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In this case study, a team of eight workers are responsible for the laundry of linen and towels in a hotel. The laundry process is divided in two operations:
Two workers sort and wash all laundry; and dry and fold the towels. Six workers dry and fold the bedsheets and pillowcases.
This case study considers a simplified laundering process. It is assumed that the hotel has high-performance commercial washers that remove a significant amount of water from the linens. When this system is used, linens can be fed directly through a rolling ironer that has an integrated folding system for large pieces of laundry. Towels are dried in a drum-type drier.
Housekeepers use a laundry chute to get the dirty linen from the upstairs down to the laundry area. The "sorting and washing" operation involves the following:
In one eight-hour shift, 20 bins of laundry are processed by two workers (Figure 1). The dry laundry is handled four times – 27 kg (60 lbs) x 4 handlings x 20 bins = 2,200 kg (4,800 lbs); the wet laundry is handled twice – 55 kg (120 lbs) x 2 handlings x 20 bins = 2,200 kg (4,800 lbs). The workload is distributed evenly, so each worker handles approximately 2,200 kg (4,800 lbs) of laundry every day.
The handling of the laundry requires the use of considerable force:
These movements are particularly stressful on the hands, wrists and shoulders.
Handling the laundry requires whole body motions beyond acceptable ranges. Reaching above the shoulder, bending to the floor (Figure 5) and twisting are examples. Also, the job is carried out while standing on a concrete floor which adds stress to the feet and legs as well as to the rest of the body. In addition to the ergonomic risk factors, the persons handling and washing soiled laundry may be exposed to the following risks:
The Ergonomics section of OSH Answers has more information on RMI risk factors. Carrying out the "sorting and washing" tasks can be hazardous to the workers. There are three major risk factors:
These factors have a compounding effect. In other words, each of them increases the effect of the others.
In this operation there are three workstations at which five different tasks are performed:
Figure 6- Reaching for the laundry
Figure 7 - Feeding small pieces through the rolling dryer
Figure 8 - Spreading large pieces of laundry
Figure 9 - Feeding the heated-roll ironers with large pieces of laundry
Figures 10 - Retrieving small pieces of laundry from the rolling ironer
Figures 11 – Retrieving large pieces of laundry from the rolling ironer
Figure 12 – Retrieving large pieces of laundry
Small pieces of laundry such as pillowcases are fed through the roller ironer by one worker. To perform this task the worker:
To feed the ironer with laundry such as bed sheets, two workers form a team (Figure 8). This task involves the following:
Several aspects of feeding the ironer with both small and large pieces of laundry pose the risks for repetitive motion injuries. Workers are at a high risk for upper arm, neck, and shoulder injuries because of:
Bending and twisting, reaching forward and upward, and standing in a leaning-forward position contribute to low back pain. Prolonged standing on a hard floor contributes to lower leg discomfort and speeds up the development of muscular fatigue. All of these factors have a compounding effect. In other words, each of them increases the effect of the others.
To retrieve small laundry such as pillowcases from the ironer a worker performs the following movements:
To retrieve big pieces of laundry such as bedsheets, which come out of the dryer partially folded (Figure 12), a worker performs the following movements:
Workers involved in retrieving small pieces of laundry are at risk for repetitive motion injuries. The hazardous conditions are:
The lack of control over the pace of work, highly repetitious movements, constrained work posture, and extended arms while working create a high risk for RMIs. Neck, shoulders and upper arms are at the highest risk for injuries. Leaning forward, over-reaching and prolonged standing in a restricted position put workers at high risk for low back injury. Prolonged standing on a hard floor contributes to lower leg discomfort and speeds up the development of muscular fatigue.
Workers involved in retrieving big pieces of laundry are at risk for repetitive motion injuries, including low back pain. The hazardous conditions are:
Contributing factors are prolonged, restricted, and stooped working positions and bending. There is also a risk for injuries of the neck and shoulders. Prolonged standing on a hard floor contributes to lower leg discomfort and speeds up the development of muscular fatigue. All of these factors have a compounding effect. In other words, each of them increases the effect of the others.
Towels are dried in a drum type dryer. Dry towels are placed in a bin and are sorted according to size and then folded (Figure 13). This task involves the following:
Workers performing this task are at risk for repetitive motion injuries, including low back pain. The hazardous conditions are:
Folding towels puts workers at risk for neck and shoulder injuries. Bending and twisting pose the risk for back injuries. Prolonged standing on a hard floor contributes to lower leg discomfort and low back pain.
Continual twisting and reaching while working with extended arms can contribute to the development of repetitive motion injuries. However, the risk for such injuries while folding towels is somewhat lower than for the " ironing and folding" of bedsheets and pillowcases. Some control over the pace of work and some flexibility in the working postures are responsible for the reduced risk.
Let's see how we can improve the operations in this hotel laundry facility:
In the laundry processing, the "sorting and washing" operations are typically manual material handling tasks. These tasks pose the risk for low back pain.
Manual material handling cannot be fully eliminated but it is possible to reduce it by reorganizing the flow of work. For example, instead of sorting towels and linen before loading them into the bins, it would be preferable to load the laundry in the bins directly from the pile under the chute. This would eliminate handling the same laundry twice.
Further improvements of working conditions can be achieved by reducing stressful body movements while handling the laundry. Shortening the laundry chute (pipe) through which laundry is dropped would create more space so that the laundry would not compress against the pipe itself. As a consequence, the sorting of the laundry would require less pulling force.
To reduce bending while reaching for the laundry at the bottom of the bins, it would be advisable to use different types of bins. For example, a bin with one side that opens mounted on a moveable tilt/lift table (Figure 14).
To reduce pulling and pushing while maneuvering the bins full of laundry, it would be advisable to use lighter bins with wheels designed for hard floors. In addition, the bins should be maintained regularly with particular attention to the wheels.
Working in the "sorting and washing" areas requires prolonged standing on a concrete floor which may lead for lower leg discomfort and fatigue. Ways prevent lower leg discomfort and fatigue are:
The overall workload, poor layout of the workstation, improper design of the laundry bins and the repetitiveness of the work are the major risk factors for repetitive motion injuries in the "drying/ironing and folding" job.
Providing bins with one side that opens on elevating devices would reduce bending and other awkward body positions while reaching for towels at the bottom of the bins.
To reduce awkward body positions such as reaching above shoulder level while feeding the dryer/ironer, it would be advisable to use a platform. Narrowing any counter that separates the worker from the dryer would reduce reaching forward.
To reduce awkward body positions such as reaching above shoulder level while retrieving pillowcases from the ironer it would be advisable to use a platform (Figure15). Narrowing the counter that separates the worker from the ironer would reduce reaching forward. Workers should have a sit/stand stool available to rest between tasks. Also, a foot bar to allow the worker to switch the weight of the body from one foot to the other should be made available.
Partially folded bedsheets coming out of the rolling ironer should be collected in a basket (Figure 16) so that when completing the folding operation, a worker can use a counter of appropriate height to reduce excessive bending.
To reduce discomfort due to prolonged standing while folding towels, anti-fatigue matting should be used. Also, a sit-stand saddle chair and a foot bar should be provided (Figure 17).
If it is not practical to sit while performing the task, workers should use these devices between tasks.
One of the main risk factors for repetitive motion injuries in the laundry is the repetitiveness of the work. Incorporate different tasks to change the repetitive patterns of work. Job rotation and team work are two options that allow workers to vary tasks.
Job rotation requires workers to move between different tasks at fixed or irregular periods of time. Workers in the laundry cannot fully benefit from job rotation because all the tasks are similar in nature. Still, the feeling of change reduces monotony and slows down the development of fatigue.
In team work, workers form a team and each member of the team shares several different tasks. The whole team is involved in the planning of the work. The team controls all aspects of work. This improves attitude and job satisfaction, which are important factors in the prevention of occupational injuries and diseases.
This study focuses on ergonomic risks.
For more information about the other hazards to which laundry workers may be exposed, see documents:
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety in co-operation with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Department of Employment and Labour Relations, Occupational Health and Safety Branch would like to acknowledge the participation of the Hotel Newfoundland (A Canadian Pacific Hotel) who so freely gave their time and resources to assist us in the development of this case study.