The Dumpster Prop: Making a Dirty Job Easier

Article Published By Andrea Thompson

The custodial staff at a large university has the enormous task of cleaning not only classrooms and office spaces, but also student residential areas and onsite event locations. You can imagine the amount of trips it takes from a building to the dumpster each day in order to take out the trash. December holidays and June are especially daunting, as students are leaving campus en masse, and extra garbage piles up, waiting to be disposed of. The number of trips are hard enough, but the most painful part could be holding the dumpster lid open with one hand while throwing in the garbage bags. Not only is this method dirty and less effective, but throwing items one-handed and over-the-shoulder could potentially create injuries. UC Davis has 193 of these large, six-yard dumpsters on its property and an army of staff devoted to cleaning and maintaining the campus buildings, and there had to be a way to get this “dirty job” done more quickly and easily.

Dr. Buster Porter, Physical Therapist and Ergonomics Specialist at Occupational Health Services knew that a change was needed for the welfare of the custodial staff. As part of his doctoral dissertation, he chose to investigate the injury risk associated with the disposal of trash in the large dumpsters. What he discovered was that employees were putting significant strain on their backs, necks and shoulders which resulted in injuries such as impingement syndrome, a condition where the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles become irritated and inflamed. Partnering with Dr. Fadi Fathallah at the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering in the College of Engineering, they discussed possible solutions for this issue.

The first thing Dr. Porter did was to contact the manufacturers of the dumpsters to see if they could be re-engineered. The old models had lids that were 55 inches from the ground, a significant height for most people, considering that the lid needed to be elevated even higher in order to dispose of something. He was able to have the design altered so the lid would be only 39 inches from the ground. The newly engineered units will replace the old ones on an as-need basis. It was a significant improvement, but he knew there was more that could be done.

Most dumpsters have a metal bar permanently attached to the inside that can prop open the lid. Unfortunately these are awkward to reach, the trash makes it difficult to access and put into place and they don’t attach to the lid, often slipping and sending the lid crashing down. Working with Dr. Fathallah and Ira Janowitz, an inventor and then Ergonomics Program Manager and Physical Therapist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, they designed and manufactured a new device called the Dumpster Prop. It is a unique, lightweight and adjustable device that quickly and securely holds open the lid on a dumpster so that custodians can dispose of trash without making physical movements that put them in the danger zone for injuries.

The finished product is now on order from the manufacturer and will be implemented at UC Davis in the near future. Dr. Porter will be working with the custodial staff to integrate the use of the new props into the daily maintenance routine. Not only will the prop rescue aching shoulders and backs, it will make the task of disposing trash faster and easier!