Awareness, Training for Safer Laundry Employees (Part 1)


(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?”

Equipment/Supply Distribution: Chuck Rossmiller, Medline Industries, Mundelein, Ill.


Chuck Rossmiller

Chuck Rossmiller

Maintenance staff is an integral part of the safety culture of your business. When your production staff sees maintenance cutting corners, taking risks and operating equipment without safe practices, it sends a message about what is acceptable behavior.

Incorporating the maintenance staff in safety training and safe practice development will help get them, and everyone else, engaged in making safety a priority. Maintenance team interaction with production staff, in a formalized training process, will help both teams embrace the safety culture you’re trying to build.

When doing equipment safety training, emergency stop audits and lockout/tagout training, include the maintenance team as a trainer. They are, or should be, the internal experts on all operations of equipment operation and safety. Having the operators hear from the people who know and understand the equipment best, and hear their stories related to dangerous situations, will enhance the production staff’s appreciation and respect for safety.

The most important part of this is the old cliché, though: They have to walk the walk. So, after being included in the training and development of the policies, maintenance will be more likely to live up to the standards they set.

Uniforms/Workwear Manufacturing: Scott Delin, Fashion Seal Healthcare, Seminole, Fla.


Scott Delin

Scott Delin

Recently, while attending a holiday party, a conversation among our friends turned to skiing and if anyone had been out yet this year. I excitedly mentioned that I would be heading out West with my son, Noah, for a father-son ski trip.

My friend’s wife asked, “How do you know what slopes to ski on and what slopes not to ski on? Aren’t you worried about dangerous areas and snow avalanches?”

As she had never skied before, I started to explain to her that typically all the slopes are coded by both a color and a symbol to notify and warn the skiers of the degree of difficulty of each trail. These signs serve as an effort to protect skiers and to prevent them from going somewhere they should not be.

I continued to explain that all ski areas today usually use the following color coding system to enhance skier safety: A green circle means it is a “beginner” slope, typically for those who have never skied before or are just starting out. A blue square signals that this slope is for an “intermediate” skier, as the slope is generally a steeper terrain and a little bit more difficult. A black diamond is meant for “expert” skiers only. Finally, a double black diamond yells to the skier, “Stay off this slope unless you are really experienced and can handle narrow slopes with lots of moguls (bumps) and a very steep terrain.”

The following day, while visiting one of our laundry partners and taking a tour of their facility, I remembered how Penn Linen and Uniform Services would utilize color-coded signs and machinery to protect and keep our employees safe. Our maintenance team would apply color-coded locks when machinery broke down and they were conducting repairs or maintenance work to ensure injuries were prevented in the laundries, which kept our in-plant accidents at an all-time low.

With today’s workforce being comprised of so many cultures and languages, how could safety within our workspace be transformed and translated into a universal language that would promote safety? The use of colored-coded signs, colored locks and bilingual signage is a great place to start, that’s how.

While touring the laundry, my eyes were immediately drawn to the yellow lines painted on the floor. The general manager informed me that all people visiting the plant must stay within those lines to ensure their own safety and prevent them from walking into areas that are not safe for them.

We then walked into the wash room, where I noticed fencing around the shuttles, from the tunnels to the dryers, with locks on them, and brightly colored red signs in both English and Spanish cautioning employees to stay out and not to enter as they could get hurt there. I also took notice of some orange and yellow signs in both English and Spanish, cautioning employees to keep an eye open for fast-moving overhead conveyors and moving bins.

Continuing the tour through the plant, I noticed several maintenance team members working on a broken-down piece of equipment. On the power switch, I saw a bright red lock and a sign in English and Spanish strategically placed to prevent anyone from turning on that particular piece of equipment while it was being worked on by maintenance.

My tour ended in the employees’ lunchroom, where there was more color-coded signage outlining the do’s and don’ts in their workplace next to the huge sign stating that they worked “X” amount of days without an accident or incident.

Color-coding doesn’t just apply to employee safety, however. It also applies to how product might be sorted in our laundries and also to how our customers receive product for use. Color-coding is used for size differentiation as well as product sorting.

In the healthcare environment today, more and more departments are going back to color by definition, better known as color-coding departments. For example, patient transport might be one color while nursing is another and dietary might be another, etc. This is meant to ensure the safety of the patients by making them aware of whom their caregivers are within the facility. More and more “color by definition” uniform programs are being designed and developed by laundries to ensure patient safety within the healthcare environment.

