Tuesday 16 July 2013

First-class food, third-world toilets

Austrian cleaning consultant aims to raise industry productivity, standards
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 15 Jul 2013

AFTER six months in Singapore, Mr Oliver Andersch is charmed by the hawker fare. "First-class food," he cooed.

But the Austrian has not been quite as impressed with the cleanliness and hygiene of the hawker centres. "Third world," he slammed. "They use the same cloth for everything - wiping away food, cleaning tables. This is disgusting," he said, shaking his head.

It is his job to help make it better. He is Singapore's only "ang moh" (Caucasian) toilet cleaner.

Although the 43-year-old holds the title of "cleaning excellence and development director" with cleaning company ISS Facility Services, he told The Straits Times: "I'm basically just an experienced cleaning guy." He trains his firm's cleaners to do their jobs more efficiently, with all sessions conducted one on one. Some 200 cleaners have gone under his tutelage.

And he hopes to improve Singapore's cleaning standards, which are both primitive and inefficient in his view. "Singapore has an international reputation as a clean city, but the cleanliness is maintained by a big army of cleaners whose productivity is low... They go about their work like robots."

Asked how inefficient these cleaners are, he replied without hesitation: "It is about 10 to 15 years behind Europe.

"The same work can be done by about 30 per cent fewer cleaners, if they use proper methods and tools."

For instance, he said, most cleaners do not have a standardised workflow and do their job haphazardly. His method starts with the toilet. "The toilet is the hardest to clean so if a cleaner can get it right, the rest will be easier. It is also where clients usually check."

He proudly showed an A4-sized laminated card of the six-step cleaning method that he put together. It is a systematic workflow - from dry to wet areas, and from the cleaner sections to the dirty areas like urinals and toilet bowls.

When The Straits Times observed a training session last Friday, Mr Andersch, with his sleeves rolled up, was showing 42-year-old Nan Aye Wai how to clean a toilet. "Don't bend your back when you mop. You have to watch your health too," he was overheard saying.

After the one-hour session, he told this reporter that Ms Nan, a permanent resident, "has a good feel of the cleaning workflow" and she will get better with practice.

Mr Andersch, a trained chemist, came to Singapore in January with his wife and two young daughters. It is his first stint in Asia, after more than a decade in Austria as a cleaning consultant. His contract runs for two years but he is prepared to stay longer.

He is not bothered by the label "ang moh toilet cleaner", after The Straits Times explained what it meant. "A cleaning job is a respectable job, so who does it and the colour of the skin doesn't matter," he said.

"If I don't clean the toilets myself, how am I going to show the cleaners how to do it?" he said. "There is no shame in having to clean toilets. Someone has to clean the s***."

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