Detroit Janitorial & Cleaning Services Blog

Industry Leader Bill Fellows Discusses MSDS Guideline Changes

Posted by Christine Duquette on Wed, Oct 29, 2014 @ 01:39 PM

materal_safety_data_sheet_informationWith nearly fifty years in the cleaning business, Bill Fellows might just be the most experienced man in the industry.

Bill began his long relationship with the business of cleaning in 1966 working for a small janitorial firm. Bill married in 1969 and shortly after, he and his wife Regina started a cleaning service which included light maintenance and later added a small janitorial supply house. In 1989 he began working in the automotive industry overseeing union janitorial employees.

In 2002, not content to rest on his laurels, Bill was driven to take what he already knew and continually add to it in order to offer other leaders in the cleaning and maintenance industry his accrued experience and sharp eye for what it takes to grow and maintain a successful, professional cleaning company. Bill continued to stay current on the latest cleaning industry updates and changes in order to offer his consulting clients the latest and greatest information to keep them on their toes and in compliance.

Working closely with the ISSA, a prominent industry organization for cleaning and maintenance companies, in 2007, Fellows was certified as an ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) assessor and received the ISSA Industry Certified Expert (I.C.E.) designation classifying him as one of just a few with such designation and making him an even more valuable resource for those in the industry.

Because of his technical expertise combined with his helpful nature and integrity, Bill is often called in to help companies like Stathakis and Facilities Managers understand changes in our industry. These include translating the often confusing and technically complex regulatory documents that are thrown at us. It is for this reason that we have asked Bill fill us in a little on how he sees the industry and to bring us up to speed on the new MSDS changes and help you understand what these changes mean for you and your facilities. What follows is our interview with Bill.



Bill, in what ways have you seen the cleaning industry change since you first started nearly fifty years ago and why are the MSDS requirements so important to you?

When Regina and I started our business, OSHA did not exist.  We were using the same cleaning chemicals as others in the business. When OSHA did come into existence, like most companies, we provided cursory training to comply with the new regulations. As business owners, we saw this as an added expense teaching people what should be common sense.

In 1980, Regina became ill and couldn’t keep food down with difficulty breathing.  After trips to Bluffton Clinic and IU Med Center in Indiana, the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, it was determined she had developed a chronic reaction to the chemicals.  Her breathing was permanently impaired and she began having multiple health problems. I never intended to hurt anyone in the cleaning business and especially not my wife.  She ended up on oxygen 24/7 and passed in July, 2014 of congestive heart failure.

I developed a passion regarding MSDS to learn everything I could about chemicals and found most of those we were using contained carcinogens, mutagens and other unsavory ingredients that, over time, caused Regina to become sick.  While I used the same chemicals, I did not have the same reaction. I learned to carefully analyze MSDS before approving chemicals for use in my business and have shared that information with anyone who will listen.  

How does the new OSHA MSDS labeling requirements impact facilities?

ghs_pictograms_2-resized-600As with any change, some are concerned about this. In the long run, the new format for SDS will bestandardized, with the same information in the same place. This is not true currently and sometimes it is difficult to locate specific information because it is not always in the same place on an MSDS.  The pictograms will greatly assist anyone when it comes to chemical storage. Products reactive to each other will have specific pictograms to let everyone know they should not be stored together.  The most difficult thing people in the US will have trouble working through is the diamond that indicates the health impact of a chemical.  Currently in the US, the numbers 0 and 1 are of low impact while 3 and 4 are high health hazards. Those numbers will be reversed under the GHA labeling system.

What safety concerns should Facilities Managers address with their cleaning company?

The most common safety issues I have seen is in the storage and use of chemicals.  Very few people truly understand how to read an MSDS so I often find products that react with others stored together on shelves and/or maid carts. Chemicals are sometimes placed on higher shelves, which can cause harm when a person reaches above the head and the container has a leak or a loose cap.  The second most common is the misuse of PPE.

What do you see as the biggest changes to the cleaning industry as it related to Facilities Management in the last five years?

The overall push toward environmentally preferable processes including equipment, materials, consumables, and chemicals. Now there are people who will not rent office space in a building that is not LEED Certified.  Cleaning organizations, whether in house or contracted are required to meet stringent standards for the building to add points to the LEED certification.  While cleaning personnel resisted the early use of “Green” procedures, industry improvements now makes these methods affordable and actually improve productivity while reducing absenteeism.

How did you come to realize that through consulting you might be able to help Facility Managers and cleaning companies understand and implement green cleaning better?

I read so many misleading articles regarding the term “Green” designed to lure companies into adopting their equipment, materials, and/or chemicals.  In some cases, the information had enough truth to be defended but did mislead people to at least some extent.  For example, the EPA recommends plastic liners contain a minimum of 10% post-consumer recycled content.  The industry began marketing 100% recycled content.  While this was technically correct, the recycled material actually was the waste product produced in manufacturing was not something recycled after being used by the consumer.  So in reality, those 100% recycled bags do not meet the EPA standard.

What do you see as potential changes coming in the next five-ten years that cleaning companies and Facility Managers can perhaps start preparing for now?

Technologies that will allow cleaning without chemicals are now in place and they will only improve in affordability and effectiveness.  This will provide the best options for the cleaner, the tenant and the environment.

Why should Facilities Managers even care about CIMS?

In most properties, the facility manager oversees the cleaning operations, whether in house or contracted. At the same time, that manager has priorities regarding the building that require constant attention. He or she does not want to devote an exceptional amount of time to cleaning operations yet the major building complaints after an area being too hot or too cold are cleaning related.   For a company to Achieve CIMS certification they must show they know how to bid and workload jobs, recruit and select qualified people, have a thorough training program, adhere to all regulatory requirements, be committed to safety, have a strong communication program between their people and their customers, and demonstrate a desire for continuous improvement.  Companies without those traits are usually mismanaged, using methods that are not efficient and try to make up for the added costs by cutting corners on the cleaning.  Over time, this creates an unhealthy environment in the building.  Hiring companies that are CIMS certified can eliminate the high cost and inconvenience of dealing with cleaning issues and eventually replacing the cleaning business that just doesn’t get it.

What can you as a Facilities Manager get from a CIMS certified cleaning company that you may not get elsewhere?

Consistency in service delivery, quick response to special requests or complaints, great communication from the front line cleaner to upper management.

Is CIMS certification easy and what does it say about the companies that achieve it?

Initially companies find CIMS can be difficult to implement, not because they don’t know what to do, but because they do not have everything documented.  Cleaning organizations typically don’t have people that can be totally dedicated to setting up all the processes.  This part of the process can sometimes take outside help.  In my experience, companies that have taken the time to set up the proper paperwork find that training becomes easier and turnover is reduced. So over time, the process does pay for itself through more efficient practices, effective scheduling, and overall reduced cost.  It takes a company with vision to work through the process to get the benefits. The cost of CIMS certification cannot be passed on to the customer and the financial commitment is a factor. To push through the process shows the value management places on the spirit of CIMS. 

Any other point or areas that you want to add or might be helpful for Facility Managers?

When asking for references, ask for a minimum of 5, and 10 would be better.  If you can get a list of past clients, that could also be helpful.  Some companies make decisions based on the bottom line and a good cleaning company can lose such an account.  However, if there is a pattern of lost business based on performance, that is another matter altogether.  Also ask for the cleaning company’s EMR and IR for safety. High numbers here are also a negative factor when considering a change in cleaning services.








For more information on Bill Fellows
or to inquire about consulting services, 
please visit him online at

Tags: CIMS-GB Certification, Cleaning Industry Updates, Industry Best Practices, Green Cleaning, Healthy Work Environment

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