Sit Or Stand, Just Don't Walk
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Given the choice, janitors are more likely to favor ride-on floor care equipment — and for good reason: Standing or sitting on a machine is more comfortable, less tiring and quicker than pushing a walk-behind machine, according to floor care equipment manufacturers.
“With a walk-behind, the operator has to clean and walk with that piece of equipment,” says Mark Palumbo, director, TASKI business development at Diversey, Charlotte, North Carolina. “So after two or three hours, you’re going to become tired, and the speed that you’re cleaning at is going to vary, according to your comfort level.”
One manufacturer estimates that the top speed for walk-behind machines is between 2 and 2.5 miles per hour. However, custodians struggle to keep up the pace and typically walk slower than 1 mile an hour by the end of the shift.
“With riding equipment — whether sitting or standing — the speed is consistent throughout the process, regardless of whether it’s the beginning or end of the shift,” says James Young, director of sales for Tornado, Fort Worth, Texas. “So, in comparison with a walk-behind, it would cover more ground and surface area in the same amount of time.”
Ride-on equipment can cost two to five times more than walk-behind counterparts, on average. However, despite their higher price tags, ride-on machines are attractive alternatives to walk-behind equipment for building service contractors who have to contend with rising labor costs and high employee turnover.
“It’s less fatiguing and more productive to use riders,” says Dale Krausnick, vice president of marketing for NSS Enterprises, Toledo, Ohio. “So you save on labor, and often it’s enough savings to pay for the entire machine over the course of a couple of years.”
Productivity rates for ride-on machines are further boosted by large-capacity water tanks, which extend the time between dumping and refilling.
So, if walking behind a machine is out, does it make more sense for janitors to sit or stand while operating ride-on equipment? And which option is safer and more productive?
To Sit Or Stand?
Some manufacturers favor stand-up machines because it is easier for an operator to get on and off than a sit-down model, thus improving safety and increasing the likelihood that the operator will exit the machine when necessary.
“It’s easier for workers to step on and off the machine and move stuff,” says Richard Bodo, director of training for Kärcher North America Inc., Denver. “Over the years, our customers have told us that they find workers are more likely to step off a machine and move something versus get off a sit-down machine and move it.”
The stand-up machine also has a smaller footprint than a sit-down machine, making it easy to maneuver and access tight spaces.
“One of the big benefits of a stand-up machine is it’s a bit more agile and nimble from a turning radius perspective,” says Michael Beutler, senior global category manager, commercial equipment, Tennant, Minneapolis. “It allows operators to clean in areas that they may traditionally avoid with a sit-down machine.”
For instance, elevators and narrow or congested hallways are no longer off limits with a stand-up machine. And the machine’s compact size makes it easier to store than traditional ride-on equipment.
A Stand For Safety
When discussing the ergonomics of stand-up machines, manufacturers are divided: Some say standing up and steering for hours is uncomfortable and places the operator’s body in an unnatural position. Others disagree, however, countering that their stand-up machines are designed with the operator’s comfort in mind.
One thing manufacturers can agree on is that sitting is more comfortable than standing for long periods of time; however, some believe that a standing position is preferable from a safety perspective.
“Standing can be an issue for some operators, but the benefit is people are awake when they stand; it’s much harder to doze off,” says Young. “A lot of our cleaning is done at night or in the early hours, so operators already come to work fatigued. If you put them in a sit-down machine they can literally fall asleep at the wheel.”
Young has seen machines driven off docks and down staircases by operators who were nodding off. He has even had a machine go through a plate glass window.
From a safety standpoint, a number of manufacturers also favor stand-up units because they offer a better vantage point.
“If you ask a worker ‘would you rather sit or stand,’ they’d probably rather sit,” says Bodo. “But if you’re on a machine standing up you have greater visibility. So you’re trading off worker fatigue and comfort for better sightlines and safety while operating the machine.”