Awareness, Training for Safer Laundry Employees (Conclusion)


(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“What steps can I take to help maintenance staff, and employees who work with machines, be more aware of their surroundings in order to avoid accidents?”

Consulting Services: Jon Witschy, Spindle, Woodridge, Ill.


Jon Witschy

Jon Witschy

I recall the following comment from an industry seminar: “The primary goal of every business is to return employees safely to their loved ones every day.” Zero incidents is a target for which everyone should aim. There are numerous ways to increase safety and visibility for equipment maintenance and system status through the use of visual workplace tactics and technology.

Signage (“Attention,” “Caution” and “Warning”) should be posted and be clearly visible. Equipment labels should be maintained with proper color codes (hot water, steam, etc.). If labels are damaged, painted over or removed, vendors can provide replacements.

Software can enhance your visual workplace with integrated employee and equipment information to better manage and troubleshoot safety issues, in real time, via employee workstation dashboards and management displays available on desktop and mobile.

Fences and guards should be maintained to provide a degree of safety and mark where hazards exist. Some equipment has virtual guards in the form of photo eyes or other sensors that inhibit operation when in the presence of personnel.

Engineers should use the right tools, including lockout/tagout kits and hi-vis clothing or PPE. They should also follow the correct procedures and receive thorough and continued training through in-house and industry programs.

For enhanced system status and maintenance visibility, color-coded light stacks can be installed at equipment. Alternatively, engineers could carry battery-operated strobes to place on a machine during service. Dashboards where software packages display equipment statuses are becoming the norm in a modern laundry operation. 

Technology continues to advance with the Internet of Things (IoT), whereby networked sensors and controllers generate a significant amount of data that can be displayed. With software and IoT, screens indicate equipment status: “In Service” warns personnel to be careful in the area; the current operating parameters, “Dryer Cooldown Temp,” alerts that a dryer is at risk of a fire; and even system errors, “Gas Consumption,” monitors spikes in usage that may signify a leak.

An example of leveraging the power of technology outside our industry as a solution is when RFID-tagged gloves are worn by operations/maintenance personnel. When the gloves are sensed in a hazardous area, equipment operation is reduced or shut down and the operations management software is alerted. These unique solutions continue to grow.

Safety teams have seen success in many facilities. With proper monitoring and effective communication, “issues” can be caught before they become “problems.” Teams that include production personnel alongside engineers give more ownership for a culture of safety. Coordination of personnel leads to better procedures, overall, while both “sides” begin to better appreciate the value of all activities required to keep a plant running.

The right personnel following the right steps with the right tools will improve safety.

A final comment from the session I mentioned at the outset was, “The worst call you could ever make is to a family member to explain that someone has been injured” or worse. We must do what we can to improve safety.

Healthcare Laundry: Charles Loelius, Cleantex, Irvington, N.J.


Charles Loelius

Charles Loelius

Louis Pasteur once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Laundries are inherently dangerous places, with accidents lurking behind every poorly maintained machine and every careless and untrained operator and mechanic. How do you keep equipment maintained and mechanics and operators safe? 

By being prepared.

I have been in the laundry industry more than 30 years and have managed modern plants and some facilities not so modern. In all that time, I have, thankfully, never had a serious accident on my watch. Good fortune for certain, but as Mr. Pasteur stated, being prepared is the key.

How do you prepare for keeping your employees safe?

Common sense: Each morning when I travel the plant to greet the crew, I pay attention to what each person is doing. If I see that an employee is doing something that defies common sense, I will show them, discreetly, the proper, common-sense way to perform that task. When I see employees using their common sense to the fullest, I am always sure to praise them, quite publically.

Training, training, and more training: Mechanics and operators alike perform the same tasks routinely. This leads to complacency, which leads to carelessness, which leads to accidents. Frequent training, done well, can dispel that complacency, which will promote a more conscientious attitude toward performing their tasks safely. 

Safety contests: During the summer, we ran a safety contest that resulted in raffling off two 40-inch televisions. We give out safety scratch-offs each payday to employees who have had no safety incidents during the pay period. These programs help provide a top-of-mind awareness concerning safety throughout the plant.

Lockout/tagout: I make sure that the lockout/tagout program is always utilized. I also make sure all employees, just not mechanics, are familiar with how lockout/tagout works. Most accidents occur not because lockout/tagout wasn’t used, but because not all understand how it works.

Inspect your plant: Each morning, during my rounds, I inspect the plant for any immediate housekeeping and maintenance issues, such as covers not replaced on equipment (my pet peeve) or water leaks around the washers. I meet with my chief engineer each morning to both go over the results of my walk-through and discuss that day’s mechanical issues. On Mondays, we discuss that week’s preventative maintenance, as well as the maintenance performed the prior weekend.

