Since 2015, I have learned a great deal about ergonomics and what it takes to make systematic improvements for custodians. My leadership team felt prepared to address what it means to create and sustain a culture of safety and well-being for custodians because, for the past six years, we have been using Lean Process Improvement and following the Shingo Leadership Principles, which include respect everyone, lead with humility and constancy of purpose.

These principles, and our efforts to coach custodians in process improvement, help us continuously evolve as an organization with staff who are engaged in systematically generating ideas to improve the work. (For example, our custodians have generated over 1,000 ideas and implemented over 800 of them in 2017.)

I highlight Lean because this is how we were able to carry out our ergonomic modifications efficiently throughout the department. At BSD, custodians have influence and their input is vital, which leads to engaged staff who take ownership in nurturing a culture of safety.

Change is a process — there must be a good existing relationship between leaders and workers so that trust is not only built, but sustained. Long-term success requires leaders and co-workers to continually encourage one another. 

The Participatory Ergonomic Program has raised our department’s understanding of the importance of paying attention to movements that cause discomfort. Some of our custodial groups are celebrating being injury-free for up to two years. I am predicting that we will see an ongoing decrease in our injury rates over the next few years as more of our custodial team members participate. 

GENE WOODARD, R.E.H., is the Director of Building Services Department, Custodial Services and UW Recycling at the University of Washington. He serves as a founding member of the Healthy Schools Campaign, Green Clean Schools Steering Committee, and an Advisory Board member of Facility Cleaning Decisions magazine.

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Ergonomic Improvements That Reduce Worker Injuries