We all have certain products that just “fit right.”
Whether it’s a certain type of chair that gives you the support and comfort you need, or a cellphone that fits into the palm of your hand, with a screen layout that helps you text single-handed — items that feel “made to measure”are always going to be market leaders.
It’s the same when it comes to cleaning tools and equipment.
The best products not only achieve the hygienic results required, they also make the job easier and more cost-effective for operatives and employers, so constant development in terms of design and technology is paramount.
And that’s where the science bit comes in.
The International Ergonomics Association (IEA) defines ergonomics — or human factors — as: “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of the interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theoretical principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.”
Ergonomists have differing areas of specialization and often work in specific economic, service or business sectors.
While cognitive ergonomics is concerned with mental processes such as perception, memory and motor responses; and organizational ergonomics looks to optimize structures, policies and processes; when it comes to cleaning, physical ergonomics is the most relevant branch of the science.
Relevant topics within physical ergonomics include working postures, materials handling, repetitive movements, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), workplace layout, safety and health.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is the U.S. federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations to prevent worker injury and illness.
In 2007, it was estimated that work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses in the U.S. cost an estimated $250 billion in medical costs and productivity losses alone.*
NIOSH states, “The goal of ergonomics is to reduce stress and eliminate injuries and disorders associated with the overuse of muscles, bad posture and repeated tasks. This is accomplished by designing tasks, work spaces, controls, displays, tools, lighting and equipment to fit the employee’s physical capabilities and limitations.”
New ideas in terms of materials and design are continuing to help shape the cleaning industry.
While some view change as unsettling, constant product development is essential for cleaning businesses for a wide range of reasons.
It helps companies conform to health and safety regulations, protect the well-being of their workers, and provide a quicker, more efficient and higher standard of results, with increased return on investment (ROI) as the icing on the cake.
The exterior of buildings need to make a good first impression, so it’s appropriate that the façade maintenance sector has made some of the most obvious progress.
To label this service as mere window cleaning is to do it an injustice — because with more architecturally diverse buildings, signage and solar panels to contend with nowadays, the skills and resources required are light years away from any traditional image that might linger in the mind.
The unstable ladders and unwieldy buckets of yesteryear are long gone — with telescopic and modular poles now the tools of choice.
These originally came to market to enable operatives to clean high windows from the ground, making the job much safer.
However, the materials initially used to manufacture the poles proved to be too heavy and cumbersome, so alternatives were needed.
Now aluminum and carbon fiber help make poles that are light and easy to handle but still have the strength and rigidity to allow the operative to have ultimate control.
Inside A Building
The innovations put to good use on the outside have now also come inside.
Thanks to an increase in using glass as a building material, atria and conservatory-type features are now much more common in business premises.
Operatives can utilize the same tools and techniques in an indoor setting, improving safety for themselves and other people using the building.
Ordinarily, this would require specialist cleaning and logistics to arrange — increasing financial outlay because of the high cost of hiring equipment such as scissor lifts, and causing disruption to the working day because areas have to be closed off while cleaning takes place.
The telescopic idea has also infiltrated even more areas of cleaning.
Telescopic handles for mops, dust pans and litter pickers enable these tools to be adjusted to fit the height of individual workers.
This helps to lessen the risk of back strain, a well-known cause of worker absenteeism.
When it comes to cleaning hard floors in washrooms and kitchens, bucket systems have evolved into complete workstations, now featuring individual compartments to keep clean and dirty water separate and presses that are operated by foot.
The addition of robust wheels and adjustable handles also makes them easily maneuverable around sites, contributing to the comfort of the operative.
Handles, whatever piece of equipment they’re attached to, are now designed to minimize hand and wrist strain.
Materials are used that feel and fit better in the hand, offer a good grip when wet, and some that even feel warmer and more comfortable to the touch when having to work outside in cold weather.
The rush to increase sustainability has seen the rapid emergence of cleaning systems that don’t need to use chemicals, saving both money and helping companies with their green agendas.
This trend also has added well-being benefits for operatives, reducing the risk of allergic reactions and helping to decrease the incidence of contact dermatitis.
End User Input
This more operative-centered way of designing cleaning tools will continue, and the best solutions will always come from allowing cleaning workers to participate and collaborate in the R&D process.
Listening to cleaning operatives is the best way to develop the products that will take the industry forward as they are the ones with the practical experience and knowledge.
Designers must spend time with them, observing them at work, and enlist their help in trialing new ideas to ensure that the ethos behind ergonomics flourishes and delivers its undeniable benefits to our sector.
Cleaning companies need to understand that what’s good for their employees is good for them too — in terms of reducing worker absenteeism, increasing motivation and loyalty, boosting ROI and creating happy customers.
Good design for cleaning tools is not just about aesthetics; it’s about creating equipment that can help operatives to clean fluently and cost-effectively, with minimum effort and strain, resulting in safer, healthier and happier places to work.
*Leigh JP. Economic burden of occupational injury and illness in the United States. Millbank Q 2011;89:728-72
John Lombardo is vice president of Global Marketing for Unger. His extensive experience in building brands started at Colgate-Palmolive, which he joined in 1998 as product manager. He moved on to global consumer brand Philips in 2003, progressing from senior brand manager, to director of marketing, and most recently, senior director of dental professional sales. He was educated at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business, New York University, and speaks fluent Italian. www.UngerGlobal.com.