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Building service contractors are often concerned with finding the right hand tool to make cleaning more efficient — but what about making cleaning safer? The wrong tool in a worker’s hands, or even misuse of a good mop, brush, broom, or other hand tool, can result in horrible consequences for the employee.

“It’s a very physical business and we are seeing a lot of workers who have been in the business 15 years and are now compromised,” says Brent Bourne, a consultant with Servitech Training, Ltd. in Victoria, British Columbia. “Recognize that cleaning is not just cleaning. There are a lot of skills and one of them is staying healthy.”

Today, more BSCs are investing in high quality tools and proper training for their employees. There may be some up front costs, but in the end, the employer’s savings are high — reduced workers’-compensation costs, fewer days absent and employees may even begin to clean faster and more efficiently.

The repetitive motions a cleaning worker uses often result in strains, muscular skeletal injuries (MSI) or carpal tunnel syndrome, Bourne says. Part of the problem is that a person will not notice the strain while working, only afterward. And after a while, the problem can really affect the body.

Plus, if an employer does not take action to change a program after a worker has been injured, that worker may be even more vulnerable.

“Once your lower back is hurt, the chance of re-injuring that area is extremely high,” says Bourne.

The right tools So, what can an employer do to make cleaning safer? To begin with, take a good look at the hand tools cleaning workers are using.

“We look for mops that have the ability to adapt,” says Darryl Givens, vice president/general manager of Givens Cleaning Contractors Inc., in Wichita, Kan.

Givens prefers mops that can change length depending on the user’s height. Another plus is mops that are light weight, such as the microfiber flat mops.

“Flat mops are wonderful,” Bourne says. “They are a very effective tool because of the low swing weight.”

The microfiber mop systems also tend to leave less dirt behind, which reduces work and saves time, says Givens. After traditional mopping, dirt and dust may be left on the floor. Cleaning workers will have to bend down and pick up the dirt, which could lead to back strain. Givens explains the importance of purchasing mops or any tools that are easier to use and more comfortable.

“If you have a tool the technician prefers, it results in better performance,” he says.

Other tools to consider are taller mop buckets, so a cleaning worker will not have to bend as far to wring out a mop; and extendable dusters, so the employee will not have to reach far to dust, lessening the chance of pulling an arm or shoulder muscle.

Bourne also suggests using tools with wider handle grips. Tightly clenching a handle can result in carpal tunnel syndrome, he says. If an employer cannot purchase new equipment, Bourne suggests wrapping some foam or insulation around the handle to open up the user’s grip. The squeezing motion when wringing a mop will also injure hands; look for systems that are easy to wring out or, like many flat mop systems, eliminate wringing altogether.

Technique As important as good equipment can be in the cleaning world, those tools are useless if employees don’t know how to use them effectively. Many BSCs are investing increasing amounts of time and money to train their staff.

“I’m more interested in proper techniques,” says Scott Stonaker, operations manager for Associated Building Services/GCA Services in Houston. “I look more that people are using their equipment properly than anything else.”

“Training people should be mandatory,” adds Bourne. “The difference between using [a tool] properly and improperly is huge.”

Proper training should teach about body movement and how to lift properly, says Bourne. When dusting or wiping surfaces, he teaches cleaning workers to fold the cloth in half, use a flat hand and move with the whole body, not just the arm, a technique that can prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. Safe use of a mop requires the cleaning worker to bend the knees when lifting it in and out of the bucket; and to push the tool with the entire body.

“Put it on the floor and dance with the mop,” Bourne says. “We use our legs, rather than our arms. And literally, get a little boogie in there. If you’re dancing, then you’re using your hips and using your legs.”

And don’t forget that cleaning is a physical activity; have employees try stretching and warming up before they begin work, Bourne says.