You are here

Diligence, Training Crucial for Laundry/Linen Worker Safety (Conclusion)

CHICAGO — As 2015 begins, many laundry/linen managers are focused on the common goals of improving operational efficiency, decreasing costs and producing quality products. Of course, ensuring that employees stay safe and healthy is also a permanent fixture on the priority list. For this story, American Laundry News sought the advice of professionals with knowledge of fire safety, chemical safety and ergonomics in laundry environments, and also spoke to some operators who serve the safety cause through their roles on the safety committee of the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA).


Those who have been in the industry for any length of time know that fires are an ever-present threat to laundries. Fortunately, there are actions that workers can take to minimize risks. “Lint control is probably No. 1,” says Jim Everitt, a code consultant and owner of Everitt and Associates.

Also, be sure cooking oils and other plant-derived substances are completely washed out of linens before they’re dried, he says. Otherwise, the oils could oxidize and give off heat, and on a hot day or in a hot environment, conditions could be ripe for spontaneous ignition or combustion.

Know your customers and what substances could be in the linens, advises Everitt; that way, you can take precautions, such as letting oil-impregnated linen soak in water, which will act as a heat sink. And if the linens will be left sitting in carts, be aware that carts made of high-density polyethylene can have “more Btu per pound than regular gasoline,” he says, which means they can burn easily and even “flow as a liquid” while they burn, increasing the chance that nearby items will catch fire.

“So you start out with a mild problem, but then because [of] what you put the material into, you just created a bigger problem,” Everitt says. To combat lint buildup, stick to a regular maintenance schedule. There are fans on the market that are designed to prevent combustible dust and lint from accumulating on overhead structures.

A sprinkler system, even if it’s just confined to areas where linen is stored in carts, will help minimize or extinguish fires if they do start in that area.

“The human nose is much more efficient at smelling smoke than a smoke detector,” Everitt explains. “But the issue is, those laundries aren’t occupied 24/7.”

Invest in equipment that has built-in precautions against fire hazards, such as commercial dryers with sprinkler systems or cool-down and sensing technologies, he adds.


Russell Holt, SPHR, chief compliance officer, Superior Linen Service, and chair of TRSA’s Safety Committee, says that in the healthcare segment, the heightened awareness surrounding the recent Ebola scare helps remind laundry workers of the importance of PPE and proper handling of laundry.

“There are a lot of material-handling management issues in our industry, resulting in both acute injuries and cumulative trauma injuries, which are a constant battle best fought first with elimination through automation, or if not that, then through job rotation,” Holt adds.

Sprains and strains due to material handling, lifting, repetitive motion and overexertion are a threat to worker well-being, and so are the dangers associated with failure to follow lockout/tagout procedures, says Caleb Paige, safety manager at Faultless Linen. Trip-and-fall injuries are also common in laundry settings, adds Tony Long, director of risk management at Angelica Corp.

Much progress has been made in the last several years in reducing many of the potential dangers facing industrial laundry workers, in part through the sharing and greater awareness facilitated by an open community, which includes efforts by TRSA through education and other resources, Holt says.


Though potential hazards will always be present, they can be greatly minimized through educating and training employees.

Paige says such action “must be impactful in order to be meaningful and achieve desired results.” General ergonomics awareness training for laundry workers can serve as a way to identify simple steps toward easier, safer working practices, and can help motivate workers to report symptoms sooner, according to W. Gary Allread, Ph.D., CPE, program director of the Institute for Ergonomics at The Ohio State University. And any work evaluations and discussions on improvements should involve the workers themselves.

“Empowering these workers will result in better, more feasible solutions and greater acceptance of any changes that take place, especially if those resulted from input given by them,” he says.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to train their workers on chemical hazards they might encounter as part of their duties, says Karl Schultz, training and safety manager in Ecolab’s Textile Care Division. Chemical providers should be active partners in any regular training schedule, adds Keith McLeod, corporate sales manager at U.N.X. Inc..

Both they and laundries’ managers should observe employees as they handle products to help them improve and make safety recommendations. It’s important, too, that Safety Data Sheets are kept in an easily accessible area.

“Right to Know and chemical safety and handling training should be conducted quarterly or semi-annually,” McLeod says. “A list of attendees should be logged.”

Those polled have plenty of advice to share in the unfortunate case of a worker injury: First and foremost, attend to the individual and make sure he or she gets proper medical treatment. Then, remove any obvious hazards, follow pre-established protocols, and preserve evidence for a proper investigation, which can help determine what corrective actions need to be taken and what updates should be made to the safety program.

In case of chemical exposure, refer to the appropriate SDS for next steps, and be sure the sheet accompanies the employee if he or she is taken to a medical facility, McLeod says.


The OSHA Web page dedicated to laundry-worker health and safety is a good place to start for learning more about potential dangers. For infection control related to Ebola, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

Chemical providers can offer informational videos on chemical safety and Right to Know laws, McLeod says, and industry associations can also offer similar resources.

Professional ergonomics and/or safety consultants are another resource for guidance on safety issues, according to Long. Operators who want to ensure they’re complying with regulations should conduct an assessment of potential hazards in their facilities, Holt says. This can involve state OSHA consultation visits and insurance company assessments.

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) offers many online resources, and through its local chapters, professionals from other industries offer quid pro quo safety assessments, Holt adds.

TRSA is a resource for ongoing training, videos, webinars and workshops. Its annual Safety Summit serves as a platform for informational sessions and speakers, as well as for networking and sharing advice on solutions to common safety problems. The next Safety Summit will be presented May 13-14 in St. Louis.

Operators can also rely on the insight and information of workers themselves, as they “typically have the best understanding of existing hazards and strategies for eliminating hazards,” Paige says.

Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.

03b91909 dr patient web

(Image licensed by Ingram Publishing)

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].