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CHICAGO — For many years, I’ve educated inspectors of all types, including some who were part of the infamous Veterans Affairs Field Laundry Advisory Group (FLAG), now extinct, which I managed.
This group consisted of some of the best laundry experts I’ve ever known, including one outstanding member who recently passed away — Bob Kitchen, chief of environmental services at the VA Medical Center in Columbia, S.C. He could write better than most and could handle technical reports and statistics better than anyone I ever met. Bob could and did educate many inspectors from other federal departments such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). He was a real class act who had suds in his blood for many years. I want to give some recognition here for someone who seldom received it or wanted it.
It was not unusual for my office during my VA days to examine reports, usually from OSHA, in which an inspector, without referring to any supporting regulation, would cite a laundry facility for something that was standard operating procedure rather than an actual violation of standards. The first reaction of many facilities was to close down, contract out, move to Siberia, or another similar action that certainly wasn’t warranted.
We would enter the fight when we thought we had a case — and we usually did — and the inspectors would withdraw the violation when we finished our dissertation of the facts. We didn’t back down because of the organizational representation; we stood up to the plate and made our case, and in the process, we educated those responsible for citing something without cause. In the end, everyone got a little education.
I’ve been following a legal case from a foreign country that involved an accident resulting in the injury of a laundry employee. This case is a perfect example of folks sticking their heads in the sand, or maybe even having their heads put in the sand by external sources. Despite the injury actually being due to an operator error, a fact supported by expert testimony that shows action contrary to instructions for the item in question, everyone seems to be running scared.
Every textile care item in that part of the world must be inspected by consultants/inspectors outside of the normal process, as well as the manufacturing facility that makes the item. In many cases, these consultants/inspectors probably don’t even understand how the systems operate, so these folks with their noses stuck where they don’t belong are upcharging the on-site providers, and ultimately the tax-paying citizens and the applicable government, without justification or regard for reality.
While the situation that occurred is unfortunate, accidents do happen, especially when employees don’t have adequate training or when folks simply make a mistake. Unfortunately, those not in the know saw an opportunity to exploit a situation.
This part of the world has some tremendous laundry managers and owners — I would say they operate some of the best facilities in the world — so I really can’t understand why the overreaction continues.
If you don’t know the business and don’t want to learn it, just stay away and continue to take our industry for granted.
If you do know the business, fight for what’s right. Stand up and be accountable, and recognize that there are times when our industry must rescue those being taken advantage of.