CHICAGO — The laundry industry is physically demanding on plant employees.
Heavy goods, repetitive motions, hours on their feet ... laundry workers experience many factors on the job that can affect health and safety.
There are ways operators can make the process easier on employees’ bodies so that they remain healthy, like going to work and stay on the job.
American Laundry News communicated with three laundry operators and a consultant to provide their expertise on laundry equipment layout and ergonomics for employee health: Larose Saint Jean, director of St. Michael’s Laundry at the University of Notre Dame; Tommy Cocanougher, director-operations engineering in the Western United States/Western Canada for Cintas Corp.; Nick Fertig, director of central laundry at Rosen Hotels & Resorts in Orlando; and Bob Corfield, founder of the consulting firm Laundry Design Group.
In Part 1, the panel covered the importance and safety aspects of ergonomics, changes for current operations, and processes and products that can be used. In the conclusion, they examine new laundry layout, overlooked areas, the impact of COVID-19 and final advice.
When laying out a new laundry, how can the operation be more ergonomically laid out for employee health and workflow?
SAINT JEAN: Install a tunnel washer—if poundage requirements are met—a rail system, an automatic final assembling unit, and wet cleaning equipment.
FERTIG: During the design of a new laundry, you have the opportunity to design what I like to call the “circle of life” in an operation.
From the moment the soiled linen enters the facility, the cleaning process should proceed in a circular motion, eventually ending up where it started to be loaded cleanly onto a truck. This helps prevent any double or triple handling, as well as any inefficient travel paths.
Are there any areas of a laundry or improvements that operators often overlook?
SAINT JEAN: Air conditioning.
COCANOUGHER: Don’t forget our maintenance and reliability teams! We often overlook working with our designers and equipment suppliers and wind up with a layout that makes life harder for these employees.
For instance, many manufacturers are finally redesigning their equipment to put all diagnostic tools (PLC, etc.) into a separate low-voltage cabinet, and keeping high voltage (>50VAC) in a separate cabinet.
Most often in diagnosing an issue, they only need access to the PLC, so now they can open it without exposure to what is officially “live electric,” thus they don’t have to dress up in all the NFPA70E PPE, work in the heat, battle the heavy-duty double set of gloves, etc.
This is a huge improvement, but many manufacturers have been slow to convert their designs. Facility operators, the buyers, can force this conversion if only we will.
FERTIG: The separation or detangling of sheets is a big one. In the past, this type of equipment was faulty and frowned upon. Recent innovations have made this a staple in my facilities. The machines are efficient and have remarkable uptime. We are actually waiting for the delivery of a third unit.
Eliminating this task has been huge for us in regard to injuries and also morale. I mean, who wants to pull on knotted wet sheets for eight hours a day?
CORFIELD: Depending the type of plant, we see that soil sorting is often overlooked. Poor sorts or too many types of items have a direct impact on the clean packaging areas.
But the biggest concern is plants that prevail on holding onto batch sizes that are too large to ergonomically handle. Usually this is due to machine capacity issues (dryer size of 350-600 pounds) that create loads that are too cumbersome for workers to effectively address and are often noted in workplace injury reports.
How has COVID-19 affected laundry setup for employee health and safety?
SAINT JEAN: Additional personal protective equipment (PPE), split staffing teams and split management teams. We now have temperature checks, masks are required and we do additional sanitizing.
COCANOUGHER: The “social distancing” creates the most impact. Not only does this impact the direct production areas, but it has also directly interfered with employees’ ability to socialize at lunch and breaks, thus impacting their enjoyment of being with their fellow workers at work.
Many companies are finding creative ways to stay in closer touch with their employees, developing additional activities that help build and maintain employee relationships, and fun activities to keep everyone engaged and having a good time at work.
FERTIG: Social distancing is next to impossible at some stations. As a result, we have built and installed partitions on multiple pieces of equipment.
CORFIELD: I think it is too early to fully tell, yet. Clearly where workers are in close proximity and where strenuous work prevails, PPE, air handlers, lifting devices will need to be employed.
What would your top ergonomic laundry advice be?
SAINT JEAN: Utilize job rotation to allow different muscles to be engaged.
COCANOUGHER: Start. Just start. First complete an assessment to determine which areas have the lowest-hanging fruit for your particular operation.
Develop a plan to implement your first project—engage your employees in the develop of a solution and play a part in the implementation. Get feedback after the implementation—whether it is handles on carts, new and different casters, spring bottom buggies, whatever.
Implement an exercise and warm-up system—this will also help battle the “social” impact of the social distancing now required.
FERTIG: Perform every job in your laundry for a full eight-hour shift. If the position was uncomfortable for you to perform, then you owe it to your team to identify a more efficient and ergonomic way to allow it to be performed.
CORFIELD: Have an owner, principle, manager or safety officer work every high-risk job for two to three days, “undercover boss” style. Then see what solutions make sense and start out with one at a time.
Don’t try fix the world all at once. Small steps work fine.
Miss Part 1? Click HERE now to read it.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].