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How Safe is Your Laundry Operation? (Part 2)

Continuing plant safety inspection with wash aisle, finishing, employee safety, office, warehouse

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?  

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.

Last month in Part 1 of a two-part series, I shared the importance of a checklist, following the flow of goods, and started “inspecting” a plant, from the soil department to chemical storage. In the conclusion, we move into the wash aisle, employee safety, and offices and warehouses.

WASH AISLE

As we move from the chemical storage and soil areas to the “clean” side of the plant, your inspection will be focusing on the washroom, dryers and finishing equipment. Each piece of equipment must be capable of being locked and tagged out to prevent machinery from starting while workers are in the vicinity. You should verify that the energy isolating devices are in place and capable of accepting the proper lockout device. 

This is also an opportunity to observe whether a maintenance person is working on equipment without lockout/tagout equipment in place. Does your operation make it easy for lockout/tagout to take place?  

Inspecting the wash aisle includes observing the performance of personnel. Are they wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE)? Do they observe all safety devices? Do all washer doors work properly?

If your operation has safety gates to prevent access to shuttles, are operators bypassing these gates? Have you checked to be certain employees are not opening electrical panels? 

One at-risk behavior often seen is a washroom employee attempting to make adjustments by bypassing safety devices to complete their tasks rather than calling for maintenance.

Do your maintenance personnel apply lockout and tagout information on equipment that is not capable of operating? Is there exposure to chemicals, and if so, is there a Right to Know station and eyewash/drench shower? 

Do the dryer formulas call for a “cool down?” Do personnel shorten the “cool down” in order to speed up the process thereby creating a fire hazard? 

FINISHING

Once through inspecting the wash aisle, move on to the finishing side. Inspect all flatwork ironers to be sure that the panic bars or emergency stops are functioning. Confirm that the workers know how to use them by having them demonstrate. 

Is all piping carrying steam insulated to at least 7 feet from the floor? Are all guards in place on the sides of the ironers? Can workers pass between ironers? Are there guards to protect incidental contact with rollers, piping, etc.?  

This is an opportunity to observe the ergonomic situation at the ironers. Are employees all similar in height, or is one much taller, creating a potential injury due to the posture required to feed pieces? Do production workers try to clear jams instead of calling a supervisor or maintenance personnel? 

Interview finishing employees to be sure they understand their roles in lockout/tagout. Observe employees to ensure that they are not wearing dangling jewelry and are wearing hair coverings. Again, this is an opportunity to inspect all conveyors to be certain that the rollers are covered to prevent employees from being caught.

Does the emergency stop work? Do your employees know how it works?  

When inspecting towel folders, verify that sensors designed to stop the equipment in an emergency, or should one of the side panels be opened without the machine being turned off, are functioning properly. You should also observe whether production workers are clearing jams by reaching into equipment rather than calling maintenance at the towel folders.   

Also while in the finishing area, observe employees operating presses and steam tunnels. Again, ensure that all steam piping is insulated to at least 7 feet from the floor. 

Are employees working on the line wearing proper hair covering to prevent their hair from getting caught and potential scalping? Are garments to be processed staged so that minimal bending is required for the operator to handle the garments? Are the sensors designed to stop the steam operational should the unit become disabled with product inside?

EMPLOYEE SAFETY

The greatest number of injuries in the industry is due to overexertion (strains and sprains). Observe your employees to be sure they are not carrying loads that exceed their capacity or your designated weight limit. NIOSH recommends 35 pounds as the maximum weight to be lifted. 

This observation is especially critical in the load assembly area where employees lift and carry myriad products over the course of a shift. Look for employees carrying bundles on their shoulders rather than under their arms or using the equipment provided. Observe the load builders filling carts. Are they extending out of their power zone to load carts? 

Time of day is also a factor. Workers are more likely to be hurt due to overexertion late in their shift as they tire.

When we think of route/delivery personnel, we think of the risk associated with vehicle crashes. Therefore, your inspection should verify that all personnel assigned to driving positions have basic road competence.  

As we just noted, overexertion is the leading cause of injury, so when observing route personnel, you should also observe the manner in which they lift and carry. Are they doing so following guidelines or are they lifting weights that exceed their abilities? Have they been provided with lifting aids to carry product? Do they use these devices? Do route personnel place their loads or do they throw bundles and soil bags?   

If delivery is made in poly carts, are the delivery personnel trained to push the carts rather than pull them? How do route personnel address adverse weather conditions or the presence of oil or water on the floor at their customer’s business? Do you require and confirm they wear non-slip shoes?

Additionally, you should inspect the route trucks to be sure that seatbelts are in place and verify that personnel use them.

When handling healthcare, route trucks should also be equipped with a blood-borne pathogen spill kit, barrier gowns, gloves and hand sanitizer. 

OFFICE, WAREHOUSE

Finally, don’t neglect to inspect offices and warehouses for potential hazards.

Ensure that cabinets are secured to avoid being tipped over in earthquakes. Inspect flooring for possible slip or trip opportunities. Inspect that emergency lighting is operational. Check all electrical outlets for overloading and the presence of extension cords. Extension cords are permitted only on a temporary basis. 

Inspect work stations for possible ergonomic improvements and to ensure that chairs are not structurally compromised. Confirm that shelving is capable of holding the items stored on it. 

Weight limits must be clearly visible for warehouse shelving. Products of any kind must not extend over the edge of the shelving. Be sure that all ladders are secured or lying down. 

BEST PRACTICE

Now that you’ve set up an inspection checklist and protocol, a best practice to ensure that you get the best results from the effort is to rotate the inspection across the full spectrum of responsible parties in your organization.  

The inspection should be conducted monthly, and by rotating inspectors, the likelihood of discovering all at-risk behaviors and hazardous conditions is greatly improved. By doing so you establish accountability for each department and you avoid complacency in performing the inspection.  

Your efforts will also be enhanced if you train your production personnel to recognize hazards and risks in their assigned work areas. Production workers trained to recognize risks and hazards should be included in the operation’s Safety Committee. 

To expand on the notion of production and delivery personnel participating on the Safety Committee, establish Safety Subcommittees in the plant. Each person in the operation would be a member of a subcommittee that is designated to identify risk and provide input to prevent the risk from causing a bad outcome. 

I’ve personally worked with two different organizations that have set up these subcommittees and have substantially reduced the number of injuries experienced. Both of these operations went from last place to first in their respective organizations in terms of injuries and workers compensation claims.

Most of the time when we think about safety, we think of the absence of injury. Safety is more accurately understood by increasing the activities that are designed to prevent injury rather than control the cost of injury once it has occurred. 

A thorough operational inspection that identifies at-risk behavior and conditions is one activity that, properly done, can prevent injury and improve safety climate throughout the organization.     

RELATED STORY

How Safe is Your Laundry Operation? (Part 1), April 29, 2021