In addition to improved efficiencies, Jones has found that using backpack vacuums has health benefits.

The brush agitation of an upright stirs up dirt and allergens, releasing them back into the indoor environment, says Jones. Backpacks, on the other hand, lift the dirt directly into the container and have a HEPA filter, which captures 99.97 percent of the contaminants from carpet and floor surfaces.

“Basically, our indoor environment at the various schools is healthier for the students, staff and visitors,” Jones says.

Not only is the air healthier to breath, but staff has experienced ergonomic benefits to the backpack vacuums.

An upright weighs about 20 pounds on average, and Jones notes that moving the vacuum back and forth can be difficult on a person’s joints due to repetitive motions and body strain. Backpacks, on the other hand, weigh only about 10 pounds and the movement is side to side.

But not all backpacks can be considered equal. For example, the district uses corded backpacks because, Jones says, cordless battery units are heavier, they can be more costly and they only have about a 45-minute run time. But, newer models can vary greatly from equipment purchased years ago.

Comparing the district’s older backpacks (purchased 10 years ago) to the newly purchased models, Jones says the newer equipment is more ergonomic, with comfort straps and cushioned belts. Initially, custodians were concerned about discomfort with backpacks, but the equipment now fits better to the body, they’re not as hot to wear, and they are less noisy, he says.

Making The Switch

When it comes to equipment, Jones suggests that custodial executives keep abreast of new technologies and assess how successful existing equipment is at meeting departmental needs.

“Everyone has budgets,” he says. “You have to use funds wisely and be the most productive you can be.”

When making a significant change, as the Columbia Public School District did with vacuums, Jones suggests spending time discussing the shift with staff so they understand the benefits and why the change is being made. Including employees in testing new technology also is important.

“They are the end-users and getting them to buy into change is very important to a program,” he says.

Jones involved his staff by having them test and provide feedback on various manufacturer models. And once he was ready to purchase, Jones made the decision to replace all units so every custodian received a new backpack.

“Doing so created a positive feeling of ownership for the staff,” he says. “We dedicated time for educating staff about the benefits of productivity and indoor air quality, watching manufacturer videos, fitting each custodian with a backpack and training on proper use. After a few weeks of implementing our new backpacks, we followed up to get feedback and to ensure they were using the equipment correctly. We also reinforced the benefits versus the upright vacuum.”

One of the benefits Jones looks forward to is not having to replace vacuums every 3 to 4 years. He expects the backpack vacuums to run at least 8 years, reducing overall repair costs by 90 percent. 

REBECCA KANABLE is a freelance writer in East Troy, Wisconsin.

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Backpack Vacuums Improve Efficiency And Productivity