CHICAGO — There are many slogans in the industrial world regarding safety.
“Safety is our priority.” “Safety is Job One.” “Safety doesn’t happen by accident.”
Whatever the quote, many industrial plants, including laundry/linen services, strive to keep workplace safety top of mind.
But there’s a lot more to safety in the plant than catchy posters and slogans.
For Hector Durand, safety isn’t just a slogan; it really is his job.
As production safety coordinator for Prudential Overall Supply, a uniform and textile rental/laundry company headquartered in Irvine, Calif., he is responsible for maintaining a safe working environment in its plants.
But how does workplace safety go from being a slogan to a reality? How can a laundry up its workplace safety game?
“I think the key is continuous employee safety training, with an emphasis on both management and employee participation in the safety process,” shares Durand. “Operations need to further focus on leading indicators, such as safety audits, near-miss investigations and employee safety suggestions.”
Steven Wright, vice president of business development for insurance program administrator Irving Weber Associates Inc. in Smithtown, N.Y., sees shortfalls in regards to safety occurring in laundry plants as a result of spreading resources too thin and not allocating enough attention to safety.
“Oftentimes, plant personnel wear multiple hats and find themselves dividing their time among safety, production, people management, etc.,” he says. “In some cases, laundries are reactive toward losses and not proactive in preventing them.”
According to Wright, the “multiple hat” effect can be a major factor in safety issues in on-premises laundries (OPL). OPL management, like an environmental services team (EVS), may be overseeing multiple functions, like textile or janitorial functions, and plant safety takes a back seat in priority.
“For an OPL run by a hospital, for example, since safety does not generate revenue or is not a core function, resources, time and attention are scarce,” he says. “Often OPLs are found in basements under poor conditions using outdated equipment. How qualified is an OPL maintenance engineer to work on a tunnel washer or flat ironer? Have they had proper training and certification?”
Wright goes on to say that processing done by a commercial launderer, in its own plant, falls more in line with a safety culture expected from the laundry industry.
“Most (commercial laundries) have safety directors and safety teams or committees,” he points out. “The best step an OPL can take is to outsource their laundry function to a professional firm for handling. It likely will save them time, money and resources.”
Many safety slogans say it’s a priority, but by definition, priorities change. Safety needs to become a value, a principle or standard. As such, laundries often overlook the impact of culture in their approach toward safety, Wright says.
“Culture starts at the top, with ownership/leadership setting the tone for a theme of safety throughout the organization,” he shares.
“The safest companies typically start backward by asking themselves, ‘How can we safely provide this service or safely deliver our goods,’ before determining costs and margins. They effectively know that safety in the operation will lead to exceptional service, reduced downtime and better profits at the end of the day.”
“I am not sure if it is a shortfall, or companies just needed to find the proper balance between production and safety, but, for us, ergonomic injuries are the most prevalent and need to be evaluated and taken into consideration in every area of our plants,” adds Durand.
Earlier, Durand mentioned that the key to improving workplace safety is continuous employee safety training, with an emphasis on both management and employee participation in the safety process.
He goes on to say it’s vital that operations ensure employees are given the time and resources to assist and contribute to their own safety.
“Our employees have the most knowledge and insight as to the safety issues they experience in their daily jobs,” Durand says. “Their input is invaluable to creating a safe work environment.”
He says that at Prudential, the company has created safety committees in which all employees participate. These committees give the employees an opportunity to address any safety issues they may have experienced and/or offer any suggestions that they may have to improve company safety processes.
“We also include a safety component in various events, such as employee appreciation or safety-specific events, held throughout the year to reinforce a safety mentality,” adds Durand.
Both Wright and Durand have specific suggestions for all levels of a laundry operation to improve workplace safety.
First for Durand, he says management needs to support a safety culture, participate in the safety committees and become an example to the laundry’s employees.
Wright says the most effective systems he’s seen in the industry involve a team approach toward safety on the plant floor. He says laundry managers who involve their leaders and/or management team get the best buy-in from their staffs because they have a team of like-minded individuals delivering a consistent message to processors, sorters, ironers, folders, drivers, etc.
“The use of a team approach effectively reaches the entire staff on a more consistent basis,” he says. “The C-suite sets the tone from a strategic perspective. They develop the environment and provide the resources necessary to build and maintain an aura of safety in the company.”
According to Wright, managers deliver the message of the leaders, they set policy and measurement matrices and hold employees accountable.
“Employees on the floor, or behind the wheel, carry the responsibility to understand, appreciate and adhere to the messages devised by their leaders,” says Wright. “They carry the highest risks for loss and the largest exposure for injury or accident.”
Durand agrees that employees have to be aware of safety at work. He also recommends participating in safety committees.
“Do not accept unsafe actions as just part of doing the job,” he stresses.
Durand says the key to safety knowledge and education is continuous training, learning and keeping safety at the forefront of every discussion.
“Safety is easily forgotten when everything is quiet,” he adds.
Wright says that safety education starts with awareness and recognition of hazards, even if they have not yet led to incidents.
“The best operators put safety near the top of the company’s mission statement,” he says. “They involve personnel from the top of the organizational chart to the bottom and include functions across all spectrums.
“Creating expectations for safety, measuring results, sharing knowledge and holding people accountable gets the best results.”
Survey: Laundry Safety Efforts Can Always Improve, Sept. 13, 2018
PPE Essential to Laundry Worker Safety, June 22, 2017