A vast, 5.6 million square foot North American laboratory has about 150 custodial workers. Each custodian is responsible for about 30,000 square feet of office space which is cleaned five days per week. Along with the typical cleaning duties – such as restroom cleaning, trash removal, vacuuming, etc. – most of the floors are hard surface, meaning they must be dust mopped and damp mopped on a regular basis, usually daily.
This laboratory was looking for ways to reduce workplace injuries among the custodial workers. When injuries occur, not only are their concerns about the health of the cleaning worker, but it often means that other custodial workers must “double up,” handling the cleaning duties of the absent employee. At times, several employees are absent, often due to injuries, so this “doubling up” of cleaning duties often results in some items not being cleaned properly or at all, leading to customer complaints.
Work related injuries are a major concern among all workers around the world, including cleaning workers. According to some estimates, what are called repetitive motion injuries (RMIs), a big issue among cleaning professionals, results in about 18 lost workdays per injury.
To help address this situation, the laboratory decided to film the custodial workers performing their duties. According to administrators, videotaping the workers would provide data such as:
- Permit for a frame-by-frame analysis of each worker doing his or her responsibilities
- Determine what specific movements may result in injury
- Allow administrators to conduct a postural analysis of the workers as they performed their duties
The videos revealed a number of issues that likely caused or could cause injuries to the custodial workers. For instance, when cleaning restrooms, it was found that cleaning workers often worked in very cramped areas and “adjusted their body positions so they could perform required procedures [in these cramped areas]. The result: increased back flexion and twisting.”
However, some of the biggest problems, which could and did lead to injuries, were observed when the cleaning workers were mopping floors. For example:
- Many custodians used mops with inappropriate handle lengths; this resulted in “awkward wrist, shoulder, upper back, and neck positions”
- One above-average height custodian was observed “using a standard-length mop handle stooping at the neck and shoulders while mopping”
- Another “held his wrists in non-neutral (meaning unusual or abnormal) positions to manipulate the mop”
- Depending on the type of mop, a wet mop can weigh four to eight pounds; often the workers were observed reaching away from their bodies and arching their backs to better manipulate the heavy mop; this increased strain on the back
In total, 190 minutes of custodial work were recorded. What the observers also noticed was that many workers had developed what was called “tool adaption,” especially as it pertained to mopping floors. Tool adaption means the cleaning worker adjusted their body, often in unhealthy ways, in order to mop floors. In some cases, this actually helped prevent injuries, but overall it led to awkward positions and movements that eventually can cause a work-related injury.
Using Mops Correctly
Mopping floors is one of the most common cleaning tasks a custodial worker performs, and one of the most time consuming. In the above discussion, if each cleaning worker cleans 30,000 square feet per night, just for the sake of our discussion, let’s assume the worker mops 5,000 sq. ft. each night.
Typically, 1,000 sq. ft. of floor space is mopped per hour, which means each cleaning worker is mopping floors for about five hours per night, 25 hours per week, 110 hours per month, and 1,320 hours per year.* It’s very easy to see how an injury is not only possible - but likely - if incorrectly mopping floors 1,320 hours per year.
So we have two options here: learn how to mop floors correctly or find a faster, less stressful – or better non-stressful – way to clean floors. As to mopping properly, always do the following:
- Keep your back straight
- Mop close to the body so you don’t arch your back
- Alternate hands as you go
- Make sure the handle reaches your lower chin and also check the diameter of the handle; too thin or too thick can cause problems in hand joints
- Look for a mop bucket that stands tall to avoid bending when wringing out the mop
- Change the mop head frequently; as it becomes soiled it can become heavier causing more strain
- Use a bucket that empties directly into a floor drain; avoid lifting a solution filled bucket
When it comes to finding less stressful or non-stressful ways to clean floors, once again we have two options. While they are costly and can be difficult to use or maneuver in some areas of a facility, our first option is using an automatic scrubber. These are a very efficient, relatively fast, and a physically stress-free way to clean floors. The “basics” of what a scrubber does is to dispense cleaning solution directly to the floor; agitate the floor using brushes; and then vacuum the floor dry using a vacuum system and squeegee mechanism on the back.
If used nightly, such as in our laboratory, it’s always wise to have a preventive maintenance program to help forestall downtime and costly maintenance with auto scrubbers.
The other option is using what is referred to as an “autovac.” Far less expensive than an automatic scrubber, these machines are also very efficient, relatively fast, and a physically stress-free way to clean floors. Similar to a scrubber, an autovac dispenses cleaning solution directly to a floor; agitates the floor using a pad at the back of the machine; then vacuums the floor dry using a vacuum system and squeegee mechanism on the back. A preventive maintenance program is not necessary with these machines.
It’s crucial that cleaning workers clean floors correctly, and in the least physically stressful manner. Not only is an injury possible when mopping a floor incorrectly, these soon can become reoccurring injuries. Tissue, joints, and tendons become weakened with each injury, which long-term may cause chronic problems.
Marc Ferguson is the International Business Development Manager for Kaivac, developers of the No-Touch Cleaning® system and the OmniFlex™ Crossover Cleaning system. He can be reached via his company website, www.kaivac-emea.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call +43 6216 4524 15.
*Based on 22 work days per month
Source: “Grassroots ergonomics: An effort to modify custodial training;” Professional Safety; by David M. Zalk and John C. Tolley, both of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (US) and Yong Kim, Stanford University (US)
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