Jobs that demand physical skill and exertion are the ones most likely to injure the workers performing them. The repetitive and laborious movements required by most cleaning tasks are influenced greatly by the mobility and strength of the worker, the size and weight of equipment and the way the worker has been trained.

The cleaning industry ranks high on the list of fields in which workers suffer injuries, indicated by the number of workers’ compensation claims filed by employees who get hurt on the job. The trend toward ergonomics and safety techniques is an industry response to try to lessen the number of workers’ comp claims. But that’s not the only area that will benefit, as fewer injuries equal fewer sick days and happier employees. Janitors are in a physical business, and as their tenure accrues, so does the likelihood they will be injured on the job. And once an injury occurs, the chance of re-injuring the same area is high.

Tools and equipment that are designed to maximize human comfort make certain jobs safer to perform and play a role in increased productivity. Tools that reduce the amount of power needed for a job also decrease the likelihood of injury, particularly back injury. Back strain is the most commonly reported injury in the cleaning industry, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Integrating safety techniques into tasks such as mopping the floor can help reduce back strain. Train workers to incorporate body movement such as using the legs to mop rather than the arms. Other common injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome; wider hand grips can help prevent that.

Mops should have the ability to adapt to the user, as well as to the job. Mops that can change length depending on user height and are lightweight, such as microfiber mops, improve safety and ease in use.

By investing in high quality tools and proper employee training, BSCs are taking the first step in reducing worker’ comp claims and sick days. Achieving correct use of equipment is half the battle, as a product that does not fit correctly or comfortably can cause discomfort, fatigue and injury.

Ergonomic designs — those that maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort — have been found to positively impact worker productivity, health and even turnover. Technology has allowed ergonomics to become more sophisticated and product materials to become lighter, enabling manufacturers to develop products that allow workers to do the job better and faster with less effort.

Exerpted from the October 2004, September 2005 and July 2007 issues of Contracting Profits, and the April 2007 issue of Housekeeping Solutions.