Laundry Risk Factors and Best Practices -Part I

Responsibilities of commercial laundry staff can include washing, drying, steaming, ironing, and chemically treating fabrics for use in hospitals, hotels, and other settings. Laundry can be heavy, treated with chemicals, and the work environment can be hot and humid. Work area set up, proper tools, staff training, machine maintenance, and good body mechanics are essential for laundry staff safety.

This 3 part blog summarizes the general hazards and controls for three major activities or tools in commercial laundry operations. 

If you are looking for more detail on industrial laundry safety, check MEMIC’s live Hotel Safety Webinar on May 8 at 10am EST.  Click here for more details.

Activity or Tool:  Bins, Bags, and Carts

Bins and bags are as common to the laundry as water.  They can be a big help or they can become hazards.  Like all containers, usually bigger is better, until we need to move them or get something out of them.  Bin and bag capacity, design, maintenance, and well thought out work practices are key to injury prevention in the laundry. 

1) Risk Factors:

a)  Awkward Postures:

i) Pulling bins can create awkward upper body postures

ii) Lifting laundry from bins and carts can create awkward postures

b) Excessive Force

i) Carts and bins with broken, dirty, or improperly sized casters require added force to move

ii) Lifting of overstuffed or improperly stowed bags can generate unnecessary forces on the body

c) Repetitive Actions

i) The nature of the motions required to manage laundry is repetitive

2) Controls:

a) Modify Bins – Not all bins are created equal.  Bins should not be purchased solely on the basis of capacity. 

i) Bottoms

(1) Install spring loaded or false bottoms

(a) Spring-loaded bottoms reduce awkward bending when removing laundry by raising the load as more weight is taken from the top. 

(b) False bottoms reduce the force necessary to push the cart and the awkward postures when removing laundry by raising the height of the bottom and limiting the overall capacity of the bin.

ii) Casters

(1) Install larger casters to decrease the force required to push the cart, while at the same time raising the height to reduce awkward pushing postures

(2) Maintain casters on a regular basis  

iii) Design:

(1) Lower one side of bin to reduce bending when removing laundry

(2) Install handle to encourage proper trunk posture when pushing

b) Modify Bags – Laundry bags can be a help and a hazard.  Purchase or modify laundry bags to reduce the force necessary to lift, carry, and empty them.

i) Size:

(1) Purchase bags that hold no more than 20-25 lbs. of wet laundry

(2) Modify  existing bags to reduce their capacity

(a) Sew the lower third of the bag closed

(b) Sew the bag into a funnel shape to reduce the capacity and make unloading easier

ii) Design:

(1) Purchase bags with multiple handles or add handles on the bottom and side of existing bags for easier two-hand lifting

(2) Ensure the bags can be easily opened and closed

iii) Material

(1) Plastic bags that can be easily torn open will facilitate easier unloading.  However, unless recycled, these are not a green resource

iv) Develop Policy and Procedure for Loading

(1) Create a policy about loading and overstuffing bags.  The policy should reflect maximum and optimum loading levels based on the bag assize with a 25 lb maximum for any bag.

(2) Train staff on the policy and how to evaluate their own bags.

(3) Compliance should be regularly observed and evaluated through random weighing.

c) Position of linen on cart:

(1) Place heavier folded items or bags of clean linen toward the middle rack of the cart

(2) Keep frequently accessed items in the power zone between shoulder and waist height

(3) Place lighter, less frequently accessed items higher or locate them closer to the floor

d) General considerations:

(1) Push don't pull bins and carts

(2) Organize space to suit volume and flow

(3) Use two hands to lift laundry bags

(4) Support your upper body when leaning over to lift

(5) Avoid lifting from ground/floor level