In addition to the size of the backpack vacuum, the harness and strap system that comes with the machine should be taken into consideration prior to purchase. While most backpack vacuums have harness and strap systems that can be adjusted, it is important for BSCs to note the adjustments may be different among various makes and models.
The unit should ultimately rest on the hips and not the shoulders, and it should be comfortable enough so the user can move their waist. If the harness is not properly used, then fatigue will set in for the crew member who, as a result, will slow their production.
“Once we’ve fitted the backpack to the user, we haven’t had much of an issue,” Robarge says. “Nine out of 10 people that I have transitioned from an upright vacuum into a backpack say ‘I’ll never go back.’”
If the harness and straps are not easy to adjust, then the user will not properly wear the backpack vacuum, an act that will ultimately be detrimental to productivity, says Bob Cummings, a consultant who runs Pro-C-Systems, Inc, Odenton, Maryland.
“If you’re using the backpack correctly with a good tool setup, it’s much lighter,” says Cummings. “The wand and the floor tool can just glide across the floor.”
It’s important to consider harnessing before purchase because some systems can get uncomfortable to wear if they are used extensively. Ideally, the size of the harness is minimal, where the padding is exactly where it is required, but not cutting down airflow where it is not necessary.
“It becomes hot, uncomfortable and wet,” says Merrihew. “It’s uncomfortable because there isn’t air movement behind them. It needs to be supportive and with cushion in the proper areas, but not overly so that it actually becomes cumbersome to wear.”
Adjustment options are good, but there is a disadvantage to having too many adjustments in straps and harnesses.
“If it’s cumbersome to get everything buckled up, what tends to happen is it’s thrown over one arm like a sling pack, and then it’s not worn properly,” says Merrihew. “Then it’s fatiguing, banging into stuff and it’s doing damage.”
Another major factor BSCs should consider before purchasing is the ergonomics in the wands and attachments. First, BSCs should make sure that the machines come with the wands and vacuum heads that will properly clean the facilities they service. Ideally, the wands will be adjustable and have handles so when the janitor is reaching high above his or her head, or underneath a piece of furniture, there is no awkward bending or extending.
The shape and size of the vacuum head and length of the hoze are also key factors as the proper attachments will allow janitors to reach the debris without contorting their arms and backs when cleaning edges and fixtures.
“Pay attention to the length of the hose on the backpack, so frontline staff are not constantly hitting things with extra hose that is way too long for their arm length,” Merrihew says.
Experts agree that there is a lot to consider regarding ergonomics of backpack vacuums. But when all is said and done, it’s most important to make sure the equipment properly fits the individuals who are tasked with using it.
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