Like mopping, lifting and emptying mop buckets, as well as wringing out mops is physically demanding work that can lead to injuries. Fortunately, manufacturers are designing mop buckets with features geared toward easing these processes.

Perdeaux recommends using floor drains when possible to avoid heavy lifting and choosing buckets with quick-release valves on the bottom. Managers should also consider wringers that take the pressure off the custodian’s back.

McGee’s staff uses a mop bucket with a wringer base that stands upright to minimize bending.

“The wringer stands taller so you don’t have to reach down as far to wring out the mop,” he explains. “Before, we were using a bucket with a lower wringer, and you really had to reach down to get a good wring on the mop.”

Alternative mopping systems that use microfiber charging buckets eliminate labor-intensive tasks, such as wringing mops and changing out dirty water.

“These systems are designed primarily to address cross-contamination; however, they also have an impact on ergonomics,” says Rothstein. “You place the microfiber pads in the bucket, shake it so the solution saturates the pads, and then use a microfiber mop with a collapsed pocket frame to ‘grab’ a pad. You’re not reusing a dirty mop so there’s no cross-contamination, and there’s no need to wring out a heavy mop or empty and refill a mop bucket.”

When looking for ergonomic features, consider attributes that might normally be overlooked.

“Look at the wheels,” says Perdeaux. “If they’re well maintained, that allows for easier and reduced push forces. If they’re broken or jammed, you’re fighting the weight of that bucket plus that broken wheel.”

Custodians should also be dissuaded from filling buckets to the brim.

“It may cause you to do more trips,” admits Perdeaux, “but when you have to lift and empty it, you’re not holding that full weight.”

A Handle On Training

What can cleaning managers do to identify poor ergonomics? Communicating with staff is essential, as is observing their work habits. Working alongside staff can also boost morale and encourage them to improve their technique.

“You have to be out there observing and communicating with your staff to find out what problems they’re having and how you can solve them,” advises McGee. “Most times, if they’re having an issue you’ll see it, or you’ll hear it.”

Managers should be on the lookout for potential problems, such as awkward postures, slouching, bending at the waist and overextending.

“Anytime I walk into a building, I look for the position of the custodian’s hands,” says Harris. “Some people mop with one hand at the top of the mop and pull the mop with the other hand, which can wear your shoulder out. Other people mop with their hands in the wrong place. If you’re left-handed, your left hand should be on the upper part of the mop handles, and your right hand should be on the lower part.”

As a rule of thumb, custodians should keep their arms close to their body, when possible, and work with their hands above their knees but below their shoulders, according to Perdeaux. If their arms reach above their heads or below their knees, it might be time for a manager to intervene.

Sometimes signs of poor ergonomics are less obvious. For Harris, build-up of dirt on baseboards is often a telltale sign of poor mopping techniques.

“If I walk down the hallway and see buildup on the edges of the walls, it’s usually because the custodian is flinging the mop from side to side,” he says. “I train our folks to keep the mop in front of their body and go back and forth in a figure eight pattern while they walk backwards.”

When lifting heavy mop buckets, custodians should bend at the knees and keep their back straight. Harris also trains them to keep the bucket to one side while mopping.

“Don’t let that bucket get behind you,” he advises. “I’ve seen people actually trip over their own mop bucket.”

Providing custodians with ergonomic equipment is a step in the right direction. However, proper training is imperative to ensure that these tools are used correctly to improve cleaning and reduce the likelihood of injury.

While most janitors are receptive to equipment and procedural changes that lighten their load and take the pressure off, others are more resistant to change.

“A lot of people have been cleaning since the 70s and 80s, and their mindset is, ‘it worked for me then, don’t ask me to change,’” says Rothstein. “That’s one of the biggest challenges we face when implementing ergonomic equipment.”

McGee is currently facing this challenge. Like Harris, he switched his staff from regular mops and buckets to backpacks and flat mops. One side of campus embraced the change; the other side shunned it.

“Sometimes change is difficult, and when you institute something to make their job easier, you may still get pushback,” says McGee.

Despite the opposition, McGee is not giving up. He is confident he can win them over with time, training and education on the ergonomic benefits.

Kassandra Kania is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Ergonomics Promotes Safety, Boosts Morale