As our readers already know, facility service providers experience injuries more frequently than workers in most other occupations. This is according to a report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The report goes on to say:
• [Cleaning workers] may suffer cuts, bruises, and burns from machines and chemicals.
• They spend most of their time on their feet, sometimes lifting or pushing heavy furniture or equipment.
• Many tasks, such as dusting or sweeping, require constant bending, stooping, and stretching…which can cause back injuries and sprains.
Some of the most recent statistics indicate that 262 out of 10,000 full-time janitors are injured on the job every year. This number is more than twice the average injury rate for all workers in private industry, which is 122 out of 10,000 workers.*
As high as these numbers are, in reality there are probably many more injuries that go unreported. One big reason for this is the fact that the professional cleaning industry is made up of thousands of mom-and-mop cleaning companies that often do not report injuries as work-related or at all. Additionally, many injuries are simply not reported for scores of reasons from fear to simply ignoring the problem.
A Closer Look at Floorcare
Many cleaning tasks can result in injuries. Often this is because of inadequate training—the cleaning worker has never been taught how to use a specific cleaning tool or piece of equipment correctly so that it is less taxing on the body. Other times injuries occur because of the way the tool or equipment must be used even if proper training has occurred. And in most cases, the injuries do not come on suddenly. Instead, they develop gradually from repetitive motion.
A good example is vacuuming. Vacuuming carpets a few times may cause no injury even if it is done incorrectly or the machine used is heavy and hard to maneuver. However, when it is done repetitively, such as in a typical professional cleaning situation, problems may materialize.
A cleaning task that tends to cause more injuries than most when performed day after day involves floorcare. According to the Robens Center for Health Ergonomics in the United Kingdom, which has conducted a number of studies on ergonomic issues, these are some of the key problems associated with floorcare:
• Workers lift and move furniture and cleaning equipment that is often heavy and poorly designed, with weight that is unbalanced.
• Workers lift, fill, and empty buckets of water, often lifting incorrectly.
• When mopping floors, workers often grasp the top of the mop handle, putting the shoulder in an awkward position.
• It takes more force to mop floors than may initially be realized.
• Workers squat and bend when mopping floors.
• Workers look down throughout the mopping process, resulting in potentially painful head and neck placement.
One of the first ways to prevent injuries is to let cleaning workers know that they must be more aware of how they use their bodies to vacuum, mop floors, and conduct scores of other cleaning-related duties. Along with this, they must listen to their bodies. A pain that develops in the shoulders after vacuuming or mopping typically gets worse, not better. If workers' shoulders start to hurt, they should examine how they are performing a cleaning activity and what changes they can make to lessen the strain and the pain.
This leads in to training. According to some estimates, there are more than five million cleaning workers in the United States. However, many are believed to be inadequately trained on how to clean, and even more don't know how to do so safely without causing stress or strain.
This leaves a lot of injury prevention up to manufacturers. Fortunately, most of the machines used in the professional cleaning industry in the past 10 years have become lighter, easier to use, and more ergonomic, which means they are designed to work with the cleaning worker.
However, even as equipment has gotten more ergonomic, janitor injuries are persistently high. Lack of adequate training, as referenced earlier, is certainly one key reason. The equipment used may be another problem.
This is why some manufacturers have put less emphasis on larger machines and introduced an assortment of smaller, interconnecting, "build-as-you-need" tools to address a variety of cleaning needs. The thought behind the concept is that the tools can be used independently or together, as needed. Often they start with basic products such as buckets on trolleys but can be built up to handle a number of cleaning tasks, even dispense-and-vacuum/spray-and-vac cleaning.
According to Angelo Poneris, Customer Service Rep with Valley Janitorial, who is familiar with these systems, "The units are light and small. Instead of working, moving, and transporting a large machine, the worker may need only one or two components.… This can definitely be easier on the body preventing injury."
Involving All Stakeholders
Ultimately, reducing work injuries in the professional cleaning industry is not the responsibility solely of jansan manufacturers. Nor is it just up to cleaning workers. Everyone involved with cleaning—including facility managers, supervisors, and distributors—has to keep looking for ways to make cleaning healthier and less stressful.
Not only will the injury numbers come down, but worker productivity will likely go up, absenteeism will be reduced, and the cost of cleaning will be reduced as well—a great benefit in this cost-cutting age.
*Source: HealthDay, a health-specific news service, March 11, 2011