The campus of Western University in London, Ontario covers 100 buildings with a gross area of about 844,000 square meters. With full-time enrollment at over 30,000 and a staff of almost 2,500, university facilities must meet a wide range of demands and be kept clean in spite of ongoing high traffic.
Western University’s custodial staff of about 250 is tasked with maintaining those facilities and, by extension, the university’s image as a respected institution of higher learning. In pursuit of modernizing their workforce, the building services department partnered with their equipment supplier Swish Maintenance Ltd. and consultants from The Surge Group to improve upon cleaning efficiency.
The Right Equipment in the Right Spaces
“We would build a new building and then give them a mop, bucket, and upright – the same tools as ever. That didn’t make sense anymore,” said Director of Building Services, Chris Bumbacco. “We knew we needed to move forward and put the right equipment in the right spaces.”
A pilot program was launched in three campus buildings with the equipment recommended by Swish Maintenance – equipment that included the ProTeam GoFree Flex Pro cordless backpack vacuum.
“One of the challenges in the pilot program was the change from upright vacuums to the cordless backpack vacuum,” said Mark Vandenbossche, Quality Assurance Coordinator for the building services department. “The biggest concern was that it would be too heavy and hard on the custodian’s back. This concern was later alleviated with training on proper fit and use.”
While many custodians had doubts, the GoFree Flex Pro won over a few custodians who became its champions. Vandenbossche observed those champions talking to their peers and encouraging them to try the cordless.
Education is Everything
To support the adoption of the backpacks and address staff concerns, management introduced a training program. They started with a special training course for the shift leads. Later, when training the whole staff, they invited representatives from Swish Maintenance and ProTeam and an ergonomic consultant, David Schlotzhauer, to evaluate the backpacks.
“The ergonomic consultant did some measurements to see how the backpack vacuums compared to a standard upright vacuum in terms of force,” said Bumbacco. “He signed off on the ProTeam cordless backpacks, and that helped a lot. He addressed the staff’s concerns, and confirmed that it’s not causing undue strain. Then we created a fact sheet with tips and a checklist from the training.”
“When assessing the backpack vacuum, I quickly learned the importance of proper use to minimize risk of musculoskeletal strain on the body,” said Schlotzhauer. “Education involved proper strap adjustment, use of wand to minimize drag, and appropriate amount of time spent on body.”
Western University campus is divided into zones with a manager leading each zone. At the end of the pilot program, building services decided to invest in at least one GoFree Flex Pro for each zone. Then they had to decide where to put the new equipment based on where it would improve cleaning the most. The cordless backpacks were put to work in the stairwells to remove the risk of tripping on the cord.
“It’s important to remove the tripping hazard because we are working in occupied areas. We want to be able to do the work without impeding our customers and staff,” said Bumbacco. “With the GoFree Flex Pro, our customers are not going to trip over a cord. They’re not tripping over a canister. The cord is not dragging down a hallway. And custodians don’t yank the cord out of the outlet from down the hall.”
Change Starts with Leadership
The effort to modernize Western University’s workforce and move to cordless backpack vacuums required the commitment of leadership and the patience to see it through. Slowly but surely, the custodial staff was won over to the new processes. Process and Project Specialist, Alexis Fowler, observed a group of custodians change their minds about the cordless backpack vacuums when they had to solve a problem.
“We had a large space that needed to be cleaned quickly, and they were under a time crunch,” said Fowler. “They had to use the cordless backpack vacuums to do the work within the time limits. They ended up liking them from that point forward.
Looking ahead, Bumbacco expects that the ProTeam cordless backpack vacuums will generate cost savings in two ways: by doing the same amount of work in less time, and by reducing injury and strain for custodial workers.
Wherever custodians improve cleaning, it all adds up to creating supportive spaces, so Western University can fulfill its mission: to disseminate and apply knowledge for the benefit of society.
Learn how another university saw big benefits by going cordless.