Spring cleaning 28 February 2018

Keeping machinery and work areas clean and tidy can often be seen as a chore by already busy workers. However, as Chris Beck discovers, the benefits of a good cleaning regime are wide-reaching

As the saying goes, cleanliness is next to godliness. For time-pressured plant managers, though, finding the time to ensure your machinery and workspace is properly cleaned is often one job too many. As a result, the problem is kicked further down the road for someone else to deal with.

However, the benefits of prioritising cleanliness are numerous, says Neil Turner, key account manager, industrial at professional hygiene suppliers Tork. “As a bare minimum, keeping a machine clean will improve the basic efficiency of that machine. It will also make it more reliable.”

There is a worrying lack of awareness of these benefits amongst industry, he continues. “There are a fair few for whom a clean working environment is very high on the agenda,” he acknowledges. “However, there is a whole raft of other companies that see it merely as a secondary issue, where the benefits get lost in translation – it’s seen as a cost and a chore where it should instead be a benefit and a simple, everyday task.”

The right tool for the job
This apathy towards cleaning stems from two things, he says. “First, people aren’t aware of the benefits – or, more to the point, the downsides – of implementing a regular cleaning regime. Secondly, many sites have a culture of being willing to overlook things or shift responsibility onto others.”

Responsibility for cleaning lies with the machine operator, continues Turner. However, their ability, and willingness, to do the task is largely based on the tools they are provided with. What these right tools consist of depends on the sector. “There isn’t a panacea for all cleaning across all of industry. For example, in quarrying, which is very dirty and heavy, the cleaning needs will be a lot different to those of a micro-electronics manufacturer.”

He tells a story that puts into stark reality the potential dangers of a poor cleaning routine. “A few years ago, I visited a firm that makes electrical motors for putting into missiles. They were using a paper-based, high-linting cleaning product, which seemed crazy to me; they kept getting bits of lint in the motors (see box, below left). We’d be mortified about finding a bit of blue roll in our coffee, but we’d get over it; if a missile malfunctioned because of a bit of paper, you’d quite rightly feel someone could have done their job better.”

It’s also important, says Turner, to consider any legal ramifications of using the wrong wiper. “I have seen food manufacturers using non-food-contact-safe wipers. If the company is caught using the wrong type of wipers, the consequences can be quite severe: product recalls, reputational damage and hefty fines.”

Dangerous consequences
Using the wrong tool for the job can also have serious health and safety consequences. “Take swarf, for example,” he states. “The number of times I’ve seen people using a thin piece of cotton rag to clean up sharp bits of metal is astounding. This goes away from simple maintenance or legislation, and into the world of health and safety. If an employee cuts his hand open because he wasn’t supplied with the right wiper, he will have a very strong case against you.

“You wouldn’t do it with other safety equipment, like safety glasses or a hard hat – cleaning cloths are an area that goes beyond efficiency and towards a risk to health. It’s a training issue, and the responsibility of management to ensure people have the right tool for the job.”
According to stats from the European Occupational Safety and Health Administration (http://bit.ly/2FJKEtw), 10-15% of all fatal industrial accidents, and 15-20% of all non-fatal ones, are caused by poor maintenance. “Of course, they won’t all be caused by failing to clean a machine, but it goes to show the importance of maintenance and that cleaning should be part of that agenda,” warns Turner.

Changing the ‘it’s not my job’ mind-set
Even after reading this, there will probably be many who still don’t see cleaning as a major factor or that it shouldn’t be their job to keep machinery or the shopfloor clean. If that’s your attitude, he says, you are part of the problem. “The advantages to manufacturers regarding cleaning may not have been explored or even thought about properly. That’s fine.

The biggest problem is the element who don’t care about it – the ‘it’s not my job’ brigade. “In most factories, there are fast-moving, highly efficient machines and, if they go down, the whole site will have a problem. If they go down because someone hasn’t been bothered to clean a particular part of it, or has used the wrong equipment to do so, that’s a problem that could have been very easily avoided.”

Turner says that the best way to change attitudes surrounding cleaning routines is to focus on the worst-case scenario. “Going back to the issue of wiping swarf with a thin cloth, if someone hurts their hand and takes you to court for £200,000, which they quite easily could do, people will suddenly sit up and take notice. We don’t want to get to that stage, though. The alternative is that people are shown a better way before it’s too late.”

A final, added benefit of a strict cleaning regime is that it can make a significant advantage to any lean manufacturing process. “For some firms, the biggest reason for changing their current system isn’t to do with price or quality of the products, but to help with their 5S programme,” says Turner. “There’s a real benefit to simply having the right cloth on every work station, rather than having a big roll of blue paper in a store room at the far end of the workshop.”

Cleaning may not be top of everyone’s priorities or it might be a job saved for a Friday afternoon. However, the benefits to ensuring machinery and workstations are kept clean and tidy are numerous, and can have major benefits to your efficiency, reliability, safety and bottom line.

Adam Offord

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