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Manufacturing maintenance teams now face the double challenge of keeping assets online and facilities free of COVID-19. But with a properly planned, scheduled, and tracked cleaning and disinfecting schedule backed by the right work order software, you can help ensure your plant is both productive and safe. 

But before we start looking at tasks, schedules, and work order software, let's make sure we've nailed down solid definitions. As the stakes rise, it becomes more and more important to be as exact as possible.  

Defining cleaning and disinfecting

The confusion comes from how people often use them to mean the same thing. But here we need to be more specific. Basically, cleaning is physical, while disinfecting is chemical. 

And that has important implications for maintenance teams. When it comes to COVID-19, cleaning is not enough. It's just the first step. An easy way to remember this is that C comes before D. Clean first. Then disinfect. 

Let's look at each step in the process more closely. Cleaning is physically removing germs and dirt from surfaces and objects. When you're cleaning, you're using good old-fashioned elbow grease to remove all the bad stuff, but you're not killing the germs. You're just lowering their numbers, which makes it harder for them to spread. It's the same as when you sneeze into a tissue. Everything that comes out of your nose still exists in the exact same form as when it was inside your nose; it's just that now it's on the tissue, which you can safely throw away. 

Disinfecting is different. You're using chemicals to kill germs, but you're not necessarily removing them. The important part is you're killing them. And just to be sure about our definitions, when we talk about "germs," they're the dangerous bacteria and viruses that cause illness. 

What becomes clear based on these definitions is that we need to both clean and disinfect. First, remove as many germs as possible. Then kill whatever you missed. Otherwise, you're not doing enough. 

Where does sanitizing fit in? Again, it's confusing because of how people use the word. Generally, sanitation is about keeping places clean and healthy. If a restaurant gets shut down by the city, it's because of their "unsanitary conditions." But for maintenance leads, it's better to restrict ourselves to a narrower definition, which is that sanitizing is a chemical process that kills bacteria, but not viruses. And that means it's not really part of the conversation when it comes to COVID-19, which is spread by a virus. 

Identifying cleaners and disinfectants 

The first step is to read the label carefully. And then read it again. You need to check and double-check to make sure you know what you have. The second step is to go to the EPA's website and enter the product's registration number, which you can find on the label. It should look something like this: 46785-3. The site then tells you right away if the product is a disinfectant approved by the EPA to fight the virus that causes COVID-19. It also tells you how to use it, including surface and object types, contact times, and safety precautions. 

Understanding why cleaning and disinfecting are critical 

Scientists believe the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-COV-2, mostly spreads through person-to-person contact. But, it can also spread through surfaces, and that means an important part of stopping the spread is keeping high-touch objects and surfaces as free of germs as possible.

And for a lot of manufacturing facilities, the maintenance team is now in charge of keeping high-touch surfaces virus free. An effective program has a lot of moving parts, but at a minimum and you need good answers to the following questions: 

  • What? 
  • How? 
  • How often? 
  • How well? 

So let's look at some possible answers and also how preventive maintenance software can help you keep your manufacturing facility safe. 

Planning your schedule with work order software 

Here we're answering the question "What?" 

You need to make a list of all the objects and surfaces to include in the new schedule. Although no two manufacturing facilities will have the exact same lists, there's bound to be a lot of overlap. Make sure to look at: 

  • Doorknobs and handles 
  • Lunchroom tables and chairs, countertops 
  • Handrails 
  • Light switches 
  • Buttons on vending machines 
  • Buttons in elevators 
  • Shared desktop computers, including keyboards and mouses 
  • Shared mobile devices, especially the screens 
  • Tool and workplace surfaces 
  • Movable trays and containers 
  • Conveyor belts 
  • Transport vehicles 
  • Forklifts 

For many of these items, you want to create a sublist of specific locations on the asset or equipment that the technicians need to clean and disinfect. For example, on a forklift, you need to include all the parts a driver is likely to touch, including the handle, mirror, seat belt, control levels, and any knobs of buttons that control the seat height, etc. 

