Friday, January 10, 2014

"Just" A Custodian?

I read this article and felt it was exactly on cue when it comes to how others view custodians, the important part they play in any facility and their dedication to details and safety not to mention the myriad talents and abilities they have to have to be a custodian. The article is longer than my normal posts, but it is well worth reading! The article is titled Keven Moore on Insurance: A Company's 'Unsung Heroes' Are Often On Custodial Staff. 

The day I turned 16 was the day I gave up my job as a “newspaper delivery specialist” to take my talents down the street to McDonald’s on Versailles Road. There, I was being paid a hefty $3.35 a hour, 25 cents above the minimum wage, which wasn’t bad back in those days.

In that new job, I was often sent out to the dining room, restroom or parking lot to help Wendall, the restaurant custodian, tidy up the premises. After all, management’s motto was, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.”

(Photo provided)
(Photo provided)
Even though I had been taught to respect others regardless of their profession or economic status, I can still remember wondering why a man in his early 30s would aspire to be “just” a custodian. I learned, however, that Wendall was a long-time employee who could have had any job at the restaurant but preferred the custodial duties. He was known for being very dependable, always smiling and proud, and he never complained about his job. The customers loved him and Mr. Graviss, the franchise owner, treated him with the utmost respect.

Since my Mickey D days, and now as a risk management and safety professional, I have learned that while the custodial staff is an integral part of many companies, schools and organizations, they are all-too-often the unsung heroes. Usually the CEO, store manager, marketing manager or the top salespeople receive all the glory for a company’s success.

But from my viewpoint, the custodial staff is responsible for preventing millions of dollars in potential slip-and-fall accidents, infections, thefts, robberies and more. Those things are hard to quantify because they are unrealized losses to the organization. (How do you quantify a $100,000 worker’s compensation injury or an $800,000 lawsuit from a customer slip-and-fall injury if it never ever happened?) Still, the custodians’ contributions to the bottom line cannot be overestimated.

Over the years, custodial employees have come to a child’s rescue, saved lives and even detected life-threatening hazards as they carry out their duties. Many of these unsung heroes are known for providing light handyman work for their employers in addition to cleaning duties.

Custodians are also responsible for cleaning spills, emptying trash cans and securing all points of entry for security purposes. When the weather turns bad, they are also responsible for spreading salt, shoveling walks and providing extra floor mats by every entry preventing potential life-threatening injuries to customers and employees.

When hospitals want to make a name for themselves, they will publicize the purchase of new technologies or the fact that they just hired a world-renowned surgeon on their staff. Such investments attract publicity as well as patients, but hospitals are learning that the kinds of investments that truly improve patient care come from the bottom of their pay scale. The truth of the matter is that in many hospital settings, these custodial employees quietly save countless lives by leading the charge in their infection-control efforts.

Perhaps, like many, you rarely notice the janitorial or custodial staff in your workplace. But, as a risk management and safety consultant trying to reduce accidents in a very litigious society, I sure recognize their value.

Slip-and-fall accidents on the premises represent a significant cost to many of my clients today. Over the years I have learned that a good janitorial or custodial employee is a true professional, knowing the correct cleaning solution for each type of surface to reduce the coefficient of friction to help prevent slip-and-fall injuries.

I can still remember investigating a rash of slip-and-fall accidents with a restaurant franchisee early in my career, only to later learn that the janitor had taken a short leave of absence. After some investigation, I discovered that management had instructed another employee filling in for the absent janitor to go buy some laundry detergent down at the local grocery to clean the floors in the lobby, which unfortunately reduced the coefficient of friction to a very dangerous level, thus causing these unexplained slip-and-fall injuries.

As many janitorial and custodial professionals will tell you, improper cleaning and finishing techniques can turn safe floors into slippery sheets of plastic. To prevent this, application of any floor cleaner or wax should be conducted in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and with a high coefficient of friction in mind.

Recently, as my wife and I stopped in at the McDonald’s on Richmond Road for a cup of coffee, I happened to look up to see the same familiar smiling face cleaning tables and mopping up spills in the lobby. So I called Wendall over to our table, where I learned that he had spent his entire career working for the same McDonald’s franchisee as one of their custodians.

It occurred to me while I was talking to Wendall how vital he has been to Mr. Graviss (and for the last 26 years, his son Joe) and their McDonald’s franchise operation and how lucky they are to have him. I can’t imagine the number of accidents, illnesses and costly problems he has helped prevent over those 36 years of service.

The take-away to this story is to never underestimate the contribution that you or others may bring to an organization. Sometimes the most valuable employee to an organization could very well be working in a less-than-desirable position or could even be the lowest-paid employee on your payroll. The key is to recognize those employees for their efforts and to find a way to appropriately appreciate them.

Be safe, my friends.

Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance ( He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at


Seeking Shared Learning said...

Batman - Thanks for sharing this reminder about the importance of all employee contributions to the success of an organization.

KMCaboose said...

i love this blog. I am a night custodian at a school. and at times i do feel unappreciated and overworked. I love the fact that some people do see the important part of our jobs. Thank you so much for putting this up.