With the downturn in the economy, there has been a shift in the needs of many of the end customers the JanSan industry serves.
The health and appearance of facilities are still "top agenda" items, but improving worker productivity, both for cleaning workers and for the people who use and work in the facilities we clean, is also becoming a top priority.
Of course, improving the health of a facility is the first step in enhancing overall worker productivity.
But, looking deeper into how to help our end customers with workers — cashiers, factory workers, nurses, etc. — who must stand for long periods of time during the course of a work shift, the answer may be right under their feet.
We now know from a variety of surveys that standing for long periods of time on hard surfaces can cause physical fatigue.
Muscles become constricted and blood flow through the legs is reduced, which causes the heart to pump harder, ultimately causing fatigue and lack of energy, negatively impacting worker productivity.
The Human Factors Study, which was published by the University of Pittsburgh, reported that long-term static standing, as is common in many types of work situations, can have a direct effect on the lower-extremity health of workers.
As standing continues, the problem intensifies and the result is typically fatigue, a slowdown in worker performance, illness and absenteeism — all of which are not only harmful to the worker, but also costly to the employer.
According to Seattle-based SeaBright Insurance Company, which specializes in worker''s compensation and other types of insurance programs, in such situations where workers must stand for long periods of time on a hard surface, "shock-absorbing mats should be installed."
In the professional cleaning industry, this type of mat is referred to as an anti-fatigue matting system.
Understanding Anti-fatigue Matting Systems
Anti-fatigue matting systems may look similar to conventional matting systems we typically find placed inside and outside building entries; however, they have some very unique features and characteristics that set them apart.
These mats, which were first introduced about 40 years ago, cushion each step, but then induce a natural yet imperceptible lift, causing muscles to flex and the body to make adjustments to keep in balance.
As the muscles subtly but continually tense and relax, the flow of blood and oxygen through the legs and body is improved, helping to minimize fatigue and improve worker productivity.
In a very dramatic way, some experts have compared walking on anti-fatigue mats to walking on a trampoline.
With each step, the trampoline cushions and absorbs the walker''s step.
But the trampoline then rebounds, pushing the walker up.
Testing The System
The fact that these mats do reduce fatigue has been established in both formal and informal studies.
The most formal study was conducted by the Center for Ergonomics at the University of Michigan about 10 years ago.
In that study, carried out at a major automobile factory, 14 factory workers were selected and asked to perform their duties standing on different types of floor surfaces and conditions — from concrete to a 3⁄8-inch-thick anti-fatigue matting system.
The results: The workers who stood on the hard concrete floors during their work shift reported significant levels of fatigue and discomfort in the legs, back and throughout the body, which is enough to potentially impact worker productivity and production.
On the other hand, those workers who stood on the anti-fatigue mats reported 50 percent less fatigue and discomfort, minimizing or eliminating these problems.
A less formal test was conducted by the editors of an industrial facility and safety magazine hoping to answer their own questions about long-term standing and the value of anti-fatigue matting systems.
They asked workers in a factory that manufactured washing machines to fill out a "Worker Perception" questionnaire three times per week for two weeks.
The questionnaire was designed to evaluate the workers'' level of fatigue as well as the amount of pain in their legs, feet and lower back before and after working their shifts.
The survey indicated:
"Considerably less fatigue" was reported after work following the installation of the anti-fatigue matting systems
Pain in legs, feet and lower back was also reported to be "much less" after the anti-fatigue mats were installed.
However, this study went a step further, seeking to find a direct correlation between less fatigue and leg pain and improved worker productivity.
To determine this, the researchers evaluated worker absenteeism and injuries over a 12-month period prior to installation of the mats.
Their conclusion, as reported by Compliance Magazine, "We found clear evidence that the installation of the anti-fatigue matting systems resulted in a 2.2 percent increase in worker productivity. Fifty percent of this [productivity] boost came from lower absenteeism while the other 50 percent was linked to decreased down time from injuries."
The Surprise Under The Feet
Of the many tools available to cleaning professionals, matting systems are typically some of the least understood and most undervalued.
Fortunately, more and more studies are being published that prove mats do far more than just absorb moisture on a stormy day or keep soils outside.
Mats also protect occupant health, are a key component in green cleaning and now we also know they can help improve worker productivity, all of which makes them far more valuable than many of us had thought before.
Christopher Tricozzi is vice president of sales and marketing for Crown Mats and Matting, one of the oldest and largest matting companies in the United States.