Person using vacuum on staircase with windows.
ProTeam, Inc.

Contributed by ProTeam

The campus of Western University in London, Ontario, Canada, covers 100 buildings with a gross area of over 9 million square feet. With over 30,000 students and a staff of almost 2,500, university facilities must meet a wide range of demands.

Western University’s custodial staff of about 250 is tasked with maintaining those facilities and, by extension, the university’s image. In pursuit of modernizing their workforce, the building services department partnered with their equipment supplier, Swish Maintenance Ltd., and consultants from The Surge Group to improve upon cleaning efficiency.

“We would build a new building and then give them a mop, bucket and upright — the same tools as ever. That didn’t make sense anymore,” said Director of Building Services Chris Bumbacco.

In response to the need to evolve, a pilot program was launched in three campus buildings with the equipment recommended by Swish — equipment that included the ProTeam GoFree Flex Pro cordless backpack vacuum.

“One of the challenges in the pilot program was the change from upright vacuums to the cordless backpack vacuum,” said Mark Vandenbossche, quality assurance coordinator for the building services department.

To support the adoption of the backpacks and address staff concerns, management introduced a training program. They started with a special training course for the shift leads and later evaluated the backpacks with Ergonomic Consultant David Schlotzhauer.

“The ergonomic consultant did some measurements to see how the backpack vacuums compared to a standard upright in terms of force,” said Bumbacco. “He signed off on the ProTeam cordless backpacks, which helped a lot. He addressed the staff’s concerns and confirmed that it’s not causing undue strain.”

A fact sheet was then created and included tips and a checklist from the training.

“When assessing the backpack vacuum, I quickly learned the importance of proper use to minimize risk of musculoskeletal strain on the body,” said Schlotzhauer. “Education involved proper strap adjustment, use of wand to minimize drag, and appropriate amount of time spent on the body.”

The effort to modernize Western University’s workforce and move to cordless backpack vacuums required the commitment of leadership and the patience to see it through. Slowly but surely, the custodial staff was won over by the new processes. Process and Project Specialist Alexis Fowler observed a group of custodians change their minds about the cordless backpack vacuums when they had to solve a problem.

“We had a large space that needed to be cleaned quickly, and they were under a time crunch,” said Fowler. “They had to use the cordless backpack vacuums to do the work within the time limits. They ended up liking them from that point forward.”

Wherever custodians improve cleaning, it all adds up to creating supportive spaces, so Western University can fulfill its mission to disseminate and apply knowledge for the benefit of society.