Like an automobile, operating and responsibly maintaining an automatic scrubber ensures top performance. It also reduces the potential for injury to operators and building occupants, as well as any foreseeable damage to a facility or the floor machine itself.

Cleaning professionals may think they’re on easy street when purchasing a new autoscrubber, but during implementation it’s important for distributors to remind customers not to take the job lightly. Training end users how to safely operate and maintain an autoscrubber helps achieve the highest return on their investment.

“When we’re training a group of novices, the focus is on safety,” says Phillip Consolino, president of SouthEast Link, an Atlanta-based jan/san distributor. “But it’s also about caring for and maintaining as close to the manufacturer’s specifications as possible, or you can run into issues for operators and people around the machine.”

Besides having customers read manufacturers’ recommendations and instructions on how to properly operate the machine, distributors should also make sure that each customer is given hands-on training in operator safety as well as daily maintenance of the machines. Otherwise, customers are easily wasting their money by purchasing these high-ticket items, says Robert Boyle, president of Keep Clean Products Inc., Gardena, Calif.

“These are productivity tools — heavy machines that have power that drives them,” he says. “Walk-behinds weigh 600 pounds without solution, and they have mass. We cover operation, cleaning the machine, preparation and what to do at the end of the job. Training is the first line of defense in safety.”

Operator Safety

Over the years, manufacturers of walk-behind and ride-on autoscrubbers have continually incorporated safety features such as locking mechanisms for use on inclines, emergency stop buttons, as well as dynamic brakes that kick in when the operator lets off the accelerator. Machine makers have also included automatic kill switches that shut the unit off if it bumps into a wall or object, or if an operator removes his or her hands from the handle.

“Pinning yourself against a wall can be easy to do,” says Rick Schott, president of Factory Cleaning Equipment, Aurora, Ill. “If you come around a corner and you’re behind the walking machine with a wall behind you — if you push the control the wrong way and the machine backs up and you panic and don’t let go, you could pin yourself to the wall.”

Speed controls can be set at slow for actual scrubbing, and fast to get the machine from point ‘A’ to point ‘B.’ Some machines have a manager lock out function that allows a supervisor to set the machine to a lower speed for increased operator safety.

Ride-on autoscrubbers include lap safety belts that help keep an operator anchored in his or her seat when making a turn. Customers should be advised that a ride-on machine’s center of gravity changes during use. Solution starts out low which provides better stability, but as it transfers to a higher-up recovery tank, the unit becomes more top-heavy — another reason to take corners and ramps with caution. Some three-wheeled ride-on autoscrubbers include stability bars to counteract this weight distribution change and prevents the machine from tipping.

Like driving an automobile, operators of ride-on machines have to be attentive at all times, especially if there are other personnel in the facility. Most ride-on machines come basic with strobe lights and backup alarms that notify facility occupants that there is heavy moving machinery in the vicinity.

“You have to pay attention and get used to it,” says Mike Helso, equipment specialist for SouthEast Link. “It’s like driving a car. You have to watch where you’re driving and backing. Manufacturers do what they can, but many safety issues are up to the operator to adhere to.”

During training, distributors should also cover ergonomic safety such as ensuring operators are tall enough to reach a ride-on machine’s pedals, see over the dashboard and how to position the seat for fit and control. Schott points out design improvements like lumbar support on ride-on machines, and how handles on walk-behinds require less strength to steer and operate with a gentle squeeze instead of a twisting throttle action.

Distributors also recommend customers do not make any unauthorized modifications to the floor machines. Consolino recalls a slip-and-fall lawsuit at a large retail store where the cleaning crew attached mop heads along the sides of its walk-behind autoscrubber so another employee wouldn’t need to trail with a mop to touch up. Then an employee took the machine out during business hours without the mop heads attached or a person trailing, and a customer slipped on the damp floor.

“The liability for the customer was in the fact that they changed the OEM piece of equipment and took on liability,” says Consolino.

Maintaining And Transporting

Besides promoting operator safety while using autoscrubbers, distributors also are training customers on the importance of properly maintaining the machines.

Distributors say floor pads should be changed at manufacturer recommended intervals or when deemed necessary. When changing pads, customers should ensure that the machine is off. Some ride-on models have the option to lift the deck electronically, allowing quick and easier access to floor pads.

Distributors recommend customers also wear protective gloves and eyewear when filling, emptying and handling chemicals and brushes on ride-on machines.

“These are typically caustic chemicals designed to clean floors of grease and dirt,” says Boyle. “They can take the oil out of your hands, and dry skin can create cracking and openings where you can get an infection.”

Brakes and tires should also be inspected regularly. Operators should be able to sense and report loss of traction or any problems such as loss of steering or balding tires, says Schott.

For customers who have multiple accounts and need to transport the machines, distributors should educate customers on how to properly tie down machines during transportation.

While transporting a machine in a vehicle, distributors advise customers not to jump curbs or cut corners when driving as these movements can bend and loosen a machine’s housings and connections. The biggest risk, however, is tipping the machine over and spilling battery acid — requiring remediation with a neutralizer of the machine’s interior and exterior, as well as the environment.

To get the most from these specialized pieces of equipment, customers need well-trained employees. This is made possible through the hands-on training and guidance from a distributor. Distributors should even continue to offer training after the initial implementation.

Lauren Summerstone is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis.