9 High-Risk Housekeeping Tasks

Janitors, Custodians, and Housekeepers are amongst the highest occupational groups at risk for injury. This is due to the physical nature of their work that often involves awkward postures, repeated motions, and forceful exertion. The following is a list of high-risk injury tasks and the best practices to reduce the risk of injury and increase productivity.

By Jameka Carter

Janitors, Custodians, and Housekeepers are amongst the highest occupational groups at risk for injury. This is due to the physical nature of their work that often involves awkward postures, repeated motions, and forceful exertion. The following is a list of high-risk injury tasks and the best practices to reduce the risk of injury and increase productivity.

Share these instructions with your crew to keep them safe.

Moving Trash Cans/Carts

The more supplies loaded on the trash can or cart, the greater the force needed to push. Pay attention to uneven surfaces. It can cause the barrel to tip over. If it tips, let it go to prevent any strain on yourself.

Lifting Garbage Bags from a Trash Can

It is so easy to injure yourself while lifting heavy objects. Heavy lifting becomes more difficult when the contents of the bag have been pushed down. Use a trash can designed with vents for easier lifting and less back strain.

Taking out trash

Moving Furniture

Moving and rearranging furniture involves forceful exertions for one person. Use equipment and devices to help move furniture or call someone for help to prevent serious back injury.

Carrying Buckets

Some jobs require lifting and carrying heavy buckets. With prolonged use, a thin handle causes significant contact pressure on the hand. Avoid heavy compression on your hand by padding the handle or using a handle with a bigger diameter.

Scrubbing

A worker who cleans floors by hand uses rapid and repetitive hand movements while kneeling, crouching, or crawling. There is also sustained bending of the upper body and neck. Use knee pads if you must kneel or use adjustable long-handled scrubbers with pivoting heads to avoid extreme reaches.

Sweeping

Sweeping floors may involve awkward positions of wrists. In addition, the back and neck are often in an awkward forward bent posture. Do not bend your back. Use lightweight brooms, standup dustpans, and lobby brooms. They allow you to remain standing up straight. If needed, bend your knees, not your back.

Making Beds

Housekeepers forcefully lift and hold each mattress corner with one hand and tuck in the bedsheet with the other. Prolonged and repetitive bending is hard on your back. Do not bend your back. Instead, bend your knees and crouch briefly.

High Dusting

Reaching up while holding a duster for long periods of time requires awkward and fixed positions of the arms, shoulders, and neck. This task can lead to pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulders, arms, and upper back. Stand at an angle and not directly under the dusting area for improved posture.

Not Taking Breaks

Working intensely and rapidly while in awkward postures, exerting force, and struggling to keep up with workload are factors often associated with an increased risk of injury. Take breaks every two hours to allow rest and recovery from physical exertion.

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Expert Interview – Creating a Safety Culture

Safety matters! No matter the company size or industry, from hotels to office buildings, employers who show they care about the safety of their employees see improved morale, increased productivity, lower costs and, most importantly, fewer injuries. For this month’s Expert Interview I spoke to Ken Morris, Dade Paper’s Corporate Director of Safety. Ken has 30 years’ experience in workplace safety including positions as driver trainer, fleet manager and workplace safety consultant. In 2008 Ken joined Dade Paper and oversees all aspects of the company’s comprehensive safety program.

LC: Why is a formal safety program important for all businesses?

KM: Formal safety programs lay the ground work and set the basic directions for the workplace. Without them, there are no markers for the path. People often say that the OSHA standards or the Federal Motor Carrier regulations are all a company needs…after all they are the laws of the land, but they are only the bare minimum. In today’s workplace, we require more robust frameworks for a continually evolving work environment. Formal safety practices give stability to address changing needs of the workplace.

LC: What has changed over the last few years as far as safety programs?

KM: There has been huge shift in the philosophical view of safety in the workplace. In the past, safety has been perceived as a separate facet of the operation with different goals and agenda. Now safety is viewed as an integral part of the everyday process. Simply put, safety must be incorporated and managed just like any other part of our business.

LC: What changes do you see coming in the next few years?

KM: Technology, technology and more technology is an ongoing trend. Ninety-three percent of all accidents involve human error. The developing safety technologies work with humans to help identify hazards and prevent “mistakes” from happening and help mitigate the effects when an accident cannot be avoided. A good example of this is our current project with the company’s commercial motor vehicles. We are currently installing two high-tech devices in all of our trucks. The first device, called Mobileye, is basically an early-warning system that alerts our drivers to potentially dangerous traffic conditions, giving them time to avoid accidents. The second device, SmartDrive, is a video event recorder that is triggered by actions such as harsh braking, lane departures, following too closely and impacts. It records both the scene in front of the truck and the driver simultaneously. These recorded events are reviewed and used, if needed, to coach the driver much like a pro sport team reviewing game films. These two devices work together to protect our drivers and the public on the roadway. The ultimate goal is using technology to make a safer driver.

LC: What advice can you give a company that is creating a safety program for the first time?

KM: It is easy to put a safety program into writing, but much harder to make it work in the real world. You must have commitment from ALL levels to make it successful. Personal responsibility and accountability is hugely important and you must be consistent in the message you are sending your employees. Many workplace accidents occur when people are trying to get a job done quickly, or feel like there is pressure to produce, and they short-cut safety procedures. If this happens, the message was not understood or taken seriously. Safety is a basic function of all work and an integral part of everyday processes.

LC: What advice can you give a company that wants to improve their existing safety program?

KM: Safety in the workplace is daunting proposition. The risks are always evolving, so the safety program must be vigilant. Never assume that doing the same thing in regard to safety over the last 5, 10, or 15 years is enough. Always access the situations and be open to new ways of controlling risks.

LC: Any other thoughts on workplace safety?

KM: Safety is always a challenge. By definition, accidents are undesirable or unfortunate happenings that occurs unintentionally and usually result in harm, injury, damage, or loss. Our safety programs must try to anticipate the unintentional, control the undesirable and mitigate the unfortunate in a dynamic fast-paced and ever-changing work environment. We must create and nurture a SAFETY CULTURE. To do this, every person must practice safety as a routine function that takes precedence over every other task in the workplace. Every person, at every level, CANNOT accept anything less than safe work practices from every other person. That is what defines a safety culture. A safety culture in the workplace promotes personal responsibility for safety, and fosters, by its very nature a safe environment for everyone.

For helpful safety resources visit the National Safety Council’s website www.nsc.org.