Safety first for on-premise laundries: following these good-sense safety guidelines by Kim Shady will help reduce the strain on workers' backs and on facilities' laundry and insurance budgets.
Not Always So Common
We've all said it before: "If only so-and-so would have used common sense." Remember the woman who put a cup of hot coffee in her lap and drove away from a fast-food restaurant? The coffee spilled on her legs and she was severely burned. Common sense would dictate that coffee is hot and you shouldn't put it in your lap, but the "common" in "common sense" is a misnomer.
Everyone's experiences are different. When we assume that everyone shares the same set of experiences and training, that's when accidents occur. Therefore, education and training are key elements to ensuring a safe working environment.
Proper Equipment Use Promotes Efficiency
Wouldn't it be scary if we let 16-year-olds drive without taking driver's education? Just as scary is letting someone operate laundry equipment without proper training. If you implement a proper training program, your facility will have fewer workplace accidents, lower employee absenteeism, and lower machine downtime--and might even save money on workers' compensation premiums.
Just as nurses and nurses' aides are required by states to complete a certain number of in-service hours, a similar format can be created for laundry/housekeeping employees. A good place to start is with the facility's laundry equipment distributor(s). Most offer training on the equipment they sell. Require that every employee who will come into contact with the facility's laundry equipment attend this training. In addition, manufacturers typically include operation manuals with new washer-extractors and tumblers. These manuals can be used to develop an ongoing training program for new and experienced employees.
Repetitive tasks can become monotonous, and monotony breeds complacency. Along with complacency comes the potential for not paying attention to established safety procedures. To help combat this, train employees in more than one area of the laundry room and rotate them throughout the shift.
Some say the best things come in threes. It is generally recommended that the main training points be presented verbally twice and then reinforced by signage. Signs can be posted in the laundry room highlighting key aspects of the training. By providing continuous training, management not only shows its commitment to employees but also ensures the efficiency of the on-premise laundry room.
Preventive Maintenance Improves Safety
The benefits of preventive maintenance are far too often overlooked. By creating a preventive maintenance schedule and sticking with it, laundry managers can increase their department's efficiency, reduce the risk of injury and illness, minimize unscheduled interruptions, and prevent larger and more costly repairs.
Included on the dryer maintenance schedule should be steps to ensure that the equipment has unrestricted airflow. Although workers may clean the lint screen several times a day, it is equally important that the dryers' entire exhaust ducts be inspected at least once a month. A restricted exhaust duct from lint reduces airflow and increases the chances of creating an unsafe condition. Vacuuming behind the tumbler every six months is also recommended.
As for washers, after every 200 hours of use the bearings and seals should be lubricated with a manufacturer-recommended grease. Washers should be examined for leaks daily. Besides watching for the obvious puddle on the floor, someone from the maintenance staff should inspect the hoses for water and chemical leaks. If leaks are found, the equipment shouldn't be used until a service technician repairs them. At least every three months, maintenance should also check the washers' belt condition, clean the water-inlet screens, and inspect anchor bolts.
In addition to implementing and posting a preventive maintenance checklist, clear directions for operating conditions should be posted, such as proper start-up and shutdown procedures.
Safe Operation of Equipment
To avoid injury while using laundry room equipment there are certain things to look for and others to avoid. The following is a list of some general operating tips:
Carefully read safety labels and instructions on all laundry equipment. Post safety instructions near each machine for easy reference.
Regularly run safety tests. For example, check the door interlock on washer-extractors. When testing the door interlock, attempt to start the machine with the door open, close the door and, without locking it, attempt to start the machine. If the equipment starts during either of these tests, contact your service technician. Also, try opening the door during the wash cycle. The door should stay locked. If it doesn't, immediately disconnect the equipment from its power source so it cannot be operated, and contact your service technician.
Perform similar safety checks on tumblers. Try opening the door during the dry cycle. The machine should stop when the door is opened.
Pay attention to your surroundings. Never, under any circumstance, operate your washer-extractor if there is high water on the laundry room floor or if the machine is not connected to a properly grounded circuit.
Examine the floor for cracking. The concrete foundation must be of sufficient strength and thickness to handle the floor loads generated by the high extraction speeds. If cracking is severe, the floor needs to be reinforced with new concrete.
Provide sufficient space to move between pieces of equipment and for the performance of service procedures and routine preventive maintenance.
Use machines only for their intended purposes. For example, to reduce the risk of fire, don't put plastics, articles containing foam rubber, rags contaminated with gasoline or other flammable solvents, or mop heads into the dryer.
Do not defeat machine safety features. Washer-extractors and tumblers are constructed with numerous safety features, such as washer door lock protection and a dryer airflow safety switch. By intentionally overriding these features, you create an unsafe condition.
Cut off the power when there is a problem with a machine or a jam in a flatwork finisher. Don't just turn off the machine, but turn off the power at the power source.
Check emergency switches and devices weekly to ensure that they are working properly.
Remove hot laundry from a tumbler immediately after cycle completion. Never leave a hot load sitting in a tumbler or a laundry cart unattended.
Throw out rags. If you have rags that have been used to clean up or apply a chemical, don't wash or dry them. For safety reasons it's best to throw them out.
Ergonomics and the Laundry Room
A large issue coming to light is the study of ergonomics. Defined as the science of fitting the job to the worker, ergonomics is extremely important in the laundry room. Because of the repetitive movements of bending and reaching, employees can experience back strain if they are not properly trained in proper techniques. And, in terms of the amount of lost work time, back strain comes in a close second to the common cold for days missed.
To prevent physical injuries on the job, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests training employees on proper lifting; posting signs that demonstrate proper lifting technique; reducing the size and weight of the items being lifted; and installing mechanical aids when possible. It is also recommended that equipment height be adjusted to proper levels. For example, the work level of carts and bins should be raised to approximately workers' waist level. If the stationary laundry equipment is too high, platforms should be provided for employees to stand on for easier reaching.
When laundry staff are washing large items, such as sheets, these items should be loaded individually by bunching each sheet accordion style. This will prevent the sheets from tangling and will make them easier to remove from the washer.
When a washer-extractor or tumbler is being unloaded, large linens should be removed one at a time. This will prevent the linens from being bunched, and workers won't have to fight with the machine to remove them.
To avoid overreaching when using larger equipment, workers should use a laundry rake with a long handle to pull linens closer to the door. Some machines also have a tilt option, allowing the washer-extractor to tilt forward for ease of unloading.
For changing loads from washer to dryer, it's recommended that the space between the washer and the tumbler be limited for easy reaching but sufficient to allow staff to turn completely. And workers should be instructed that when they do turn, they should keep their noses over their toes, picking up their feet to move so as not to wrench their knees. Finally, the laundry room must be kept clutter-free and organized, ensuring proper flow from one area to the next.
Because it's important for facility administrators and managers to convey their concern for and commitment to staff safety, and because the costs of healthcare are ever rising, it's essential to do all that is possible to prevent on-the-job injuries. No matter the size of the on-premises laundry, through proper training and maintenance--and by working with your staff, distributor, and organizations like OSHA--you can design and operate a laundry room that is safe, efficient, and productive.
Kim Shady, National Sales Manager for UniMac, has worked in the commercial laundry industry for more than 16 years. Owned by Alliance Laundry Systems, UniMac offers an industrial line of onpremise laundry equipment designed for efficiency and durability. For more information, phone (920) 748-4437. To comment on this article, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For reprints in quantities of 100 or more, call (866) 377-6454.