to develop a training program and maintain a separate list of microcontamination-trained people,” says Frazier. In addition to this entry-level training, Protocol provides more specific training on site.
Because a contaminant in one facility may not be a problem in another, Frazier says he places a lot of emphasis on determining what the actual contaminants are in each facility, both by listening to the customer and through his company's own methodologies. “Often, if we determine that something is considered a potential contaminant, we will change our procedures to respond to [it],” he says.
In addition to qualified, well-trained personnel, companies must also be concerned about the type and quality of cleaning supplies, garments, and equipment their cleaning contractor will use. In fact, as part of its training program, Lamb says Jani-King brings in cleaning supply vendors to talk about the distinctions between traditional and cleanroom-suitable cleaning supplies and chemicals.
Some users provide their own equipment and supplies, while others purchase these as part of their cleaning contract. According to Jani-King's Lamb, “In very few cases do we actually purchase supplies. However, we do often recommend what supplies to use and we have established relationships with both chemical and equipment makers.”
Likewise Protocol's Frazier says his company stays current with manufacturers' offerings and helps customers choose the products with the best value. “Sometimes the cheapest is best, sometimes it's not. Also the best available products vary from region to region,” he says. Although Protocol doesn't carry supplies itself, it does broker from the best current supplier and will drop shipping charges, which Frazier says can often provide substantial cost savings.
ACM normally purchases and supplies its own cleaning products, although Ford says these are selected in conjunction with customers on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, the customer will provide the cleaning products.
DeShane of ServiceMaster screens all its cleaning products and equipment for suitability to cleanroom use, working with a wide variety of cleanroom product suppliers. In fact, DeShane says to maintain its ISO-9001 certification, the company must show verification and certification of the supplies and equipment used from each vendor.
According to Hendrickson of Porter, because some of the more expensive cleaning equipment, such as HEPA vacuums and stainless steel cleaning tools used in aseptic environments, dedicated to the cleanroom, the customer will usually provide them.
While routine maintenance and cleaning are the primary businesses of cleanroom cleaning providers, some also offer disaster recovery services. In the event of such emergencies as chemical spills or fires, they are prepared to step in with specially trained personnel and specialized equipment. For example, Protocol provides accident cleanup and recovery services that “in the event of a spill will go in and mitigate losses and restore the operation as quickly as possible,” says Frazier.
Cleaning companies do not perform the initial environmental health and safety cleanup. This step is normally done by the owner's safety team, which immediately neutralizes any acids or other hazards before cleanup operations begin.
In Protocol's case, one of the three principals of the company “will have four hours to get on an airplane and go anywhere in the world to implement a recovery and risk management package,” Frazier says. Most frequently Protocol's work involves smoke and water mitigation using wet/dry HEPA vacuums. These cost $4,000 to $5,000 each, “and we have to make sure we can obtain them quickly,” he says.
ACM also provides disaster cleanup services, immediately mobilizing a specially trained crew upon notification of an emergency. Although Ford agrees that health hazards should have been neutralized prior to the team entering the cleanup site, she adds that “most of the people working on these crews have had chemical safety awareness training.”
Hendrickson of Porter adds that depending on the type of environment, other safety issues such as the presence of bloodborne pathogens may require additional specialized training. “We have specialists on staff trained in various areas who will lead the crew depending on the type of emergency,” he says.
Organization and Management
Lamb points out that given the profitability pressures most companies face today, more are turning to outside sources for their cleaning services. “They are offloading daily management tasks as well as staffing and training to companies who do this for a living,” he says.
Reliability and dependability will always be key parameters for anyone considering a contract cleaning service provider. There are several ways to measure providers against these standards. For example, Lamb advises customers to first look at a provider's level of exposure to the cleanroom industry. Frazier agrees, adding that customers not only need to check general janitorial performance references, but they need to determine the number of people with training in cleanroom protocols actually available.
Frazier also emphasizes management as a critical parameter. “We've determined that 85 to 90 percent of the potential workforce in a given area will come from the same labor pool, so quality of management is what makes the biggest difference.”
According to Ford, because cleaning work is done necessarily offsite, quality supervision is critical. “It's not like you're manufacturing some gadget; our product is ultimately effortless control, and people performance is a big part of that product,” she says.
Related to this issue, ISO-9000 certification can also be an important criteria as an indicator of the quality of both corporate and field management.
At a more basic level, Hendrickson says he's frequently amazed at how some companies can entrust thousands or even millions of dollars to an outside concern without ever having visited its offices to see what kind of organization it is. “For example, a lot of cleaning companies say they have a training program. But doesn't it make sense to see the room where they do it and meet the people actually conducting it?” he asks.
Another indicator can be employee turnover rate. As Hendrickson points out, turnover is one of the major concerns of companies considering outsourcing their cleanroom cleaning. “In our experience, you can get less turnover by using a quality outsourcing company. Because cleaning is what we do, we attract the right kind of people. Because our position is that cleanroom cleaning technicians demand a premium pay scale and opportunities for advancement, we keeps our turnover to a minimum, improves our efficiency, and keeps our costs competitive,” he says. Hendrickson adds that the majority of Porter's employees are full-time, career cleaning technicians.
Finally, DeShane warns that an important consideration for any user of a cleaning service is that it be large enough to handle liability issues should there ever be a problem. “In this business, mistakes can be extremely costly, and you want to be sure your provider is large enough and sound enough to cover those costs,” he says.