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How Safe is Your Laundry Operation? (Part 1)

How to conduct a plant safety inspection, starting with flow, soil, boiler/compressor/shop, chemicals

SANTA MARIA, Calif. — You lie awake at night wondering whether your laundry operation is safe for your employees. So, you decide to see for yourself by inspecting your plant and fleet to verify that they are indeed safe.

But where do you start? 

Do you and your supervisors serve as core drivers by committing to and driving the safety process of your operation? Do your employees have ownership and participate in your safety process? Do the employees recognize that a climate of safety exists in the organization? Does safety performance get the same attention that quality, service and productivity receive?

Is safety in your operation driven solely by complying with OSHA standards and assuming that, in doing so, your operation is safe? Or is safety dependent on the actions of your employees in observing those same standards?

The truth is that operational safety is a combination of the two. Establishing and implementing programs that comply with and adhere to OSHA standards are the first steps in building employee safety into your operation.

OSHA standards are designed to protect workers from serious injury and are effective when being followed. Secondly, and more importantly, how closely do your employees and supervisors adhere to those standards?

Typically, safety performance is measured against the Illness and Injury data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics called DART Rate or TRIR (Total Recordable Incident Rate). DART Rate and TRIR for Linen and Uniform are 3.6 and 4.9 respectively, meaning that roughly five of every 100 employees are injured seriously enough that the injury is recorded on the OSHA 300 log.

Often an operation is considered safe because its metrics are equal to or less than the benchmark for laundries. But how much better would it be if the operation could actually improve its safety metrics to exceed BLS data?

Injury and Illness data are lagging indicators that tell you where you’ve been, much like looking in the rearview mirror. We need to develop leading indicators that can improve metrics and allow us to measure that improvement more often than once annually.

One of the leading indicator tools to be used is the facility or plant inspection.

This article is going to walk you through the process of inspecting your own operation to determine where the opportunities for improvement exist and how you can make those improvements.

It will also provide a guide to identify at-risk behavior that may be overlooked during normal operations. At-risk behaviors are the most prevalent cause of injury, so to be able to identify and correct those behaviors is integral to continuous improvement in safety performance.

Risk is defined as the potential for an outcome, good or bad, but the key components of risk are frequency (how often we do the task), likelihood (how likely is a bad outcome) and severity (how bad will it be).

It then behooves you to observe employees performing their tasks and focus on those jobs that are performed most often. The three leading loss drivers are “sprains and strains” from lifting and carrying, “slips and falls” and being “struck by.” Clearly, these losses are more closely tied to behavior than machinery failure.

CHECKLIST

The first step in setting up your inspection is to develop a checklist to which you can refer as you complete your inspection. The checklist serves two purposes: it guides you through your facility in a standardized manner and also ensures that you inspect all areas of the plant by reminding you that places, tasks or objects may have been missed should you be interrupted or have to resume the inspection at a later time. 

Your checklist must include the standard OSHA requirements to ensure that your operation is compliant and you reduce the risk of life-threatening injury or illness.

FOLLOW THE FLOW

The best way to establish the checklist is to follow the flow of textiles as they are processed through your facility. As you enter the facility to begin the inspection, verify that all aisles are kept clear and unblocked by carts or other items. Aisles must be at least 36 inches wide to enable employees to exit the building quickly in the event of an emergency.

This is a good opportunity to observe whether carts are left in aisles where they obstruct egress. Establish an expectation that the aisles be kept clear. Check the emergency lighting equipment to again confirm safe operation in an emergency evacuation.

SOIL DEPARTMENT

As you visit the soil department, verify that your personnel are properly wearing their assigned personal protective equipment (PPE) and handling the soiled product carefully.

Are there sharps containers located in the soil room? Is there an adequate number of containers? Do your workers know your procedure when a sharp is found? Is there signage warning others of the presence of potentially hazardous material?

Does the conveyor belt have an emergency stop system accessible by all working along it? Are the rollers at the end of the conveyor covered to prevent pinches? Do your employees walk on the conveyor?

If you use cart dumpers, is there a barrier to prevent personnel from walking under the elevated cart?

Is there at least one eyewash station nearby so that workers can reach it within 10 seconds with their eyes closed? Is the eyewash pressure checked at least weekly? Do you have handwashing facilities nearby the soil sort area so that employees can wash their hands immediately after sorting soil before eating?

Do you prohibit food and beverage consumption or storage in the soil department?

BOILER ROOM, COMPRESSOR, SHOP

The next stops in your inspection are the boiler room, compressor and shop areas. You should inspect posted procedures for starting and shutting down this integral equipment safely. Verify that the persons tasked with operating this equipment have been properly trained and are familiar with the process.

Again, confirm that the eyewash/drench shower is properly operational and tested weekly.

Are ladders properly secured to the wall or lying down? Inspect ladders for damage and ensure that they are constructed of a material that does not conduct electricity.

Inspect any extension cords to be used in temporary situations for damage. Check bench grinders for proper guarding.

Do the maintenance staff personnel have lockout/tagout equipment assigned to each of them?

CHEMICAL STORAGE

Next up, in the chemical storage area you should verify that all chemical containers are properly labeled with the contents with a “Right To Know” station nearby the area to ensure that workers have ready access in the event of a spill or release.

Does your facility have secondary containment for all chemicals? Secondary containment can be in the form of a concrete berm, double-walled containers or secondary containment pallets.

Is there an eyewash/drench shower within the requisite 10-second access? Will the eyewash continue to function if the shower is actuated? Do workers wear the proper PPE when transferring chemicals from one container to another? Have you found a “spill kit” capable of cleaning up a small spill in the area?

This ends the first installment of the facility inspection. The second installment next month will continue the inspection in the wash aisle, finishing area, delivery vehicles and offices, as well as suggestions for engaging employees in the safety process.