Broadlex Services national risk manager Dr Denis Boulais discusses the future of safety in the cleaning industry.
The future of safety With the overarching theme of this edition ‘future trends’ this caused me to think about the future of safety in the cleaning industry. A total of 64.9 per cent of all serious musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) result from manual handling and the larger percentage of these serious MSD relate to the lower back. Manual handling has always been an issue in the cleaning industry, where for the most part cleaners are using the same fundamental manual movements to clean today as they were 50 years ago. Prime examples are sweeping, mopping, and toilet cleaning. What has emerged over the past 50 years, however, are risk management systems aimed at identifying assessing and controlling manual handling hazards. We have seen equipment innovations such as better lifting equipment, including bin lifters and lighter vacuums, but manual handling is still involved. I foresee the future as one where research shall continue to develop more effective systems and autonomous technologies may become involved with certain cleaning activities, such as robotic vacuums and window cleaners. These innovations should work towards taking the human body away from the manual cleaning process. Many years ago I managed safety within a dairy processing plant where the majority of injuries were manual handling in nature. It was identified that most of the injuries were musculoskeletal related and originating from one part of the plant – the distribution section. In the distribution section square milk crates holding nine two-litre milk bottles would arrive stacked five high on a moving ground level conveyer belt. The dock hands would then connect their hand trolleys to the stack and wheel the crates off the dock and into a delivery truck. This activity was highly repetitious in order to keep up with the speed of the conveyer and the time at which deliveries needed to be made. A decision was made to have engineers examine the distribution area dock and strengthen it, so it could take more weight. A forklift attachment was developed that could grapple three stacks of five full milk crates at a time. 36 INCLEAN January/February 2019
This allowed one person driving one forklift to load the trucks more productively and safely by taking manual handling and those doing the handling out of the process and into other more lower risk roles within the plant. I believe robots in the cleaning industry may one day reduce manual handling to some degree in areas such as window cleaning and carpet cleaning.
Window cleaning and vacuuming About six months ago I was discussing the use of drones to clean high windows with one of our senior managers, noting pressure application to a window and privacy as two potential issues of deploying such technology. After some online research I found a company that currently sells drones to clean windows – which of course takes humans away from manual handling and falls risk. The company claims the cleaning quality is brilliant, has aviation like safety features and is cost effective. There are also other companies advertising similar technologies such as controlling window cleaning robots down the side of buildings from the rooftop. One particular website reviews robotic window cleaners and covers issues such as battery life, suction and connectivity, and remote controls. My prediction is that as the technology advances and takes hold, high windows will be cleaned autonomously, reducing current day manual handling and fall hazards in addition to reducing costs. In my 17 years in the cleaning industry there has always been a strong interest in maximising productivity through human performance and it is likely that 50 years ago this would have been similar. Much of the advertising in the area of robotic vacuuming seems to point in the direction of home-based vacuums. While I am confident, they would have good use in the workplace my main concern is they would likely get “knocked off” therefore security would be very important. With robot