How to Identify Linen Abuse and Stop It (Part 2 of 5)

In order for my customers to be responsible for linens and garments, I suppose they need to be instructed or reminded about abuse. What steps can my operation take to train them and minimize these occurrences? Is it possible that we’re abusing the linen during processing and/or distribution?LINEN SUPPLY: Bill Kartsonis is the president of Superior Linen Supply Co., Kansas City, Mo. He’s the immediate past president of the Kansas City chapter of the International Executive Housekeepers Association (IEHA) and is a Master Hotel Supplier certified by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA).
Here’s the Opah! method of abuse education: A restaurant manager gathers his staff and then dashes a china plate onto the tile floor. Crash! This shocks everyone, causing them to cringe. “Now,” he says, “remember that sound every time you throw a tablecloth onto the floor or wipe a kitchen surface with a napkin.”
Don’t we wish that linens would cry out when they’re damaged? They suffer in silence, and seldom does end-user management give the matter enough attention to change the behavior of the abusers.
Loss is mostly due to items being thrown away or “growing legs.” But we all know the unspoken rule: The person who touched it last is to blame. So, if linen is lost, it must have been lost in the laundry.
To overcome this basic human perception, the laundry must instill confidence in those whom they serve. Your processes must be right and clearly defined. You must be able to communicate to the customers how their linens are cared for. Ideally, customers meet with you and tour your facilities to see how linens are handled.
Can linens get abused by a laundry? Of course. Management must know that their equipment is in proper working condition and that procedures are followed. A properly functioning laundry will rarely abuse linen.
Distribution and handling of clean linen can be abusive. We’ve all had the heartache of seeing a clean bundle being mishandled or run over. The most important group of people to train is those who handle and distribute linen. Show them the correct way to keep sanitary linen clean. Efficient, ergonomically optimal processes help this.
Preservation of linen is achievable in a hospital or hotel with one simple policy – never allow a linen item to be used as a cleaning towel.
A distinctly different product must be used for housekeeping (a microfiber towel a is good choice). Once you allow a bath towel to be used for cleaning, you can never prove that the staff abused a perfect one.
We do not run the hospital. Reality is that nursing staff will use linens as they see fit and there is little we can do. CEOs will not chance losing staff by challenging how they use linen.
Hotels accept that guests take towels or polish their shoes with them. Now that the national average room rate is over $100, it’s hard to chastise the guest.TECHNICAL SUPPORT: Jim Mitchell, principal technical support specialist, is a 27-year Ecolab veteran. He’s currently the OPL lead in providing technical support to field associates. He edits Institutional Technical Digest, a monthly publication reaching 3,300 employees.
Identifying where and when linen abuse can occur is one of the keys to control. The entire linen flow process is more complex than the average person realizes. Abuse can occur at any time during the 360-degree flow of linen.
All individuals involved in each area of the process should be identified and made aware of the potential for abuse. The two primary areas where linen abuse occurs are during the wash process and when the linen is put into use.
Create a linen flow chart of your entire operation. Identify the individual(s) involved in the following areas:
• Collecting soiled linen;
• Transporting soiled linen;
• Sorting soiled linen;
• Washing soiled linen;
• Drying clean linen;
• Sorting/folding clean linen;
• Transporting clean linen;
• Using clean linen.
Each area has the potential for linen abuse unique to itself:

Collecting soiled linen

Heavily soiled linen is mixed with lightly soiled linen. Employees don’t separate linen by type.

Transporting soiled linen

Laundry carts/trucks are badly worn, causing linen damage. Items are dropped on the floor or walked on due to laundry carts being overstuffed.

Sorting soiled linen

Heavily soiled linen is allowed to sit too long before washing. Sorting conveyors cause physical damage/stains.

Washing soiled linen

Colored linen is mistakenly washed in a whites/bleach formula. Delicate linen is mistakenly washed in a formula with a high-speed extract.

Drying clean linen

Delicate linen is mistakenly dried at 200° F. Oily soils aren’t removed entirely, causing dryer fires.

Sorting and folding clean linen

A folder is damaged, causing snags or tears. The linen pH level is too low, causing the linen to stick to ironer rollers.

Transporting clean linen

Laundry carts/trucks are badly worn, causing linen damage. Laundry personnel who aren’t wearing gloves transfer soil to clean linens when loading carts.

Using clean linen

Employees use clean linens (not rags) for cleaning. Customers use clean terry towels for shoe cleaning and buffing.
Create a comprehensive list highlighting the key causes of abuse for each area. For example:

Drying clean linen

• When used to transport linen from the washer to the dryer, are carts, bags or conveyors in good condition? Is there any residual soil, snags, rust, grease, oil, etc.?
• Is the dryer temperature too high?
• Is the dryer time too long?
• Is cool-down too short?
• Are the dryer drums in good condition?
• Are gas dryers “burning” properly? (Check the flame for proper combustion.)
After compiling this list, create an education/training program to review with each individual involved with each area.
Not only should all employees be made aware of the causes of linen abuse in their areas, they should understand the costs of such abuse (linen replacement). Although some employees aren’t overly concerned about the company’s bottom line, they may be if they understood how these excessive costs can affect their overall compensation.
If employees are aware of the cost of a king-size sheet, an industrial uniform or a hospital surgical wrap, the shock factor alone can be a big aid in the education process. This is especially true with luxury linens in the hospitality market.
I remember visiting a laundry operation that had a sample of each piece of linen from the account’s inventory hanging on the wall. Attached to each item was a handwritten note indicating the current price per piece. Some of the prices had been crossed out with new/higher prices written in.
Having been in the industry for some time, I was aware that the costs were high, but even I was taken aback by how much they had risen. It was a constant, visual reminder of the high cost of replacing linens.


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