WEB EXCLUSIVE/NEW SERVICE SPOTLIGHT: Parking And Public Perception

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This Web exclusive comes from Jim Gamble of Antioch, CA-based Crystal Cleaning Company LLC.

One of the biggest concerns in any industry is public appearance and perception. Curb appeal is what could drive a customer’s selection of a particular garage. With the thousands spent on architecture to make a parking garage appealing, it becomes even more important to keep it clean and sanitary.

Few people will go into any place of business with a poor street appearance. Even if an unclean garage attracts a customer the first time, it is difficult to get them to return, especially if they are in the area where there are other parking facilities that are available that may have a better environment for their patrons.

Garage operators, in an effort to save some money, or through neglect, often will put off or delay a deep cleaning, thinking they are saving the money on their annual garage maintenance costs. They do not stop to realize the potential liabilities, loss of income, and safety and environmental hazards of having an oily, slippery, poorly maintained garage.

Often, parking garages are neglected and have large oil spots leaking through the concrete to the floors below. Urine trails, heavy metal shavings, asbestos, pigeon feces, and exhaust dust creating a melting pot that usually raises concerns with health and safety departments.

These substances, some of which may become airborne, can cause serious concerns for the parking garage operator as well as those who use the garage daily. In recent years, EPA and Health and Safety agencies have become involved with these issues because of customer complaints. 

The first concern is safety. Anytime the public or employees are in an area that poses hazards, there are potential liability issues. These issues could range from slips and falls to accidents from vehicles unable to stop due to the conditions of the surface inside the parking structure.

The second concern would be the damage to property caused by oil, dirt, and debris tracked into vehicles. This would have a direct financial concern for the operator and owner of the garage.

There are also health concerns including brake and exhaust dust at the micron levels which is able to penetrate the human body’s defenses of the lungs. The urine and pigeon feces that might be in the garage have the potential for transmission of over 30 diseases, including some airborne fungi. Signs of illness would include constant fatigue, headaches, flu like symptoms, asthma, or worse. This also could create higher request for sick leave staff and also a slower pace of accomplishments with the day to day work schedule.

Most garages have experienced some type of health or safety issue. These concerns are getting noticed as more and more complaints and lawsuits are being reported. One of the easiest ways to combat against these issues is to maintain them properly with a deep cleaning program at least once, possibly twice a year.

When choosing a garage cleaning company to undertake this task, facility professionals should follow some of minimum garage cleaning requirements. First, ask how many GPMs the washer unit has. Then find out what is the PSI that will be used. The best answer: 5.8 GPM at 3500 PSI hot water pressure washer.

The washer needs pressure to clean but should not have too much. Most garage concrete surfaces can handle at least 5,000 PSI or more. The pressure washer who has at least 3,500 PSI but not more than 4,500 psi will be ideal. GPMs should be at least 5.6 to 6.8 GPM. Facility managers (fms) should ask to see specs on the equipment to ensure their suitability for the job.

Next, fms should investigate heat. The hotter the water the contractor is able to generate with his equipment, the more easily he will be able to remove oil and other deposits from the garage floor. Boilers should be at least 120,000 BTUs PER GPM. In other words, a 5.8 GPM washer should have a 696,000 BTU boiler to go alone with it ( 5.8 GPM x 120,000 BTU = 696,000 BTUs). This ratio will generate at least 250˚F steam to remove the oil from the pores of the concrete (250˚F is the minimum temperature necessary for the removal of oil from concrete.

Another important strategy in the process is creating some sort of recovery system. These are readily available and should include a filtration system so the water can be disposed of legally down the sanitary sewer.

The filtration unit must be the right size for the job. If the filter is too small, the contractor will experience delays from clogged filters. These delays may cost time and money by creating unusable garage floors.

It is essential to create a documentation process for waste (including filtration media) transported offsite. This is part of federal guidelines for “cradle to grave” responsibility. By having the disposal of this Class II Hazardous Waste via transportation, this will open fms up to possible lawsuits or fines if the product is spilled from an accident or “lost” in transport.

For the record, this type of disposal is not recommended. A better method is to get a permit form the Publicly Owned Treatment Works and discharge the waste to through this entity. This eliminates the responsibilities of “cradle to grave” disposal. Fms should make sure their contractors have the necessary permits and that filters have been inspected and are approved for discharge for a parking garage cleaning.

Finally, fms should create a safety plan that works. This is particularly important for a “live” garage because of the traffic there. From barricades to personal to security, all need to be on the same page.

A working plan will demonstrate that the contractor has actually thought through the cleaning process for the garage. Usually, the contractor will want to start on the top floor and work his way down to the lower floors. This will get trickier through the middle section of the garage when the floors above are closed. It will be necessary for fms to plan on alternate parking for the time being.

Finding a contractor who has the right equipment will save fms time and headaches, and in this case, bigger is better. A good contractor can finish a 300,000 square foot parking facility in one day. Closing a garage or cleaning it level by level is sometimes the only solution, even if it’s not the preferable one.

There also are legal concerns, especially in California. For example, the state EPA may be preparing to implement standards for garage cleaning. Most of these are not from the standpoint of the cleanliness, but from the potential pollution that comes from hazardous runoffs into storm drains and sewers.

An inexperienced contractor can often cost far more in inconvenience and damage by not having the experience or equipment to get the facility cleaned in an ideal timeframe. Nothing is more frustrating than having a contractor who proposes a short timeline and ends up taking far longer than originally planned.

Damage is another concern. It can happen when inexperienced contractors are trying to get out that last piece of gum or stubborn stain. The contractor’s lack of experience will sometime cause the operator to use too much pressure and dig a hole or leave scarring in the concrete.

Damage is also possible when electronic devices, such as call boxes, ticket machines, lighting fixtures, etc. get wet from the cleaning. Hiring the less expensive contractor does not ensure a great deal. It could mean a 2:30 am call about something going wrong, which creates more headaches if the facility needs to be up and running for the 6:00 am rush.

Another special concern is “live” garages. This means the cleaners work while customers are coming and going. This type of cleaning always takes longer and provides more of an injury risk factor.

Security and barricades must be on site to help direct traffic and the contractor must be able to handle vehicles driving through the work area. Security will also be needed to keep customers from parking where the contractors are cleaning.

This is where a dressed security officer may be a good idea, particularly for pedestrians and contractor safety. Drivers are not always careful or don’t pay attention to contractor employees, even when they wear reflective vests. A properly uniformed security officer will help calm drivers and prevent them from proceeding in a reckless manner.

Finally, there is the situation of cars that are parked overnight. By cleaning garages once every six months, fms will be able to clear out the repo companies that use a public garage for their storage. This is a cheap way to store a car until it can be processed.

Frequently, cars are stored for long periods of time without management’s knowledge. This becomes apparent when it comes time to clean the garage. Some repo companies are so sneaky that they send a cleaning crew to wipe off the dust every week so the cars appear fresh.

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