Colors do make a difference today with helping to keep our employees safe and accidents at an all-time low in our laundries. Color-coding also plays a key role in keeping our customers and patients safe as well, while improving their image.

As for the color slopes my son and I will be skiing, we will be starting on the blue but ending up on the double black diamonds, for sure.

Textiles: Steve Kallenbach, ADI American Dawn, Los Angeles, Calif.


Steve Kallenbach

Steve Kallenbach

Human safety is the most important responsibility of any operator in any industry—both employee safety and public safety. This is not only written into the law and the guidelines of OSHA, but it is truly the ethical responsibility of all employers in all industries. 

In the area of equipment maintenance and repair, employees can be at risk (especially maintenance staff). There are seven key elements of equipment maintenance safety:

  • Authorization for qualified technician(s) to carry out the specific maintenance. 
  • Proper training of maintenance technicians, which includes elements of personal and employee safety.
  • Securing the area of maintenance from normal production flow (including signage), and possibly scheduling certain maintenance for non-production hours.
  • Proper protective apparel, gear, tools and parts to do the job without interruption. 
  • Electrical lockout/tagout procedures and validation.
  • Confined space precautions, procedures and validations.
  • Communication to the entire plant production staff as to the safety risk and the precautions built around the maintenance program, as well as the scheduled specific maintenance.

Safety is not just a precaution to exercise when maintenance is done. It’s a culture that should be woven into the process. Every single maintenance operation should start with a safety process. In fact, it is recommended that operators adapt a position of “safe maintenance” as a mantra, making safety the first step in all maintenance and making safety part of the vocabulary.

A culture of safety starts with the commitment of the ownership and executive management. Know safety, practice safety, support safety, require safety, live safety and build it into much more than a “program”—into a true culture. Make safety the center of your culture’s vocabulary. Catch people doing safety right, and keep your employees in the very center of driving this continuous culture.

The best time to start redeveloping your “safe maintenance” program was years ago. The second-best time is today. 

“Got safe?”

Hotel/Motel/Resort Laundry: Nick Fertig, Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin, Orlando, Fla.


Nick Fertig

Nick Fertig

In a perfect world, all operations would have sufficient redundancy to allow equipment maintenance and repair to be conducted during non-operational hours, eliminating the majority of the inherent risk of working on machinery altogether.

The reality of managing a laundry facility, however, is that essential equipment will fail during production, requiring immediate attention in order for the unit to be brought back online to satisfy production demands.

During this time of maintenance, the safety of all team members is paramount. Production, unfortunately, cannot be suspended until the work is completed. It is the responsibility of leadership to ensure that the required repairs can be performed safely with minimal impact to all other operations.

One of the most impactful tools you can employ to ensure an employee’s safety is the 5S methodology of Six Sigma. The 5S tool is designed to bring cleanliness and organization to your production floor, ensuring all team members are in tune with their surroundings. 

SORT — Only essential tools, aids, product, etc., are allowed to remain. If you find something that doesn’t belong, return it to the correct place or simply remove it.

STRAIGHTEN — “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Locations should be natural and apparent. If something is missing or out of place, it should be obvious. Paths of travel should be clearly identified and under no circumstances blocked. Certain areas around equipment should be designated “no fly zones” and clearly marked, allowing for engineering to perform preventative maintenance and repairs safely.

SHINE — Clean everything remaining in the worksite. This will have a positive impact on employee attitude, instilling a sense of pride in their workplace. It will also make identifying lingering defects easier, reduce contamination, and promote safety.

STANDARDIZE — All workplaces on the production floor should be identical so that different team members can step in at any time and efficiently perform the required task.

SUSTAIN — 5S is the responsibility of everyone, not just the janitorial staff. Managers should audit frequently and revisit the entire process, at minimum, twice a year to identify further efficiencies.

A successfully implemented 5S methodology is a fantastic way to ensure the safety of your team. A clutter-free workplace that is efficiently organized to allow proper flow of production will greatly diminish the likelihood of an accident. It will also ensure that any inevitable maintenance being performed on equipment will be done in an environment that not only promotes the safety of the engineering team, but also all other team members responsible for continuing normal operations. 

Check back tomorrow for input from the rest of the Panel.


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