How well does your industrial cleaning supplier scrub up?

David Green, industrial services manager at Grundon Waste Management, explains why safety and experience is paramount when it comes to the nitty gritty of industrial cleaning.

By its very nature, industrial cleaning is one of the dirtiest and most challenging jobs in the cleaning sector. One day our team of experts can be scaling the heights above a factory production line, the next they may be operating in almost pitch black conditions inside a manufacturing vessel.

Choosing the right, trustworthy contractor is absolutely key, not least because the number one priority has to be employee health and safety.

We've all seen the headlines - tragic deaths and injuries caused by workers becoming trapped inside vessels during a cleaning process; falling from height; or being overcome with fumes when working in a confined space. Given that employees can be handling dangerous chemicals or working in 35 degree heat, they need to have absolute faith in their colleagues and to know that all possible safety measures are in place.

Thankfully, our team has an unblemished safety record and more than 40 years' experience of industrial cleaning, but we know that not everyone shares our commitment.

To help you consider some of the issues you need to think about when finding a new industrial cleaning supplier, I've put together a checklist of tips and hints:

  • Ask for registration and certification documents.
  • Request detailed risk assessments and method statements.
  • Test a company's knowledge of legislation, such as confined space entry regulations.
  •  Ask for evidence of specialist insurance.
  •  Request testimonials and speak to previous customers.

Reviewing those in more detail, the first point is to make sure you don't always take a company's word that they have the necessary approvals. Some less than genuine operators may be tempted to copy certification details off the Internet, so take time to check the authenticity of documents with the relevant body, such as OFTEC, CHAS and the Environment Agency.

Look for an organisation which is prepared to invest in undertaking a detailed risk assessment and will provide a pre-agreed regime and timescale which demonstrates how they plan to tackle the project and how long it should take. In many cases, we are asked to carry out industrial cleaning projects during annual shutdown periods (such as Christmas) against a very tight timescale, something which is only possible with the right amount of planning.

Customers need to know that the organisation they employ will be able to complete the project in the required period and will either extend their working hours or bring in extra people to make sure they hit the deadline.

Ensuring suppliers are up-to-date with all the necessary regulations is critical. Some organisations offer a cut-price approach and, although they will claim to be current with legislation, the truth is that they often do a poor job with inexperienced staff and we are called in to literally clean up their mess.

Our teams go through extensive training and qualifications and have years of training. This includes a specialist confined spaces training awareness course; practising escaping a confined space wearing breathing apparatus; they are taught how to erect scaffolding; how to use a cherry picker; to work wearing a high level harness and to work in explosive atmospheres.

In some cases, the work is so sensitive that our team is required to undertake additional customer-led training. One such example was recently, when we were asked to manage the decommissioning and cleaning process for old laboratories and buildings at a world leading centre of research excellence.

Strict biosafety controls were in place on-site and our customer needed to know they were working with an organisation which really grasped the requirements of such a highly-specialist industry sector and who they could trust to do the job. Our team had to undergo an induction process, complete coursework and be tested to ensure they fully understood the necessary regulations and the implications of what they were doing, as well as adhere to specific quarantine rules on site.

At this level, customers cannot afford to make mistakes, which brings me back to the need to work with a reputable supplier as, unfortunately, not all operators are as stringent or safety conscious.

When it comes to experience, we always say that where vessel or tank cleaning is concerned, until we go inside, we have no way of knowing how bad it will be. That's when you rely on the knowledge of your staff to get the job done with optimum regard for safety. I believe it takes up to four years before someone is really able to show us their best in this type of environment - again another reason why you need to work with a respected supplier whose employees have been there for some considerable time.

Making sure an organisation has the right type of specialist insurance should be a given - but always ask to see the documentation.

On the last point, it's always worth reviewing the type of customers an organisation has worked with. If you can see from their website that the majority of their work has been in laboratory decommissioning, then they may not be the best people to hire for vessel cleaning in a manufacturing environment or high level work.

We're very fortunate in that over our decades of experience, our portfolio has grown to include:

  • Site decommissioning and plant removals.
  • Deep cleaning and off-site remediation.
  • High pressure jetting.
  •  High level access cleaning.
  • Tank and vessel cleaning.
  •  Laboratory and research facility cleaning.
  • Pollution and spill control.
  • Hazardous and toxic waste cleaning.
  • Disaster restoration.
  • Waste disposal.
  •  Provision of full clean room status.

We believe our expertise is second to none - so take my advice and make sure that when you sign on the dotted line of a contract, you have just as much faith in your new supplier.

For more tips and advice visit Grundon on Stand E20

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