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Push a 130 kilogram (286 pounds) cleaning cart, lift mattresses, scrub bathtub, vacuum floor, repeat. Hotel housekeeping is a very physically demanding and tiring job that includes many, varied and repetitive tasks that over time can lead to musculoskeletal pain as well as mental stress. It’s a strenuous occupation that employs over 75,000 workers in Canada, close to 95% of whom are women.
During a typical shift, a housekeeper can be responsible for cleaning up to 16 rooms. The actual amount of work involved depends on the size of the room and the number of beds. To meet this quota, a housekeeper needs between fifteen and thirty minutes to do one room. In each room a housekeeper will make beds, tidy the room, replenish soaps, scrub and polish the entire bathroom, remove stains, and vacuum. The work is physically demanding and studies show that housekeepers are injured on the job more often than any other service industry workers. The majority are musculoskeletal injuries, temporary or permanent injuries to muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tendons often caused by doing the same motion over and over again, while exerting excessive force or in an awkward posture.
Strains and Pain of Housekeeping
You might be surprised to know that a housekeeper changes body position every three seconds while cleaning a room and assumes approximately 8,000 different postures every shift. This, combined with repeated forceful movements, such as lifting, overreaching, or awkward positioning involved in the job means housekeepers commonly experience injuries to the back, neck, shoulders and arms.
The main risk factors for these injuries in housekeeping are heavy physical workloads and excessive bodily motions (increasing risk of back injuries), and forceful upper limb motions in awkward positions (higher risk of neck or shoulder and arm injuries). Forceful movements while using awkward body positions include lifting mattresses, cleaning tiles, and vacuuming every shift. The awkward positions and postures required as part of the job include stooping, squatting, kneeling, stretching, reaching, bending, twisting and crouching.
Further increasing the workload is the pressure to meet clean room quotas and monthly audits that measure how effectively rooms are cleaned. Larger mattresses, heavier linen and towels, and an increase in the number of conveniences that require cleaning (such as coffee pots) also put workers at risk of injury.
Managers and supervisors have the responsibility to conduct a risk assessment to identify hazards, and then control them. If possible, they should eliminate the hazard and the risk of injury. They are responsible for ensuring that their employees are trained to perform their jobs safely. They should explain the health hazards of improper lifting or awkward positioning, and what hotel housekeepers can do to perform their job safer.
Managers must address employee concerns, deliver training, and facilitate open communication that supports both the physical and mental well-being of their employees. Many housekeepers are newcomers to Canada and unaware of their worker rights. They need to know how to report safety concerns and injuries without fear of retaliation.
Reducing ergonomic risks
Hotels are unique workplaces in that they are usually designed for the comfort of their guests rather than their housekeeping staff. This makes it very difficult to improve working conditions for housekeepers by means of better engineering; however selecting more appropriate equipment can make improvements.
Lighter vacuum cleaners (preferably the self-propelling type), and lighter service carts with wheels designed for carpeted floors can ease the workload for their operators providing this equipment is kept in good repair. When purchasing new vacuum cleaners, one of the criteria should be low noise emissions to protect the hearing of the housekeeping staff.
Other ways of reducing the risk factors for repetitive motion injuries include job rotation where workers move between different tasks to provide greater variety and more evenly distributed muscular work. Working as a team can also make rotating between tasks possible by alternating tasks between team members.
Safety Tips for Housekeeping Staff
Beyond ergonomic, hotel housekeepers face many additional hazards and health issues that require identification and, where possible, elimination. They include:
Tips & Tools
In September 2017, a construction worker at a housing development in Alberta was killed by crush injuries while operating a skid-steer machine.
Skid-steer loaders are small, compact machines with a heavy bucket design and are easy to maneuver and are particularly useful in agriculture and construction. However, the very features that make these machines so effective and agile also put workers at risk for injury.
About Skid-Steer Loaders
A skid loader or skid-steer loader is a compact, engine-powered machine with lift arms to which a variety of labour-saving tools can be attached. Although they are sometimes equipped with tracks, skid-steer loaders are typically four-wheel drive vehicles with the left-side drive wheels independent of the right-side drive wheels, making them extremely easy to manoeuver.
The driver or operator's seat and controls are located between the lift arms and in front of the lift arm pivot points, placing the operator close to the lift arms' zone of movement. Because skid-steer loader operators must enter and exit through the front of the loader and over the bucket, there is always the risk that if they don't exit or enter properly, a foot or hand control may be activated and cause movement of the lift arms, bucket, or other attachment.
Safely Exiting the Machine
Drivers should never leave the operator’s station of a skid loader when the engine is running or the lift arms are raised because of the potential to activate one of the vehicle’s controls. A study from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) shows that many operators have been killed or suffered crushing injuries trying to climb out of the cab without observing safe shut down procedures.
Employers can help protect their workers by fully training them in skid-steer loader safety before they operate the machine, as well as by sharing these tips:
This month’s featured podcasts include tips for lightning safety and an encore presentation of Sun Safety at Work with Thomas Tenkate .
Feature Podcast: Lightning Safety: Keeping Safe When Working Outdoors
Whether you fear lightning or consider it a natural wonder, it’s a very real hazard that requires caution. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) shares tips on what safety measures to take when faced with a lightning storm while working outdoors.
The podcast runs 7:00 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Sun Safety at Work with Thomas Tenkate
Dr. Thomas Tenkate, Associate Professor and Director at the School of Occupational and Public Health at Ryerson University in Toronto discusses the importance of sun safety in the workplace, developing a sun safety program, and his current project, Sun Safety at Work Canada, with CCOHS.
The podcast runs for 7:11 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
The Changing World of Work is a unique national event that will bring together leaders, change-makers, and subject experts representing government, labour, and workplaces to share their knowledge and experience around current and emerging health and safety issues.
The stage is set for March 5-6, 2019 in Winnipeg, Manitoba where CCOHS’ sixth forum will deliver two days of inspiration, innovations and discussion featuring an exciting roster of world-class speakers.
Register now at the early bird rate. A student rate is also available.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
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