Once you have your lists, you can start working on your answer to "How?" 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest a six-step process. 

Step one: use the right products 

We covered this step earlier, but it's worth going over again: make sure you're using the right cleaners and disinfectants. Go to the EPA's site, and double-check. 

Step two: read the directions 

Directly connected to the first step, once you have the right products, make sure you're using them correctly. Remember, it's a chemical process, so it's not how hard you wipe; it's how long you wait before you wipe. Also, check the use sites and surface types to ensure you're matching the right product to the right objects and materials. Pay special attention to any precautions, too. The last thing you want is something getting sick from a program where the whole purpose is protecting people. If using the product requires personal protection equipment (PPE) like gloves or a mask, you need to know that, too.

Not only are there a lot of different products, but they also come in different packages. There're ready-to-use sprays and wipes, and there are also concentrates, which means you need to prepare them before you can use them. Here again, it important to slow down and make sure to carefully read any instructions on mixing or preparing the product. One thing to double-check is where you do the mixing. Many chemicals should not be mixed in enclosed spaces or near an open flame. So, and this is an extreme example to get the point across, don't mix things in that small room by the gas furnace. 

Step three: clean the surface 

Here again we see the differences between cleaning and disinfecting. At this step, you're just cleaning, which means removing dirt and germs. According to the CDC, this step is necessary when the disinfectant mentions it specifically or when the surface or object is visibly dirty. 

Step four: follow the contact time 

Disinfecting is a chemical process, and that means the products need time to work. Make sure the surface is wet the entire time. Doing the job right takes time when it comes to reducing COVID-19 risks. A good example is how everyone was told that when they're washing their hands, they needed to sing Happy Birthday before rinsing off the soap. It doesn't matter how hard you rub your hands together; you still need to keep going until the end of the song.

Step five: remove gloves, wash hands 

Once you get all the germs off the objects and surfaces, you need to get all the disinfectant off yourself. Generally, this means removing any PPE and then washing your hands. Make sure you're removing the PPE in the right order to avoid accidentally getting any disinfectant on your skin. For example, if you're wearing a face mask, make sure you don't try to remove it while wearing protective gloves still covered in chemicals. 

Step six: secure all cleaners and disinfectants 

There are good reasons you need to keep everything away and secure. You want to make sure that only people who know how to safely use them have access to these products. Accidentally mixing the wrong cleaning and disinfecting chemicals can be deadly. In fact, even just inhaling the fumes or getting them on your skin can have severe consequences. Locking them up prevents accidents.

The CDC has a six-step process, but we need to add one more. Make all this information available to the maintenance team. And because there's so much information and it's critical that every step gets followed properly, you also need to make sure the team can access it from anywhere, at any time.

If you're still struggling under older maintenance management methods, there's no room for all the information you need to include in each work order. How much can you scribble on a piece of paper? How much can you cram into a spreadsheet cell? The answer is the same for both: Not enough. 

Modern work order software lets you add everything technicians need to work efficiently and close out quickly, including: 

  • Interactive site maps and floor plans 
  • Step-by-step instructions 
  • Associated health and safety warnings 
  • Customizable checklists 
  • Associated parts and materials 
  • Comprehensive maintenance and repair histories 
  • Digital images, schematics, and O&M manuals 

For a cleaning and disinfecting schedule, the first four are critical. People need to know where to go, what to do, how to do it safely, and how to reliably double-check they did everything properly. For this program specifically, you need the team to perform new tasks without any time for a learning curve. That means the work orders must have all the information techs need to do everything correctly. 

Fast, preloaded preventive maintenance templates with work order software 

If you had to write out this information every time you generated a new work order, your workflow would slow to a crawl. On top of the frustration, there are endless opportunities for errors. And even a few small typos can lead to serious mistakes.

Modern CMMS software solves this problem with templates for both on-demand and scheduled preventive maintenance work orders. After you enter the info once, you can pre-populate all the data fields with a few clicks. And because preventive maintenance templates work on both the desktop and mobile app, generating data-packed work orders is as easy from behind a desk as it is on the go using any Internet-connected mobile device. 

