Are you working comfortably?

02 June 2017

Chartered Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors (CIEHF) member Russell Fife investigates and identifies preventative methods to help reduce the number of work related work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) within the cleaning industry

The cleaning industry is considered one of the most strenuous industries to work in, with a lot of physically demanding labour including repetitive work with heavy equipment and machines as well as a large degree of manual handling when moving furniture around. It’s hardly surprising that the cleaning industry has seen a significant number of work-related musculoskeletal injuries amongst those who work within the trade. Over 74% of employees in the cleaning industry have experienced muscular aches pains and discomfort during the last 12 months, with 52% having to seek medical advice. 

As cleaners tend to work in environments which have been specifically designed to suite the needs of other industries such as hospitals or schools and with such a high number of musculoskeletal injuries, the need for tailored ergonomic work assessments is crucial. 

Modifying ergonomic solutions

To ensure the most effective results through ergonomic assessments, employers need to work directly with their staff to improve their understanding of which musculoskeletal disorders are most common amongst their workforce. This will help towards successfully tailoring a solution that meets their specific needs. 

To create a tailored assessment, the employer first needs to explore the types of employee complaints they receive, in terms of their physical health, followed by revising their employees’ daily tasks. They can then identify and quantify the physical ergonomics risks and implement specific solutions to help reduce the number of employee accidents and incidents. 

According to a recent study, the majority of health complaints from cleaners, caretakers and supervisors are lower back, neck, knees and shoulder problems as well as wrist, hand and feet issues. With these in mind an example of key concerns the cleaning industry may have include: 

  • A lack of training on ergonomics or musculoskeletal risk factors and how to prevent these issues.
  • Lack of control over breaks, resulting in stress and strain on certain body parts including back, neck and feet, for prolonged periods of time.  
  • Poor working postures caused by handheld equipment used for highly repetitive activities such as vacuuming and mopping. 
  • Little training on the correct way to lift and move heavy items such as furniture or buckets of water. 
  • No weight limit for items that require lifting. 

Making a difference

There are several interventions that employers can easily apply to their business, depending on specific complaints. These include training all staff on musculoskeletal risk factors and how they can prevent injuries in the future, work with employees to create a schedule that provides regular breaks from manual and repetitive activities, training staff on how to correctly lift heavy objects without applying pressure to their lower back as well as providing training on the correct way to use and hold handheld machinery, including vacuums. 

The benefits 

The main benefit of introducing tailored ergonomic assessments into a workforce is a happier and healthier team, resulting in less absence from work as well as a reduction of pain and fatigue. In 2015/16 alone, 9.5 million working days were lost due to musculoskeletal disorders costing the UK economy a total of £14.3 billion. With better training and ergonomics solutions for those working in the cleaning industry, the prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders should dramatically drop.