No Longer Sci-Fi: Robotic Cleaners
Intellibot, Richmond, Va., a developer of robots for service industries, is enjoying success with its first commercial robot application, the Intellibot EBot.

By cleaning floors with easy-to-use programming, the EBot frees up janitorial employees to do more skilled tasks. The robot uses a sonar-like system to avoid running into people or objects. There currently are 130 EBots in use today.

The founder of Intellibot, Charles “Buck” Ward, came up with the idea for the EBot while waiting for his own janitorial employees to show up for work.

“It’s very difficult to find people to clean at 5 a.m.” he says.

The EBot uses regular cleaning chemicals and, according to Ward, “only has to have the floor plan programmed once, and anyone can do it.”

Ward claims that working with advanced technology helps increase the self-esteem of cleaners, saying that pride in work results in higher production quality.
Contracting Profits profiled Ward and his cleaning company, Cyber Clean Systems LLC, also of Richmond, in the February 1999 cover story, “Break Out From the Pack.” At the time, Ward had spun off another company, Servus Robots Co., to develop robotic cleaning machines.

Currently, cleaning robots generally are programmed to do one relatively simple task, such as floor cleaning or vacuuming. A robot that could perform a greater variety of work would require greater advances in technology; George Washington University’s Forecast of Emerging Technologies predicts the public may see such robots, with decision-making capabilities, in 2010.

Mergers & Other Moves

  • UNICCO Service Co., a facility service provider in Newton, Mass., has created a new Media Resource and Speakers Bureau. The Bureau features ten senior executives and market experts with an average of more than 20 years of facilities services experience in industrial, commercial, corporate, retail, education and government markets.
  • Katy Industries, Englewood, Colo., parent company of the Katy Maintenance Group (KMG), recently announced the completion of its recapitalization transaction with Kohlberg & Co (K&C). K&C invested $70 million in Katy in the form of preferred stock.
  • SCA Tissue North America has moved its corporate headquarters to Neenah, Wis. The company plans to close its Manasha, Wis., San Ramon, Calif., and Atlanta facilities by June 2002.
  • Eagle Power Products, Mendota Heights, Minn., and Pulex SRL, Brescia, Italy, have formed Pulex/Eagle Power Products for the United States market. Pulex is a manufacturer of window cleaning squeegees and tools; Eagle Power is a manufacturer of floor machines.
  • CFR Corp. has moved its manufacturing and administration headquarters from New Brighton, Minn., to Fort Worth, Texas. CFR formerly sold to and serviced customers in the greater Minneapolis area directly; Hillyard of Minneapolis and Altoona, Wis., now will serve as CFR distributors for those respective markets.

Is domestic violence a workplace issue?
If one of your employees was attacked by his or her spouse on the job site, could you be held responsible?

That’s what attorney Louis Aurely III, Downingtown, Pa., believes. He recently filed suit against the Wal-Mart retail chain, claiming negligence and negligent entrustment in the injury of his client, Wal-Mart employee Marsha Midgette.

The suit alleges Wal-Mart knew Midgette was being abused by and had a restraining order against her husband Bryan. Bryan Midgette allegedly purchased bullets from Wal-Mart just minutes before he shot Marsha and then committed suicide. Aurely believes Wal-Mart could have prevented the attack by implementing a policy to protect its employees from spousal abuse.

The case has not yet gone to trial, so it remains to be seen whether employers can be held responsible for such acts of domestic violence on job sites. Regardless, the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF), a national non-profit organization, says domestic violence has a direct impact on the workplace. The Fund cites a study of domestic-violence survivors that found 74 percent of victims who were employed were harassed at work. Domestic violence caused more than half of the victims to be late for work at least five times a month, 28 percent to leave early at least five days a month, and more than half to miss at least three full days of work a month.

Domestic violence also can lead to higher health-insurance costs. In some cases, violence or intimidation on the job may be considered sexual harassment, covered by anti-discrimination laws.

In fact, a FVPF fact sheet asserts, “In a company that is mid- to large-sized, it is a certainty that employees are personally affected by domestic violence.”

The FVPF offers these tips for employers to create a safer workplace for victims of domestic violence:

  • Relocate an employee to a safer workspace, or install a “panic button.” Parking can be made safer through increased lighting, closer spots or escorts. Remove names of victims from phone directories, and have their calls screened.
  • Maintain a list of resources all employees can access. Counseling through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or outside agency also can be offered. Educational sessions on domestic violence can help foster an environment where people feel safe to discuss and deal with these issues.
  • Flexible-leave benefits can allow victims to attend court proceedings, counseling or relocation to a shelter.
  • Discipline employees who might be violent at work, including those who use company phones, faxes or e-mail to harass their partners. Call the police if necessary.