CHICAGO — Parkland Health & Hospital System, also known as the Dallas County Hospital District, uses an on-premises laundry (OPL).
Richard Hoelscher, linen services production manager for Parkland, says the laundry has had emergencies over the years. Fortunately, these incidents have been minor.
“Parkland has had several small fires, but these only involved one piece of equipment each time, were promptly put out by staff with a hand fire extinguisher and verified out by the fire department,” Hoelscher says. “Parkland’s staff performed extremely well during the Code Red, following the RACE (Rescue, Alert Security, Confine, Extinguish) procedure.”
The reason Parkland has performed so well during emergencies is that it has detailed emergency procedures in place, Hoelscher says. Also, staff undergo training to help ensure all know what to do in the event of a risky situation.
It is essential for laundry operations of all types and sizes to have emergency procedures and training in place for safety, and to ensure the business is able to keep processing linen.
Some areas where emergency procedures are needed in a laundry are obvious. However, there are other situations that laundries might overlook, which could be just as serious when it comes to safety and business continuity.
“I think an overlooked area might be in ergonomics in unloading machines or handling pull-type carts,” says George Latus, manager of linen services at White River Health System, Batesville, Ark. “In operations the size of ours, utilizing 150-pound washer-extractors, it only takes a wrong twist or turn in pulling out items from a load that size to strain a muscle. It’s a matter of keeping staff well-informed of doing things the right way, even something seemingly as simple as unloading a machine.”
Laura Gracia, safety director for Admiral by Alsco in Houston, believes that many laundries overlook the potential for minor events to develop into life-threatening ones.
“As an industry, I don’t believe we characterize our risks appropriately,” agrees Brian Keegan, safety and sustainability officer for AmeriPride Services Inc., headquartered in Minnetonka, Minn. “We focus on the major risks and fail to promote appropriate behaviors into our everyday activities that are necessary to eliminate or fully mitigate our risks.”
He says there is a gap in regular confirmation, by auditing or testing, that procedures are being followed.
“I believe our industry could do some analysis to find out which of these procedures are being overlooked and then put together some recommended guidelines on how to address,” Keegan says.
To start improving emergency procedures, Keegan recommends tracking incidents using a database tracking and investigation software. Complete the root-cause analysis for incidents and near-misses, and then focus on developing procedures for eliminating the root cause.
“Also, have audit procedures in place to confirm that corrective actions are being performed and root causes remain at bay,” he says.
For Latus, safety is about keeping employees happy and engaged.
“Unhappy employees become disengaged, sloppy and forget about the safety procedures that are a part of the safety program as a whole,” he says.
A laundry in the design stage should consider visibility of the whole operation, Latus says.
“Though the soil-sort area and finishing areas of our laundry are separated, our design utilizes windows that enable staff and me (when I am in my office) to see the whole area,” he says. “I think this keeps employees connected to one another and vigilant that safety procedures are being followed.”
Latus is also a firm believer in using monthly in-service meetings with staff to continue to make safety a focus and update on any changes to procedures.
Gracia believes laundries looking to enhance their emergency procedures should look to other laundries with solidly established safety guides.
“I would share our plan with them as a guide to build their own plan,” she says.
Hoelscher says staying prepared and having plans and contingencies in place are vital for handling emergencies. He adds that while some disasters are unavoidable, good management can prevent and mitigate the damage of many emergencies.
“After all disasters, a follow-up is conducted, documentation is reviewed, expenses allocated and plans are adjusted to be even better prepared for the next,” says Hoelscher. “You never know what is coming up next.”
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