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Hard floor care - ergonomics for efficiency25th of October 2013
When it comes to purchasing new cleaning solutions – whether for manual or mechanical cleaning – procurement managers increasingly consider aspects such as ergonomics, safety and cost-efficiency in addition to a good cleaning performance.
Particular attention is given to the ergonomics of cleaning machines – for instance vacuum sweepers or scrubber dryers - as user-friendliness is a factor that should not be underestimated with regard to the overall economic efficiency of the technology employed. Klaus Serfezi of machine manufacturer Hako writes exclusively for ECJ.
Operating a walk-behind cleaning machine is a job involving working continuously for about two hours or more, depending on the machine’s running time and the job at hand. Larger ride-on machines, however, are workplaces that sometimes need to be manned eight hours a day. Every office worker would complain about an uncomfortable chair. Cleaning staff, who work with these machines every day, have just the same right to be provided with a comfortable, ergonomic workplace.
It seems appropriate to use the term ‘wellbeing’ to draw a comparison. An ergonomic, easy-to-operate machine increases the acceptance for using the machine and protects the operator’s health, resulting in reduced health-related absenteeism. Finally, boosting your employees’ motivation and showing them how much their work is appreciated by putting them in charge of a very expensive machine, is quite an important factor.
We should therefore look at the aspects you should consider when aiming at purchasing an ergonomic and user-friendly machine. Very important components are, for instance, the seats, an optimal view, simple operating elements arranged within easy reach (levers, foot pedals), self-explanatory buttons, the squeegee positioning and much more….
Let‘s take a look at each individual item and outline the options available, starting with hand-held vacuum sweepers and scrubber dryers. One important aspect of these so-called walk-behind devices is that the operator can comfortably walk behind the machine in an upright position. This means that users of different heights are able to walk in their normal pace without treading on the squeegee or bumping against the frame with their feet.
The driving signal lever at the steering bar should be height-adjustable and the design of the bar itself should allow the operator to grip the bar in different places at various heights, providing for fatigue-free walking in an upright position.
The operating elements such as the squeegee lowering function, the sewage drain plug, the brush head lowering function etc, should be arranged in a manner that enables trouble-free operation without hazards. If, for example, a free-hanging rope is used for the squeegee discharge device, it is important that the rope does not slack in order to prevent tripping caused by accidentally treading on the rope when manoeuvring the machine in curves or in case the rope is torn off.
Because there are many different machine designs available on the market, the view onto the working area in front of the machine can vary significantly from machine to machine. This is particularly the case with scrubber dryers since their large tank systems make them much more voluminous than walk-behind vacuum sweepers. If a scrubber dryer has been designed to be ‘slim’, it automatically makes the machine taller and longer, making it more difficult to get a good view onto the working area.
This does not only increase the risk for accidents resulting from a less than perfect view but, more often than not, the operator would lean sideways to get a better view onto the area to be cleaned. This posture, however, may lead to muscular tension and back discomfort after a long working day.
Easy access to all parts/sections of the machine that require regular checking is very important in order to carry out daily maintenance tasks. It is of advantage if work processes such as replacing the brushes or pads are controlled either automatically or by means of a manually operated discharge mechanism. In addition, easy access to both the fresh water and sewage filters, the sewage draining hose and the squeegee are preferable features from the operator’s point of view.
Being able to remove, carry and empty the dirt hopper of a vacuum sweeper in an effortless fashion eases handling the machine significantly. Instead of a large single dirt hopper, it is best if the machine is equipped with two smaller hoppers, which – featuring a well- balanced carrying system - can be emptied into the rubbish bins provided easily.
The filter, providing for dust-free working, has to be easily removable. Today, all vacuum sweepers are equipped with filter cleaning systems; however, the filters still need to be removed for manual cleaning from time to time.
The easier it is to access maintenance-relevant parts (dust filters, sewage and fresh water filters, brushes/pads/main sweeping cylinder, squeegee, sealing ledges etc), the better the chances of the cleaning staff actually carrying out these maintenance tasks on a regular or even on a daily basis, which is essential in order to maintain the machine’s cleaning performance in the long term.
Ergonomic handling is just as important when it comes so-called ride-on machines. Many different criteria have to be taken into account when developing the machines, however, the seat and the steering wheel play a major role. Certain ride-on machines, depending on the drive, are a full-time work place for the operator.
That is why it is important that these machines are comfortable. The seats should be adjustable, upholstered and/or air-sprung. Sufficient space and legroom enables fatigue-free working. The steering wheel should be in a comfortable position.
Another important aspect is the material used for the steering wheel or the steering bar on walk-behind machines. Pleasant-to-touch or rubber-coated material increases the comfort experience.
Fatigue-free working also takes centre stage when it comes to installing the foot pedals. The operator’s feet should be in an optimal position in order to prevent cramps in the foot or in the calf. All levers and pedals should be within easy reach and operable without physical exertion.
The handling qualities of cleaning machines are tested in studies carried out with both female and male subject groups. The test people have to ride the machines through a course. Their individual impressions are recorded and analysed and finally taken into account when designing new products.
Studies measuring the noise generation close to the operator’s ear as well as hand and arm vibrations are required by law.
The self-explanatory and user-friendly handling of walk-behind and ride-on cleaning machines (partly with one-button operation) helps the operator to concentrate fully on his work. Short learning phases suffice. A manufacturer equipping all his machines with the same operating elements makes it much easier for cleaning staff to handle different models of the same brand.
Electronic control systems have improved the machines’ operation substantially. The driver no longer needs to handle various switches, levers and buttons, but can control the entire functions of the machine with a single button. In many cases, individual cleaning routines can be programmed to optimally adapt the machine to the job requirements at hand.
Therefore, the basis for combining perfect cleaning results with ergonomics and economic efficiency is also this: the better the cleaning machine is suited to the job site and the more the operator accepts the machine, the more efficient the cleaning job.