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Safety And Security

Economics With Ergonomics

September 19, 2010
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Today, cleaning professionals are constantly looking for new ways to improve the quality of cleaning while simultaneously reducing costs.

As facility budgets continue to dwindle and resources become limited, it''s especially important for cleaning departments and building service contractors (BSCs) to utilize ergonomic tools.

Tools that are designed with ergonomics in mind not only improve cleaning quality for the organization, they also provide additional health and safety benefits to workers within the department.

At Risk

While it may be surprising to some, frontline cleaning personnel are more vulnerable to ergonomic injury than most other occupations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ranked janitors and environmental services (ES) workers fifth on its list of top occupations at risk for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Injuries resulting from MSDs include pain, numbness, tingling, stiff joints, difficulty moving, muscle loss and occasional paralysis.

Body parts most likely to be affected by MSDs include the neck, the back, arms, hands, fingers, wrists and shoulders.

Cleaning staff are at high risk of developing these MSDs due to the repetitive motions and heavy lifting typically required to thoroughly clean a facility.

Departments can dramatically reduce physical stress and the likelihood of injury by providing ergonomically-designed tools to concurrently complement the worker''s body and the cleaning function.

In doing so, organizations will experience additional benefits, including increased productivity, quality results and cost savings, while reducing waste and saving resources.

Poor Ergonomics Are Costly

Job functions, such as applying floor finish, where cleaners are required to perform heavy lifting and potential distress are not only costly to an employee''s health, but costly to the organization as well.

Every year, MSDs account for more than $15 to $20 billion in workers'' compensation and 34 percent of all lost workday injuries and illnesses.

Further, according to OSHA, total direct costs add up to as much as $50 billion annually, which means that $1 of every $3 spent on workers'' compensation can be attributed to MSD-related issues.

Fortunately, studies reveal that utilizing modern, ergonomically-designed equipment not only enables employees to complete the task more quickly and efficiently, but dramatically reduces the opportunity for injury.

This not only protects staff, but greatly reduces employee turnover, which can be another costly expense for an organization.

Field Study With Floor Finish

In an independent electromyography (EMG) study by a leading researcher at the University of Wisconsin, several participants with varying height, weight and experience levels were analyzed as they finished floors using both the traditional mop and bucket method and new, ergonomically-designed applicator innovations.

The electrical impulses that initiate muscle contraction were measured by placing surface electrodes on the skin above the muscle groups studied.

The higher the voltage indicated by the electrode, the stronger the muscle contraction.

The results revealed that newer applicators require significantly less shoulder, upper back and lower back effort than traditional systems.

Each muscle group consistently exerted more energy and effort when using the mop and bucket method compared with the applicators tested.

When using the alternative method, participants exerted:

  • 36 percent less forearm flexor effort
  • 35 percent less deltoid (cap of the shoulder) effort
  • 23 percent less trapezius (neck and upper back) effort
  • 36 percent less erector spinae (postural muscle of the lower back) effort.

Why Floor Care?

While there are many areas in a facility that can benefit from improved ergonomics, hard floor care should take high priority.

A vacuum, for instance, is one of the most commonly used tools in the cleaning industry.

In past years, this equipment was cumbersome, heavy, difficult to maneuver and caused the user to perform repetitive motions, causing distress to wrists, arms and the back.

Today, users have many vacuum options to choose from that are designed to fit the user and minimize any risk of injury.

In the aforementioned study, applying floor finish was the focus.

For years, the duty of applying floor finish involved using one of three traditional methods: Mop and bucket; flat mopping; and backpack applicator systems.

With the traditional mop and bucket method, floor finish is poured into a bucket and then carried or rolled to the area where the work is to be performed.

Then, workers usually grip a straight mop handle and must continually push the mop back and forth across the floor to apply the finish.

These activities pose risks to the worker, the results of the work as well as the organization.

Flat mop and backpack applicator systems also require heavy lifting.

With these systems, users typically lift a heavy bucket of finish and pour it into a container that is affixed to the unit handle, which significantly increases the weight.

Over time, performing this task repeatedly using these methods will take a toll on the human body and potentially result in injury.

This is, in large part, due to the hazards of heavy lifting and the use of tools designed with straight handles that do not fit workers'' hands properly.

According to the independent EMG study, these injuries can be avoided by utilizing applicator systems designed to provide maximum ergonomics.

Sustainability And Increasing Productivity

Beyond the enhanced safety and health benefits for cleaning staff, utilizing ergonomically-designed tools and equipment can also increase an organization''s productivity while saving resources and eliminating product waste all at the same time.

In addition to saving time, some modern equipment features also save solution, resources and water.

In today''s facilities business and operations environment, conservation is on owners'' and managers'' radar screens.

Most manufacturers in the JanSan industry are looking to minimize their products'' impact on the environment from inception to disposal — and beyond.

Still, employee safety should be a top priority in your cleaning department or contract business.

Labor accounts for a significant portion of your spending, so be sure workers are safe, happy, productive and captivated by the work they are performing with the latest in ergonomic solutions.

Lance Brown is an innovation leader of floor care for JohnsonDiversey. For more information, please visit or call (262) 631-4001.

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