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March 27, 2013
CDC highlights 4 hazards for hotel housekeepers; Tips to keep custodial workers healthy

More than 400,000 hotel housekeepers are at work in America today, and they're working harder than ever. Housekeepers are dealing with thicker, fluffier pillows and comforters, more layers of sheets, and ever-heavier linen carts.

As hotels trim their staffing and workloads increase, injuries have become more common, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified some specific hazard categories. These hazards affect not only hotel housekeepers but also other janitorial and custodial workers. As the holiday travel season peaks, make sure that injuries to these workers don't also increase.

The CDC hazards

As part of its National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA), the CDC has identified four categories of hazards that affect hotel housekeepers:

Ergonomic hazards. Hotel housekeepers suffer high rates of musculoskeletal injuries as a result of awkward postures—as when they are required to mop floors on their hands and knees or bend forward while making beds—and forceful motions, such as pushing heavy linen carts.

Slips, trips, and falls. Falls on the same level, which usually result from slips or trips, are a leading cause of lost-time injuries in the United States. For hotel housekeepers, who may have to clean rooms cluttered with occupants' luggage and navigate hallways obstructed by linen carts and criss-crossed by vacuum cleaner power cords, this is a special concern.

Chemical hazards. Cleaning chemicals used in small, poorly ventilated areas can cause respiratory irritation and sensitization and cause or exacerbate occupational asthma and other lung diseases. Detergents and latex can also cause injury or chronic problems with skin.

Infectious diseases. Hotel housekeepers may face infectious disease risks from biological wastes and bloodborne pathogens—for example, when a hotel guest leaves uncapped needles on counters, in bed sheets, or in trash cans.

Practice tip

The Cal/OSHA guidance document Working Safer and Easier for Janitors, Custodians, and Housekeepers includes posters that employers can hang in the workplace.

Protecting housekeepers

In 2005, Cal/OSHA published a nonregulatory guidance document addressing hazards for custodial, janitorial, and housekeeping workers. The document includes recommendations for employers as well as extensive information for workers.

Employers can help to protect housekeeping workers—and, Cal/OSHA notes, improve productivity—with the following strategies:

Provide the right tools and equipment. The correct tools can eliminate ergonomic stressors.

For example, a mop can eliminate the need for housekeepers to clean hard floors on their hands and knees, and tools with telescoping handles can accommodate workers of different heights in ergonomically sound postures.

Providing lighter tools—such as microfiber mops rather than traditional mops—enables workers to do a job more quickly, with less stress on their bodies, enhancing both safety and productivity.

The right personal protective equipment (PPE) can help to prevent chemical injuries and the spread of infectious diseases.

Workers should have access to chemical protective gloves, aprons, and eyewear as appropriate. If they could possibly encounter needles, workers should have a sharps disposal container and forceps to place them in.

Provide training. Workers should be trained in safe work practices as well as in proper use and care of equipment. Training workers to properly use equipment can prevent injuries, enhance productivity, and protect equipment from misuse and damage. Training workers in safe work practices, such as switching hands regularly for scrubbing counters or other tasks requiring the application of force, and teaching workers stretching exercises for heavily used muscle groups, can prevent overuse injuries.

Workers should also be taught to communicate appropriately with management regarding safety issues and concerns. They should know how and when to take damaged equipment out of service and have it repaired and how and when to obtain replacement PPE.

Practice safe scheduling. Scheduling can contribute to safety by ensuring that sufficient staff are on hand for busy times, so no one is rushed or overloaded, which can increase the chances of injury.

Scheduling can also be used to create job rotations to vary workers' job tasks, reducing the odds of an overuse injury and minimizing workers' exposures to hazardous chemicals.

Break scheduling is another strategy that can prevent injury. Workers who take frequent short breaks are less likely to sustain injuries caused by overuse or inattention than workers who skip their breaks or take just one long break during their shift.

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