Gene Woodard knows carts. In 2013, he spearheaded a cart team to replace waste collection and cleaning carts at University of Washington in Seattle. Woodard, the director of building operations, along with Scott Spencer and Sattia Sear, associate directors for custodial services, enlisted the help of custodians, supervisors, and an ergonomist from Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

Instead of test-driving carts from the get-go, custodians spent time in the classroom learning about cart design and ergonomics to help guide the selection process.

“One of our guiding principals is safety and respect for our staff, so we thought ergonomics should be the number one criteria for this selection,” says Woodard.

After nine months of researching, testing and evaluating carts, the facility selected three models to fit the needs of trash collection, cleaning, and cleaning/waste collection. To address worker safety and ergonomics, the team chose adjustable cart handles and opted for swivel casters on the cart’s rear wheels for better control and maneuverability.

Another key feature geared toward worker safety is the zippered trash collection bag — an option that the team almost overlooked.

“Instead of pulling trash up and out from the top, you unzip the bag and slide it out from the bottom,” explains Sear.

The new carts were being rolled out in a wide range of buildings across campus — from laboratories, to classrooms, to offices — so the ability to customize them for specific needs was paramount.

“A lot of the new carts have folding platforms so custodians can put a waste collection barrel on the cart,” says Woodard. “If they don’t need it, they can fold the platform up and make the cart smaller.”

Ample storage was also a priority. Custodians assigned to restroom cleaning favored configurable caddies in different sizes, as well as open, adjustable shelves in the center of the cart for storing paper products.

“Custodians that had a lot of restrooms to clean stressed the need to carry as many items as they could, so they wouldn’t have to keep coming back to the closet,” says Woodard.

Prior to introducing the new carts, a number of custodians jerry-rigged their carts to carry additional supplies or used bungee cords to attach collection barrels to the carts.

“Some of the carts didn’t look very professional,” admits Spencer, “so we wanted to give a more uniform look to the workforce and keep the custodians’ equipment consistent within each of the buildings.”

To date, University of Washington has replaced approximately one quarter of its 300-plus carts and plans to replace the remainder on an as-needed basis. Most custodians love the new carts, but some are skeptical.

“Custodians identify with their carts, and that’s one of the reasons it’s hard to take away their original cart,” says Spencer. “It’s a transition and you have to guide them.”

To ease the transition, Woodard advises facilities to involve custodians in the process from start to finish.

“Let the people using the carts drive the evaluation and selection process,” he says. “We didn’t put any restrictions on cost. We just said, ‘pick the best ones.’ It’s a big investment. But if they end up not being used, you just poured money down the drain.”