Anywhere, anytime mobile app access with work order software 

Mobile CMMS apps also make it possible to access and update data on the go and in real time. Maintenance technicians check their assigned work orders and access critical information. But because they're working with a smaller screen, the app uses a special layout to make it easier to find and digest. Everything is within a few quick taps or short scrolls.

Setting up your cleaning and disinfecting schedule with work order software 

Here we're looking at your answer to "How often?"

Every manufacturing plant has to develop the schedule that works best for their specific circumstances. You need to look at the size of the facilities, the number and types of high-touch surfaces, as well as existing production workflows. For examples, which assets and equipment the operators use and how they use them. 

Take a forklift, for example. How many people are using it during the day? In some operations, there might be one driver using the same forklift the entire shift. In others, though, there can be a lot of different drivers on the same machine over the course of one shift. It's the same for fixed workspaces throughout the plant. Set up your schedule to match asset and equipment use.

Push notifications with a mobile maintenance app 

Because your schedule includes different locations, times, and processes that are all new to the maintenance team, the easiest way to make sure technicians do everything on time and properly is to have a reliable system for reaching out with reminders and schedule changes.

Modern facility management software does this with automatic push notifications on the mobile maintenance app, which remove the need for technicians to constantly check their phones. When they get a new assignment, their mobile device lets them know with a message that pops up on the screen. It's the same way a regular old landline phone works. You don't have to constantly pick it up to check if someone has called you and is waiting on the line. When someone calls, the phone rings right away. Once you have the tasks set up as preventive maintenance work orders, when one is autogenerated, the assigned technician receives an automatic notification. 

Direct image uploads and task comments with a mobile maintenance app 

Push notifications help the maintenance team stay on schedule and adjust to changes. But a successful program requires more than just techs doing tasks on time. They also need to do the work properly. Remember, much of the cleaning and disinfecting program is new for the maintenance team. New products, setup and teardown processes, and tasks. Even with work orders packed with instructions and explanations of best practices, there are going to be times when techs have questions. With older maintenance management systems, techs waste time running to the office, trying to track down the maintenance lead or other members of the team to get clarification. 

A modern CMMS solution solves this problem by making it possible for techs to upload images and add comments to tasks, both on the desktop and mobile maintenance app. Wherever they are, they can reach out to the rest of the team. Later, the department can go back and fine-tune the templates, reducing the chance of future confusion. In the fight again COVID-19, there's no time for mistakes. Techs need to complete tasks the right way, right away. 

Tracking the program with automated reports in work order software 

Now we're looking at the question "How well?" 

After investing effort in writing the PMs and scheduling them, it's time to make sure the team is following the program. Every organization has its preferred maintenance metrics and KPIs, but for preventive maintenance tasks, you can focus on the percentage of PMs completed.  With older maintenance management methods, these numbers are hard to generate, and even after all the trouble of creating them, they're hard to trust. If you're working with paper, you have to go through all the PMs, add them up, and then pull out the completed one. Spreadsheet-based methods are often as time consuming and frustrating because you have to click your way through all the old files. And keep in mind that even one small mistake throws off your final numbers.

A modern CMMS solution keeps all your data safe and accessible. It also crunches that data for you, delivering easy-to-read reports packed with graphs and KPIs. With just a few clicks, you can see how well the maintenance team is keeping up with the new schedule. And once you know the problem areas, you can make adjustments. There are benefits beyond just this one program. Being able to track work helps you manage your maintenance team in general by creating transparency and enforcing accountability. 

Next steps 

If you're looking for your first modern work order software, or you already have one, but it's not delivering what you were promised, now is the time to start reaching out to providers. Talking with providers and listening to their proposed solutions is the only way to learn what's available, and most importantly, it's the only way to find what's going to work best for you.  The most expensive decision you can make is waiting. 

Speak to CMMS specialist

About The Author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan Davis started out writing for textbooks before branching out to video games and marketing collateral. He has a master’s degree in journalism and a certificate in technical writing.