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Making a clean getaway

Author : Gary Perks

23 December 2011

One of the biggest mistakes a business can make when it plans to move to new premises is not giving enough consideration to the waste this will generate, the cleaning that will be required and how hazardous chemicals and contaminated equipment will be transported. discusses

The other common mistakes are to underestimate the problems that can be faced, the amount of work that will be needed and the time that will be required.

Moving, or closing down, premises is often a stressful time for the management of any company. It can come when the business is downsizing for various reasons, or at a time of growth. This may not only require larger facilities, but also the fulfilling of larger orders, which means there is little time for such mundane things as cleaning.

Sadly many companies fail each year and their former owners may have little enthusiasm for cleaning up their former premises, but the legal responsibility still rests with them, or their landlord, to ensure the building is left contamination free.

When moving, the temptation is to concentrate on the new building: where everyone is going to go, the extra space and the new facilities available. Plans for dull things such as cleaning come well down the list. Also, while a lot of planning goes into the move itself, companies often underestimate the problems they will have moving liquids, powders and other materials of a hazardous nature.

The time to think about, and start planning for, the cleaning and waste disposal associated with a move is when the company starts thinking about the move itself.

Many moves for smaller office-based firms may be achievable with the aid of just a traditional moving company, or even with the company’s own staff. However, any organisation that uses or handles chemicals, or creates a reasonable amount of dust and waste, should at least consult a specialist in industrial cleaning, waste disposal and transporting hazardous substances. Such companies should offer a free site survey and tell you how much their services are likely to cost and how long it will take – although there is always the unforeseen.

When one moves house, it is only when all the furniture and kitchen appliances have been removed that the true extent of the cleaning comes to light, and only when the loft is cleared it can be seen just how much needs to be thrown away. The industrial equivalent is when all the machinery is moved and someone clears out the shed/basement that no one has gone to the back of for years.

When a large piece of equipment, which has been used over a number of years, is moved, it is sometimes found that chemicals have seeped beneath it and contaminated the fabric of the floor, or even the subsoil if it is a ground floor or basement. Companies often underestimate how much contamination can seep into the fabric of the building or soil. This will obviously require specialist cleaning with specialist equipment.

Without a detailed site survey it is impossible to know what work is needed and what the cost will be. It will depend on the premises, the nature of the company and the amount of housekeeping that has been done over the years. Two identical companies with different housekeeping regimes can have completely different requirements and costs.

The baseline for cleaning the premises you are leaving is to comply with environmental and health and safety regulations. There may also be clauses in a lease that specify how the building should be left. Getting the final cleaning wrong can mean legal wrangling with the landlord or even a fine if certain types of contamination are left untreated.

In some cases, under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, a clean-up project that lasts more than 30 days or involves more than 500 person days can require that the Health & Safety Executive is notified through an F10 form.

The move itself also needs careful consideration.

You need to decide what is going to be moved and what is going to be disposed of and how. Anything that is being thrown away has to be disposed of safely and legally. This may require skips and specialist containers for safe handling.

We always encourage our customers to recycle as much of their waste as possible, ideally through local facilities, so that carbon emissions from transport are kept as low as possible. Our next option would be to send as much as possible to a near-by waste-to-power facility. We only use landfill as an absolute last resort. Again, all of this requires careful planning.

Machines that have been used in conjunction with hazardous chemicals may themselves be contaminated. For these to be moved safely and legally, they may also need specialist handling. Part of the moving plan will need to cover when these machines can be are taken out of production to allow for this and/or decontamination.

Companies that routinely transport hazardous chemicals may decide they can carry out their own transport, but they need to consider if they have enough vehicles, whether they can afford to have those vehicles away from their normal work and whether they are able to handle all the substances; they may have to move chemicals they do not usually transport.

It is also a prudent idea to have a site survey of the new building carried out, to see what will need doing to ensure the premises are clean and safe for your staff to move in. There may be as much cleaning and decontamination required at the new site as was necessary at the old one. There may also be a considerable amount of waste there that needs disposing of safely.

All of these tasks carry their own risks above and beyond normal working hazards. In many cases special equipment and vehicles, protective clothing, suitable containers and even breathing apparatus may be required. For all of these tasks, the inevitable risk assessments will need to be carried out.

My advice for having a safe and successful move is to call in one or more specialists as soon as you start looking for new premises, and get them to carry out a free site survey. If they will not do a free survey, look around some more, as there are those that will.

This way you will have as clear an idea as possible of how much the cleaning and specialist transport is likely to cost, and what the timetable is likely to be. You can never be 100% sure as there are always unforeseen problems, so we always advise building in contingency time and money. Sometimes the surprises can be pleasant and things cost less than the estimate.

It is also essential to make sure the contractor’s personnel are people you are comfortable working closely with, as it is a relationship that will have to last for weeks and, possibly, months and many of the tasks may have to be carried out jointly.

Finally, the earlier you start planning, the smoother it will go.

Gary Perks is Director of Haz Environmental

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