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Reinvigorating Laundry Facility Safety (Part 1)

“I’ve been seeing more news reports on laundry fires and accidents, and I am concerned safety has taken a backseat to staying in business. How can I reinvigorate our safety efforts for both employees and customers?”

Textile/Uniform Rental: W. Kirby Wagg, Performance Matters, Sarasota, Fla.

W. Kirby Wagg
W. Kirby Wagg

All accidents and fires will result in a poor financial situation for laundries.

OSHA compliances, workers’ compensation costs, lost time, retraining costs, equipment damages and delays to production—all these issues affect the laundry, its customers and the team members (employees).

All leaders should be aware that the safety of their team members is a top priority, period. Communication of safety concerns improves morale and develops a cohesive team!

After over 45 years in the textile rental industry, I have seen my share of laundry fires and accidents; none of them are fun.

To reinvigorate safety efforts for both employees and customers, it must start with leadership.

Safety permeates an organization, and it spreads throughout the company when managers and supervisors are engaged and responsive.

As Arnold Glasow said, “One of the tests of leadership is to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.”

This is so true when it relates to safety in the workplace; leaders must be initiative-taking.

To help reinvigorate safety efforts within a company, a safety committee must be active daily, recognizing safety concerns before they become a catastrophe.

At least weekly walkarounds should happen with the committee members identifying potential hazards, noting injury rates, the severity of injuries and the workers’ compensation costs are all lagging indicators.

Leading indicators are the number of team members completing safety training, timeliness of reporting, number of near-misses and timeliness of corrective actions. Route service reps, office staff—all departments must not be forgotten.

There must be representation on the committee from the service team as they are integral in recognizing hazards at customers’ locations. The local fire department is a reliable resource as well as safety consultants to round out your safety team.

During my time at Wagg’s Linen & Uniform, we experienced two significant fires.

One was laundry bags dried at the end of the day and automatically dumped into a cart. During the night, they ignited and caught fire, burning a conveyor belt. We later learned that the “cool-down” on the dryer was not sufficient to cool the laundry bags.

The other fire was caused by soiled shop towels stored in an overhead sling over the weekend, and spontaneous combustion caused them to catch fire.

We rectified that by washing the shop towels (and leaving them in the washer) before leaving for the day to avoid that hazard. Thankfully, we had a sprinkler system that nullified the damage in both instances.

Again, leaders must take responsibility for everything that happens in the company, and safety is no exception. Safety must not take a back seat, or you will not be in business.

Equipment Manufacturing: Tom Vanden Heuvel, Kemco Systems, Clearwater, Fla.

Tom Vanden Heuvel
Tom Vanden Heuvel

Building an effective safety culture requires the commitment and collaboration of all employees, from management to front-line workers.

A strong safety culture is characterized by a shared set of values and behaviors that prioritize safety in all aspects of work.

Define your safety vision. The first step in building a safety culture is to establish a clear vision and set of values that prioritize safety. This includes identifying the specific behaviors and practices that are necessary to ensure the safety of everyone, every day.

Communicate your safety vision. It is important to communicate your safety vision to all employees and stakeholders. This can be done through regular meetings, training sessions and other forms of communication. Just like writing down a new year’s resolution helps you keep it (longer), so, too, does purposefully communicating your safety vision.

Lead by example. Management and leadership must model safe behaviors and practices and hold themselves and others accountable for following safety protocols.

Involve employees in safety decision-making. Encourage employees to participate in safety committees and to speak up about any safety concerns they may have. This not only helps to identify and address potential hazards, but it also fosters a sense of ownership and commitment to safety among employees.

Provide ongoing training and education. Include both formal training programs and informal opportunities for employees to learn about safety practices and procedures.

Recognize and reward safe behaviors. Actively reinforce, recognize and reward the importance of safety in the organization. This can be done through various methods, such as safety awards or recognition programs.

Kemco has been recognized with the SafeTRSA award for its safety leadership because of programmatically developing our safety culture. By following these steps, you, too, can build an effective safety culture that promotes the well-being and safety of all employees and stakeholders.

A strong safety culture not only helps to prevent accidents and injuries but also fosters a positive work environment and enhances productivity and performance.

Equipment/Supply Distribution: Ross Sanders, Streamline Solutions, Orlando, Fla.

Ross Sanders
Ross Sanders

Isn’t it quite interesting that no matter what side of this industry we are all in, whether it is a laundry or a distributor/manufacturer like us, in times like this where we are all looking to save money whenever we can, you sometimes wonder where you might be sacrificing certain things to make sure that you are a profitable company?

When I say, “isn’t it interesting,” that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing. Sorry to say but sometimes we all look at certain things within our business and then fail to look at others the way that we should.

Yes, we have heard about the fires and the other issues that have occurred at our laundry customers’ plants. When we hear and read about them, we certainly feel their pain as they have spent so much time and energy over what has been many generations to have terrible situations occur at their plants.

What also makes it tougher in today’s world where there has been a good amount of turnover (and it’s harder to find employees, let alone, high-quality ones), it sometimes means that your current and new employees must constantly be trained on all aspects of their jobs, including safety.

This would be the case at laundries, at their respective customer facilities as well as at companies like ours.

As a company, we will always remind our employees of what needs to be done to make sure that all angles are covered in regard to safety, whether that means for fire, potential flooding issues or individual employee safety.

All required notifications will always be posted as well as others that we as a company feel are beneficial to keep everything up to date and interesting.

We feel that as a “close-knit” company, employee-wise, we always try to look out for each other’s best interests. We also know and continue to remind each other that whatever we do to help each other out, it always benefits the company and all parties involved.

That’s not to say that we have not had issues through the years, but we quickly implement any needed changes and requirements to hopefully avoid any safety issues that may occur down the road.

Regarding our customers, we have an extremely tight relationship with many of them and because of that, we can be honest with each other if and when we see potential issues arise. We discuss them with each other.

One of the first things that I personally notice, and always will, is how clean a laundry looks. Not that a clean laundry guarantees anything, but it is certainly a good starting point for making sure that a clean laundry is a safe one.

Also, as a company that recycles plastic bags at many of our customers’ plants, we always try to stay in contact with them to make sure that our recycling equipment is safe and in working order.

We require them to have yearly maintenance done to our balers to make sure that everything is working correctly and, of course, to verify that all safety requirements are met.

As I mentioned earlier, in times when there are many changes in employees who handle this part of the business for the laundries, we feel that this is a key part of making sure that all employees are kept safe when working with a large piece of equipment that they normally would not have experience in using.

In conclusion, no matter how things are going financially at your respective businesses, none of us can afford to sacrifice the safety side of things. It would only be detrimental to your business and your employees.

All safety bases must always be covered!

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion with thoughts from uniform/workwear manufacturing, chemicals and consulting services experts.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].