Janitor mopping and holding his back in pain

No doubt, mopping is physically demanding work that requires lifting, bending, and reaching for extended periods of time. The repetitive motion places undue stress and strain on the back, arms, shoulders and wrists. Despite these risks, in-house cleaning managers often find the cost of ergonomic mopping systems prohibitive.

“I don’t have customers asking for ergonomic equipment; we bring it to their attention,” admits Karen Adams, owner of The Mop Bucket, Kansas City, Missouri. “But often it’s more expensive, so price can determine whether or not they purchase it.”

Kendra Perdeaux, a senior consultant and ergonomics engineer at Humantech, Ann Arbor, Michigan, agrees that many businesses facing budget constraints fail to give ergonomics the consideration it deserves — and they’re missing out in more ways than one.

“There are so many economic benefits that tend to get overlooked, because ergonomics is so heavily associated with injury prevention,” she says. “If you do ergonomics correctly, it’s good for productivity, quality and employee engagement, as well.”

In fact, a client survey from Humantech revealed that employee engagement is the number one benefit of an ergonomics program, followed by risk reduction.

Lighten Up

In his 35 years as a cleaning services specialist at Killeen Independent School District, Killeen, Texas, Roy Harris has seen an inordinate number of back and carpal tunnel injuries as a result of “slinging a mop around.”

Fortunately, traditional string mops with wooden handles are a thing of the past. In most facilities, these cumbersome mops have been replaced by lightweight microfiber mops that improve cleaning outcomes and reduce worker wear and tear.

“Microfiber wasn’t designed to address ergonomics; it was designed for cross-contamination,” notes Glenn Rothstein, president of Bio-Shine, Spotswood, New Jersey. “But it’s lighter and absorbs very little liquid, whereas a traditional mop retains water, making it heavier and more difficult to maneuver.”

Indeed, today’s microfiber systems tackle a variety of tasks thanks to interchangeable handles and pads that reduce fatigue, as well as the risk of hyperextension injuries.

“These are multi-surface handheld tools that can be used on various surfaces, such as glass or counters,” says Adams.

Still, one of the most popular uses of microfiber is as a flat mop. Harris switched his crew from a traditional mop and bucket to a backpack and flat mop system for applying floor finish because he was seeing an increase in injuries.

“The change went into effect this summer, and we haven’t had a single injury,” he says.

Manufacturers are also designing tools with curved handles and adjustable/telescopic wands that improve posture, eliminate the need for ladders and safely extend the custodian’s reach.

Janitors at The University of Maryland in College Park, use aluminum telescopic poles to easily access and clean high windows in the racquetball courts.

“We’re seeing more buildings with windows these days, so it makes it easier for our staff to clean them,” says Jeffrey McGee, assistant director of Building Services in the Department of Residential Facilities. “Typically, custodians have to climb up a ladder and reach out of their comfort zone, which might cause them injury. We don’t let that happen.”

Whether reaching high windows or focusing on floors, distributors recommend extendable poles. Microfiber on adjustable poles accommodate staff members of different heights. A good rule of thumb: adjust the length of the handle to the height of custodian’s forehead to reduce bending.

“Being able to adjust the mop to the height of the person using it has helped a lot,” says McGee. “The lightweight aluminum pole makes is easier for the employee to use it safely.”

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Training Emphasizes Mopping Ergonomics