Walk Or Ride?

Compared to traditional floor-mopping methods, automatic scrubbers provide a more efficient and effective way to clean floors in park and recreational settings. Fully automatic floor scrubbers are designed to apply cleaning solution to the floor, agitate or scrub it, strip it (when called for), wet-vacuum it, and then squeegee it dry -- all automatically in one pass.

It is the agitation, along with the cleaning chemicals, that loosens and helps remove soils. The end result is that floors are cleaner than those cleaned using traditional methods, and the floors dry faster, which allows immediate access and protects building-occupant safety. And because the equipment is designed to carry out floor-care procedures quickly, the use of automatic scrubbers can be cost-effective. In many situations, the machines pay for themselves in a matter of months because worker productivity is enhanced significantly.

However, automatic scrubbers cannot just be turned on and used like a vacuum cleaner. These are heavy machines--each weighing approximately 350 pounds--sometimes more. Because of their substantial mass, maneuvering, turning, and operating automatic scrubbers can be difficult--even dangerous--without the proper training.

Further, users must know how to care for these machines. Following the manufacturer’s instructions for proper care and maintenance is critical, and can result in years of dependable service with little downtime or costly repair bills.

Choosing An Automatic Scrubber

Often, one of the first decisions for park and recreation managers is the type and size of floor machine to select. The answer depends on how the facility is used, the amount and type of foot traffic and the floor type, among other variables. One general guideline is that, if the total floor area to be cleaned and maintained is more than 1,500 square feet, it is best to select a walk-behind automatic scrubber. As the name implies, a worker walks behind the machine, gently pushing it or--if the machine is self-propelled--guiding it over the floor area to be cleaned.

Walk-behind floor machines were first introduced more than 50 years ago. At the time, manufacturers were primarily concerned with the equipment’s operation and how well they cleaned and maintained floors. Over the years, however, concern grew over worker safety. A number of safety features have since been incorporated, including:

· Locking mechanisms. Due to the weight of these machines, this is an important feature because it prevents the machine from rolling backward on an incline or ramp.

· Friction-brake systems that ensure quick stops when necessary

· Variable speed settings so that a lower speed can be selected when operating in more challenging. settings

· Readily accessible, easy-to-read control panels

· Emergency stop buttons.

For large floor areas, managers may want to consider a ride-on floor machine, where the cleaning worker actually sits on the machine, driving it like a golf cart. This type of machine helps minimize worker fatigue. Look for a model with an emergency stop button and control panels that are easy to reach, read, and operate.

Learning How To Use The Scrubber

Most manufacturers of scrubbers provide an instructional booklet, possibly a video, or similar use and operation information; however, the extent and thoroughness of this information can vary.

For this reason, managers need to work closely with a manufacturer’s customer-service department if use, safety and operation issues develop. Most manufacturers are aware that issues can and do occur; however, just like instructional material, the level of customer service varies. A good indication of the type of service a manufacturer will provide is its customer-service department. Call and ask questions about the equipment--the more thorough and helpful the customer-service department is at answering questions, the more likely it will take the same care with service concerns.

For more up-close instruction, work with the local janitorial distributor that sold you the machine. An astute distributor typically provides training on the machine, often meeting with cleaning workers when they are most likely to perform their floor-care tasks--in the evenings or on weekends. Nothing can beat hands-on training to promote user safety.

A safety issue that must be considered in selecting equipment is the height of the employee who will be using it. He or she must be able to see over a walk-behind machine to ensure proper handling. With ride-on equipment, he or she must be able to comfortably see over the dashboard and reach the pedals. With some ride-on machines, the seat can be positioned to accommodate workers of different heights.

Workers also should be instructed not to make any modifications to the equipment. A great deal of research and technology goes into designing these machines so they operate properly and safely. In one case, a worker made unauthorized adjustments to the squeegee that helps collect moisture and dry the floor. As a result, the machine left damp spots on the floor, which resulted in a slip-and-fall accident.

Safe Maintenance And Transportation

Most floor machines have floor pads, which should be changed per the manufacturer’s recommended intervals or as necessary. Make sure the equipment is turned off and on a flat, open surface when changing them.

Protective gloves and goggles are recommended when removing pads as well as filling the machine, emptying it, or handling chemicals. Floor-care chemicals are some of the most powerful and caustic used in the professional cleaning industry, and skin and eye contact with these products can result in serious injury.

Brakes and tires on the machines should be checked regularly. As they become accustomed to the equipment, experienced operators will be able to sense a loss of traction or, similarly, any steering problems. These problems should be reported to managers and fixed as soon as possible.

Transporting the equipment is another safety concern. Due to budget cuts, more and more park and recreation departments have only a few floor machines that must be used in several locations. While transporting a walk-behind or ride-on floor machine, drivers should avoid potholes and curbs, and try not to cut corners too sharply. As big as they are, these machines are also delicate, and the movements can bend and loosen the equipment's housings and connections.

While walk-behind and ride-on floor machines can reduce labor costs, improve worker productivity, and meet most floor-cleaning challenges, proper handling of the equipment is necessary in order to achieve this. Managers and cleaning workers should invest the time to know the equipment, and to take advantage of training for these machines in order for them to be the most effective.

Rob Godlewski is vice president of marketing for Powr-Flite, a manufacturer of professional cleaning equipment. He may be reached at r.godlewski@tacony.com.