Providing Service Can Be Back-Breaking Work
The main focus of the hospitality industry is customer satisfaction. So, the pressure is on, and it can impact the lives of these workers in a variety of ways.
Consider the job of a hotel housekeeper. For the past decade, hotels have upped their amenities game in a competition to attract patrons. According to the New York Times, “It’s a competition in which the nation’s premier hotels are trying to have their accommodations resemble royal bedrooms. Super thick mattresses, plush duvets and decorative bed skirts have been added, and five pillows rather than the pedestrian three now rest on a king-size bed.”
That king-size bed weighs about 100 pounds. When you consider lifting 100 pounds to accommodate fitted sheets 15 to 20 times a day, which is the average number of rooms a housekeeper is expected to clean per shift, you can imagine the toll it takes on a body. And that doesn’t take into consideration the other beds that need attending to; estimates are that four to five hours are spent on beds alone. Other tasks include carrying heavy linens, pushing and pulling carts, kneeling, stooping and climbing to clean bathroom floors, tubs and showers.
Among the most common injuries for hotel housekeepers are:
- Musculoskeletal disorders involving the joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves, tendons, neck and back.
- Acute trauma, such as contusions, fractures, lacerations, burns and strains/sprains.
- Chemical exposure.
- Stress due to anything from increased work load and time limitations to sexual harassment/assault.
These injuries are on a major scale. Consider the following statistics from the American Journal of Industrial Medicine regarding the hotel housekeepers they surveyed:
- Forty-seven percent had severe or very severe bodily pain in the last month.
- Eighty-four percent took pain medication during the last month for pain they had at work.
- Seventy-eight percent experienced pain in the last year caused or made worse by their work.
Effective risk management protocol must be in place to reduce the severity and pervasive nature of these injuries.
The worst kind of pain is self-inflicted pain.
A large majority of the workers’ compensation injuries in the hotel and hospitality business are from the housekeeping department, and more specifically housekeepers/room attendant injuries that could have been prevented.
Workers’ comp insurance rates have skyrocketed in the past 18 months. The higher rates are due to increased medical costs, the unknown factors of Obamacare, and employees making more claims due to the recession and their fear of being laid off or losing hours.
Many companies have reduced their management staff in the past several years, which has led to mismanagement of, or no management whatsoever, of employee on-the-job injuries and safety programs. Unmanaged employee injuries add more cost to workers’ comp insurance claims, and higher costs translate into higher insurance rates at renewal time.
Prevention of injuries and training staff in safe work practices will save money on workers’ comp injury claims and overall insurance costs.
Because self-inflicted pain is the worst kind of pain, the loss control team at Petra Risk Solutions has accumulated and evaluated extensive workers’ comp injury data from the hotel industry. Below are some helpful suggestions on how to better manage hospitality workers’ comp injuries with the focus being on pre-employment and loss-avoidance opportunities.
Pre-Employment and Hiring Practices
First, careful consideration should be paid to an employee’s physical capabilities as they relate to the job description for the employment position. It’s recommended that the hospitality entity provide pre-employment physicals for hotel positions that require physical exertion. Examples of these positions could be housekeepers, laundry room attendants and maintenance staff.
The following example explains why.
Recently we saw a 48-year-old female who had two complete knee replacement surgeries on the same knee, get hired as a housekeeper. Within the first three months of employment, she injured her bad knee, and the cost of her workers’ comp claim will be in the tens of thousands of dollars. If this employee had received a pre-employment physical prior to her hiring, the doctor may not have recommended her for that very strenuous position.
Loss Avoidance-Proactive Safety
Management and accountability statistical data from Petra Risk Solutions shows that approximately 80 percent of all employee injuries occur within the first two years of employment, with many of those injuries occurring in the first year of employment.
Many hotels are short-staffed, so they tend to put a new employee to work as soon as possible, with little or no training. Injury data demonstrates it is extremely important to spend the time training new hires on their job and how to work safely before they jump into their job role.
Hotel and hospitality management should spend time with the new employees and train them how to work safely and to use proper techniques to avoid injuries.
Limiting the number of rooms that housekeepers clean is another huge revelation when it comes to loss avoidance. Hospitality risks can reduce housekeeping injuries by requiring housekeepers to clean 15 rooms or less per day. Those housekeepers that clean 15 rooms or less per day have fewer injuries than housekeepers who clean 16 or more rooms a day. Housekeepers who have to rush to complete their rooms get injured more often.
Statistical data has shown that the 15 room cleaning maximum is in fact the “magic number” that will reduce workers’ comp injury claims.
The business segment of the hotel also affects the room attendant workload. For instance, it takes less time to clean a room with a single business guest as opposed to a family of five on vacation.
Training staff to work using proper ergonomic techniques while working also will reduce injuries. Some of the most expensive injuries that require surgery and rehabilitation are cumulative and repetitive motion injuries. Repetitive motion injuries occur over time while using the wrong work techniques.
- Use proper lifting techniques, straight back, bent knees, lift with the legs.
- Do not bend over to clean a floor or bath tub. Use a pole with a cleaning device to stand up while cleaning. Or, get on the knees and clean from an upright position, rather than bending over.
- Do not stand on bath tub side walls or toilets while cleaning. Do not stand on chairs or other furniture. Use step stools or ladders.
- Do not overfill or overload linen carts, dirty linen bins, or housekeeping carts. Make multiple trips with smaller loads to avoid injury.
- Use gloves to protect hands and safety glasses or goggles to protect eyes.
There are several new tools and products that can help hospitality entities reduce injuries to staff.
One example: mattress “lifters” that prevent housekeepers from straining to lift heavy mattresses multiple times a day. Also available are devices that help housekeepers efficiently put bed pillows into pillow cases. The latest hotel industry trend is to have elegant bedding, which includes multiple pillows.
Another recommended tool: cleaning devices on poles, or powered scrubbing devices. There are several cleaning products on the market that use poles, so employees can stand upright, without bending or straining their backs as they clean floors, bath tubs and shower enclosures. These products can be picked up at any home improvement store, or at national retailers such as Target or Wal-Mart.
We have tested a battery-powered scrubber device that reduces cleaning time and effort, and also allows housekeepers to stand upright while cleaning multiple floors and bathtubs.
Room attendants use hand pump spray bottles to dispense chemicals every day. This can lead to carpal tunnel injuries from repetitive motion. Another type of sprayer allow the user to pump air pressure into the bottle, so the housekeeper only has to press on the trigger once, allowing the chemical to spray quickly and without additional strain on the fingers and arm.
Room attendants that “whip” large industrial-type vacuum cleaners around are also a concern. Doing this everyday can cause shoulder or neck strains. Hotels should review the type of vacuum they use, as well as how much the unit weighs. This will help to reduce worker strain when maneuvering the vacuum multiple times a day.
Cleaning hotel rooms is difficult, physical work, and is taken for granted occasionally. Using newly created and innovative hotel housekeeping products can prevent injury.
Reevaluating how a housekeeper or room attendant performs his or her day-to-day routine is also important. Prevention of injuries and training hotel staff in safe work practices will save money on workers’ comp injury claims and reduce overall insurance costs in the long-run.