“At what points during the laundering process are workers most vulnerable to injury or even death, and what precautions should be taken to minimize the risk? I want to make sure I am doing everything I can to protect my staff.”Equipment/Supplies Distribution: Donnie Weiland, Tingue, Brown & Co., Alvin, Texas
An operator suffering a broken arm when reaching around a machine guard; an engineer falling 20 feet because a ladder didn’t have proper foot-traction; an engineer shocked with 440 volts because the electrical supply wasn’t turned off; and laundry-leveling lint fires caused by poor housekeeping are examples of preventable events I’ve witnessed. The key word here is “preventable.”
Accounts of other accidents shared with me describe a man who was decapitated by a washer being “jogged” while he was looking inside, another man crushed while working under a dryer that was not “chocked,” and a woman scalped by an ironer due to the finger-guard switch not working.
Injuries and deaths occur when you least expect them! Let’s review some vulnerable points in the laundry process and what you can do to minimize these possibilities.
[NP][/NP]Soil Sort Room — Sharps are always present, whether it’s a scalpel in a healthcare plant or a knife in a hospitality laundry. Communication with customers about eliminating them is necessary. Many laundries have installed metal detectors.Heavy Slings/Bags — Keeping slings/bags and rail systems in good repair; properly loading them; and training workers how to unload properly will help prevent back injuries and “fallout” from above.Loading/Unloading — Even strong, young individuals who work out regularly will sometimes strain their back or shoulders unless they consistently use proper techniques.Wet Floors — Proper footwear will help prevent falls.Jam-Ups — These occur primarily in ironers, folders and stackers; at pinch points; or due to worn ribbons/belts. Assure safe removal by instructing personnel to turn the machines off first.End-of-Day Fatigue — Strenuous and/or monotonous activity is the norm. Combat it with proper breaks and drinking-water availability.
Use your head at all times! Common sense will save more limbs and lives than any rules written on paper.Healthcare Laundry: Dianna Aracich, Wheeling Hospital, Wheeling, W.Va.
The chance of physical injury to laundry staff in processing is obvious. That’s why all new hires are thoroughly instructed on the safety aspects of equipment, and all veteran employees are continually reminded.
An employee who is too comfortable will take unnecessary risk. All equipment requires respect and constant awareness of its inherent dangers.
In the first year of my laundry career, this fact was driven home in the worst possible way.
[NP][/NP]The dangers of the “hot” part of the ironer had been repeatedly stressed to me. But on this day, a veteran employee — a “pro,” if you will — was pulled into the feed roll of the ironer and lost her arm.
The mishap would have been avoided if she hadn’t been wearing a loose-fitting sweater. It made a life-altering impression on this “newbie.”
Safety training and awareness is an ongoing, daily, hourly, by-the-minute habit.
There used to be a slogan about driving your car: “Watch out for the other guy.” This is the best way to prevent injury to yourself and your co-workers. If everyone from the nurse to the laundry finisher applies this rule every day, dangers can be eliminated.
Staff is aware that the safety rules are there for their protection and that of their co-workers. The rules aren’t there to get on their nerves.
Safety concerns are reported to me. The PPE worn at work, although cumbersome, is for their protection. All soiled linen is handled using standard precautions to protect against needle sticks. The wash room is the first line of defense for the rest of the department.
Machine safety switches are checked daily before operation. Everything is documented and reported to the hospital safety officer when needed. Every employee in the plant is a “safety officer.”
We have an excellent safety record, with no serious injuries since that terrible day long ago (knock on wood).
I’m a little superstitious. See, I don’t take any chances with the safety of my staff.Long-Term-Care Laundry: Gary Clifford, Pines of Sarasota, Sarasota, Fla.
Serious injuries can occur at any point in the laundering process. With that in mind, job training and safety training are the first line of defense against accidents that can cause such injuries.
All staff members should be trained, prior to their first day of employment, in the safe use of whatever type of equipment you happen to run.
Your equipment salespeople and chemical suppliers will be willing to help educate your staff. Just schedule with them in advance.
[NP][/NP]It’s of paramount importance that every staff member takes an active role in reporting unsafe conditions or equipment, without hesitation. All personnel need to respond immediately when safety issues are reported. Your staff needs to see that you, as a supervisor, take safety seriously.
Be diligent in checking equipment daily and observing linen processing, to be certain that everyone is following established policies and to be satisfied that your equipment is always in proper working condition.
Be sure to keep lint accumulation as low as possible, as this is one area that often causes serious problems and fire hazards.
Have annual in-service training at a minimum. You can do in-services more often if your staff is inexperienced or if workers aren’t following your procedures.
In-services should cover:
- Safety procedures
- Operating procedures
- Linen handling
- Chemical handling
- Lint removal
- Infection control
- Deficiencies from surveys
- Specific facility issues
In almost all cases of serious injury, proper training and education would have prevented, or at least reduced, the impact.Click here for Part 1 of this story.Click here for Part 2 of this story.