Wednesday, 24 June 2009

South Africa opts for hi-tech cleaners to mop up after 17,9m sports fans, tourists and you

{pp}Few comment on a clean airport, but everyone notices a dirty one. As 50 000 Lions supporters, 15 000 Confederation Cup fans, 40 000 IPL cricket enthusiasts this year and 487 000 soccer fans arrive next year for the 2010 World Soccer Cup – in addition to around 6m others annually using South Africa’s main airports in Johannesburg and Cape Town, spare a thought for airport cleaners.

As plane after plane arrives the first place many travellers head for is the toilet and with a few hundred people using the toilets every hour during peak times airport cleaners have to be super efficient. Solomon Makgale of the Airports Company of SA said last year 17,9 million passengers used OR Tambo International and 7,8 million trekked through Cape Town International. The highest number of passengers processed during a peak period was approximately 5 800 per hour at OR Tambo International and 2 500 per hour at Cape Town International – that’s a lot of potential flushes. At Cape Town International among the most advanced cleaning, computer training and electronic monitoring systems in the world ensure that the airport which has been under almost perpetual construction for the last two years is always immaculately clean.

Kenny Kruger who is in charge of cleaning operations at Cape Town airport for contractor Isikhonyane Cleaning a subsidiary of Supercare, learnt the science of cleaning at Two Military Hospital in Cape Town where cleaners wore gloves to their elbows and had hepatitis shots to protect them and patients from any infection, especially from cleaning toilets. Today the 280 cleaners at Cape Town airport – there will be two or three times more by the time construction is finished and the elegant wings of the new airport lift above the Cape Flats - use high-tech methods to hone their skills. All are trained on touchscreens using from South African electronic skills teaching masters, Edutouch. The cleaners, most of whom have minimal schooling can choose to learn in English, Xhosa and Afrikaans. And it’s not just about a mop, a brush, a squeeze of detergent and a generous lappie; everything is colour-coded according to the zone to be cleaned because many cleaners are barely literate.

Touchscreen learning gives them the capacity to self-teach themselves in brief modules, relearn those aspects they are uncertain of and for training assessments to immediately be sent to Supercare head-office for them to monitor worker efficacy. Edutouch developer and CEO, Rob Dersley said the system “allows human resources staff to immediately assess which individuals and teams is competent in which skills and which areas they may need additional training in.” Supercare has 17 000 cleaners working in hospitals, airports, casinos and office blocks nationwide and in addition to supervisors working with teams, Educare allows for independent performance assessments. The role of the airport cleaning teams is not only to ensure cleanliness but to make sure that frequently mopped floors are safe and that toilets which are often left in a stinking state by vomiting drunks or those who stand on top of the seat and urinate or defecate on walls and floors are clean and hygienic for the next person. Cleaners have to learn the seven steps to handwashing after cleaning to protect their own health. They learn specific cleaning methods for public areas to ensure that travellers have the impression of a consistently clean environment despite thousands tramping through terminals daily.

Toilets are high-risk areas for infection for the cleaner and tourist if not cleaned properly so they get particularly careful training and care. Dersley says the unique touchscreen learning method “is used on mines, at petrol stations and in supermarkets. It ignores conventional wisdom that those with low levels of literacy have poor retention in training. Research by the University of South Africa shows that training of unskilled workers with touchscreens is four times faster than a conventional classroom setting and retention of training knowledge is 60% better.” Woolworth’s senior technologist, Uwe Brustle reported that using Edutouch for quality control inspections had seen: “The inspection rate per person increased 70% to 80%. We also save hours not having to compile reports and enter data into our system. The reports are displayed on our web browser as quality inspections occur, so picking up trends and understanding where problems are happening makes it effective in managing the process more effectively. “Our suppliers receive reports immediately when problems occur, with photos and all the detail about the problem. This helps them to act quickly and prevent more products with the same problem from getting into the distribution network.” Dersley said Edutouch also, “Almost immediately creates detectable improvements in staff motivation, safety and productivity within a month and over the long term sees training costs decline while efficiencies improve. It also introduces convivial peer competition as workers try to get better scores than their colleagues.”

Cleaners at Cape Town International Airport refer to Edutouch as ‘the red box.’ Nokwanda Jevu (40) and Nomakabelo Gcala (32) said they used to think, “All women can clean, but now we know that there are things we should do that help us clean better.” Gcala said, “Edutouch protects me and my two children, because it helps me to clean and makes sure I don’t get sick from other people when they are dirty.” Supercare cleaning supervisors Fundiswa Mdudi (37) and Thelma Sofuthe (38) said Edutouch “helps us to be professionals.” Sofuthe says, “we have learnt to knock on doors before opening them, how to handle spillages on floors and to be careful about passengers health and safety and ours.” Mdudi said, “We also feel happier about some of the awful jobs we have to do. Once a dog used by a blind person messed all over the floor at the airport, it made a terrible stink but with my training I knew how to clean it quicker and I felt proud to show tourists that South Africa is clean and so I just put on an apron, rolled up my sleeves and cleaned.” Sofuthe said, “The better we clean the more people come to us and say thank you.”

Tipping is not allowed and staff who accept tips are subject to disciplinary procedures according to Airport Company of South Africa rules. “We take pride in our work,” Kruger says, “and someone saying thank you makes a hard job worthwhile.” Cleaning at airports under construction is exhausting, battling dust is a continual challenge and there are frequent water outages as construction progresses. Sometimes cleaners have to fill containers with water and walk up to a kilometre with them to manually flush toilets. “It can be exhausting,” Sofuthe says, “but we are all very proud of this beautiful airport and the work we do here.”

Contact information:
Rob Dersley,
Tel: 011 602 7940
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Issued by:
Charlene Smith Communications Pty Ltd
011 646 7637 or 021 762 2656
Charlene Smith Communications (Pty)Ltd
Contact: Leila Beltramo
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Tel: 021 762 2656