Staff your plant: You can have the best mechanics in the industry, but if they spend their day in the shop awaiting calls for assistance, they are not being properly utilized. I make sure that we have two, and ideally three, mechanics on the floor, at the ready, at all times. This helps eliminate calls and keeps the equipment operating more frequently, and more safely.

You can never be too safe nor too prepared.

Chemicals Supply: David Barbe, U.N.X. Inc., Greenville, N.C.


David Barbe

David Barbe

When dealing with mechanical and electrical issues, there is usually a solution that is dependable and repeatable. However, when dealing with people, solutions are endless, yet not very dependable or repeatable. Motivating people to do the right thing every time is hard.

Obviously, teaching about hazards, defining procedures, making expectations clear and providing safety equipment is basic. Getting people to be aware of their surroundings and anticipate hazards is harder.

Holding regular safety meetings that incorporate training, discussion of problems and safety goals goes a long way toward careful work. Posters, rewards, warning labels and other visual devices can serve to remind people to be careful, if they are updated often enough that they aren’t part of the background.

I have a few suggestions from my observations.

Make safety convenient. Don’t lock up safety equipment or store it in a manager’s office to “keep it from getting lost.” Place needed items, such as safety jacks, barriers or lockout devices, where they are easiest to access—even if you have to buy more of them. We all get in a hurry to do things, and when it takes longer to get a safety device than to just do the work without it, people will take the easy or fast way.

One thing to be considered is that safety can be engineered into the process sometimes. Would it be better for an employee to have to remember to pin something in place or for it to lock automatically? Spend time looking at hazards and trying to think of ways to eliminate steps people have to remember.

Make people have to actuate or release something to start a potentially dangerous operation, rather than having to remember to do something to stop it. This takes thought and creative thinking, and may cost a little to implement, but it can prevent a simple oversight from hurting someone. For example, if someone has to remember to latch something to stop movement, add a spring or a weight to cause that latch to engage automatically. 

With chemical supply systems, make sure your vendor has completely explained the hazards of each product. Of course, you have the product data sheets available for all to read, but when do those get studied? Only after an accident! Read them, and get your vendor to describe each product. Know what can be mixed with what and how to clean up any spills safely. 

Almost everyone knows chlorine bleach can’t be mixed with sour. But, do you know peroxide can’t be mixed with alkali? Basically, almost nothing should be mixed with anything else, unless you’ve been told otherwise. Keep your chemical area clean and organized. Be sure any product replacement is done carefully and correctly to prevent any mixing.

Understand the chemical dispensing system. If your personnel are responsible for maintenance or repairs, have them spend time with the vendor so they are familiar with switches, valves, cutoffs, and how to operate everything safely. Be sure your people know which lines have concentrated products in them, what might be under pressure, how to turn off all power sources, etc. Put safety glasses, gloves, aprons and whatever else that may be needed within easy reach. Have an eyewash station right beside any chemicals. Test it often, and be sure it’s easily accessible.

Lastly, be a nag. Never worry about insulting someone by asking if they know how to safely do something. Don’t worry about telling the same person to be careful every few weeks. Watch for eye and hearing protection being used. Be sure employees actually lock- and tag-out disconnects. And, set an example yourself. 

Equipment Manufacturing: Tony Jackson, Kannegiesser USA, Grand Prairie, Texas


Tony Jackson

Tony Jackson

There are many ways that laundries can prevent injury accidents, and adequate training seems to be the most effective avoidance factor in the workplace. Proper training does not just come from one source, as it should be refreshed for staff frequently and should come from equipment vendors, third-party safety organizations and from within the senior laundry staff members.

On the equipment side, the focus would be getting thorough training directly from the vendor at both the installation and during additional follow-up visits the first year of operation. 

With automated equipment, there are moving parts that need to be addressed to avoid any dangerous contact with staff. For shuttles, laundries should require a two-key, electronically controlled safety fence to create a mandatory shutdown procedure for anyone entering this area. On the flatwork side, installing safety fencing in the space between spreader/feeders and ironers is also a good idea.

Additionally, since ironer tapes have to be changed frequently, it helps to have a mounted ladder, foot bridge and railing in this area for an easier access point.

Another successful resource would be to have a third-party safety company give some ideas on specific new procedures to follow.

This could consist of wearing proper attire, lockout/tagout requirements and the operation of daily-use equipment such as forklifts and stepladders. This company can also recommend hazardous-material storage, confined-space training and emergency-response planning.

We have used this type of service for all of our internal technicians, and it helps greatly with increasing awareness by paying close attention to all surroundings while working in an operating laundry environment.

Lastly, the internal senior staff has to make sure that new employees are trained on all safety measures within the operating laundry. These veteran members should already know the recommended methods from the resources mentioned and need to pass these procedures on to new or junior staff.  It is a good practice to post all procedures and make sure the entire staff follows this on the maintenance and equipment operation levels.

Compliance with safety practices is important, and a majority of all injuries can be avoided.

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