While it received predictably dismissive responses from property owner/manager stakeholders, a hygiene audit conducted in New South Wales and Victorian shopping centres has revealed worryingly poor cleaning practices.
The audit’s results have prompted United Voice to call on all industry stakeholders to work towards cleaning hygiene standards as well as take responsibility for hygiene outcomes on all sites.
This major new report, some 87-pages large, was released 17 April by United Voice and prepared by GETEX, a specialist consulting and testing company focused on OH&S and the environment.
The New South Wales Shopping Centre Hygiene Audit 2012 report is an assessment of cleaning practices at seven anonymous shopping centres in New South Wales. The results reveal the true state of shopping centres around the country.
GETEX conducted visual assessment of shopping centre conditions, while also conducting bacteria swabbing and testing of various surfaces. All testing was conducted before and after cleaning.
The unhappy results include findings such as:
• The average surface bacteria count per site increased after cleaning by 1,827% (increased by 18 times).
• The average surface bacteria count overall increased 17 times — by 1,712%.
• Overall results show that over 25% of surfaces contained some level of visible soiling or contamination after cleaning.
A similar hygiene audit was conducted in Victoria, which also found shopping centres were dirty and unsafe, even after cleaning.
“The results of these reports are astounding,” said Louise Tarrant, United Voice’s national secretary. “But, these results also verify what shopping centre cleaners have been saying for over a year.”
Research found that surfaces were, on average, dirtier after the surfaces were cleaned. This was especially true for children’s high chairs and toilets used by adults and children.
“Children are amongst the most vulnerable and most likely to catch illness and disease. And shopping centre owners are subjecting them to dirty shopping centre conditions, all in an effort to cut costs.”
The United Voice press released stated, ‘Researchers found that these harrowing results are because shopping centre cleaners are under enormous pressure with inadequate staffing levels and insufficient equipment. This is due to cost cutting by shopping centre owners in shopping centre cleaning contracts, causing a race to the bottom in retail shopping centre cleaning.’
“Shopping centre owners are slashing cleaning contracts. This cost cutting in cleaning contracts is costing more than just hours for cleaners — it may be risking the health and safety of all shoppers,” Tarrant noted.
“The hygiene reports released in Sydney and Melbourne today show the need for immediate and urgent reform in the retail cleaning industry,” Tarrant added.
She also pointed out that due to a lack of Australian standards for cleaning, there are no guidelines for how clean a surface must be to be considered acceptable after cleaning.
“We need specific Australian guidelines and standards for cleanliness. We’re calling on all players in the industry — shopping centre owners and cleaning companies — to take their share of responsibility for the situation their centres are in and work with cleaners to fix the industry.
“If we want to address the health and safety concerns that these reports reveal, then we need to ensure that there is proper staff and equipment to clean centres. Otherwise, shopping centres may be risking the health and safety of children and families across Australia.”
SCCA says contractors are responsible
Sydney’s Daily Telegraph reported (18 April) that, ‘The Shopping Centre Council of Australia (SCCA) slammed the report as a stunt designed to help the union lobby for a $2 an hour over-award payment for shopping centre cleaners.’
“Centre owners, more so than any other building owners, are conscious of the need to have very high cleaning and hygiene standards,” SCCA executive director Milton Cockburn is quoted as saying.
“You have to be sceptical of any report that is anonymous. Shopping centres don’t do their own cleaning, it is the individual cleaning contractor who has responsibility for these types of standards.”
Cockburn said shopping centre owners had rejected the over-award payment and said any suggestion centres had slashed cleaning contracts was “nonsense”. “In fact, if this pay increase was granted I have no doubt the contractors would have to slash their staffing levels in the shopping centres in order to make up for it.”
“A wake-up call,” says ACCA’s John Laws
The Australian Cleaning Contractors’ Alliance’s (ACCA) executive director John Laws responded to the audit report saying, “I am very concerned at the simplification of this report. Insofar as its comments about the quality of cleaning go, I have to agree with the findings regarding surfaces that still contained soiling, which are quite alarming and indicate that either the cleaner or his/her supervisor are not doing their job properly.
“As to the build-up of contaminants on surfaces after cleaning has been undertaken, that will always occur. The very minute a surface has been cleaned the contaminants will begin to settle on the surface again and build-up.
“Even in white room cleaning there is a constant battle to keep surfaces sanitised.”
He noted that a food court needs to be kept clean and “my viewing of the test results indicates the food court cleaners do a good job in removing visible soiling and contaminants.
“After that they have little control because things like the air conditioning systems, people breathing, coughing and sneezing, which all affect the surface.
“If we start asking the cleaners to wash everything with bleach then we will have reached a ridiculous point and customers will complain of the smell.”
Laws did question when the follow-up tests were carried out. “How can we be sure the toilets had been cleaned when they did their second tests?” questioned Laws.
“As far as I am concerned this (audit report) is a wakeup call but more careful analysis should be made of the testing procedure and results before we start screaming.”
A full copy of the report can be downloaded at: