Mr. Quezada

Insurance

Keeping Hotel Staff Safe

By David Quezada, Vice President - Loss Control, EMPLOYERS

More than three million workplace injuries were reported in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of these, 75 percent occurred in service industries, which includes hotels, restaurants and bars. Workplace injuries and illnesses can have many negative repercussions, including potential litigation, higher workers' compensation premiums, employee turnover and low morale. Businesses with unsafe working conditions can also be subject to fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - and the penalties for non-compliance just got a lot higher.

In August 2016, OSHA stiffened compliance requirements and increased maximum fines for the first time in 26 years. This one-time catch-up adjustment is based on the percentage difference between the Consumer Price Index in October 1990 and October 2015 - resulting in a maximum penalty increase of nearly 80 percent. Willful and/or repeated violations are now subject to a maximum fine of $124,709, up from $70,000. Lesser offenses and one-time infractions now carry a maximum penalty of $12,471, an increase from $7,000, for each day the business remains out of compliance. After this initial adjustment, OSHA will be required to increase the fines annually to account for inflation.

The recent penalty hikes and OSHA's stepped-up enforcement agenda mean employers are at increased risk for inspections and citations. OSHA inspections usually happen without advance notice. Although employee complaints are one of the most common triggers, referrals can also happen as a result of a government agency report or as part of follow-up to a prior inspection. While any hotel worker could experience a workplace injury or illness, the most at-risk are maids and housekeeping workers, followed by dishwashers, kitchen staff and servers.

Here are seven potential workplace hazards that these employees might face, as well as practical suggestions to reduce each risk.

Hazardous materials. In June 2015, OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) updated its label standards to include pictograms. The additional label requirements are more specific and make the labels easier to understand, particularly for people who are less fluent in English. All products must be labeled to include:

  • Manufacturer's name, address and telephone number
  • Product identifier
  • Signal word (either "danger" or "warning" based on level of toxicity)
  • Hazard statements
  • Precautionary statements
  • Pictograms

Employers are responsible for maintaining the labels on all containers, including bulk storage tanks and drums. Employers may create their own workplace labels, but must include all of the required information asked of the chemical manufacturer, distributor or importer. If your hotel orders cleaning products in bulk and then dilutes them into spray bottles for everyday use, they are still considered hazardous materials and must be clearly labeled in conformity with HCS labeling requirements. It is also important to regularly inspect labels and replace them when they become worn, faded or rubbed off. New employees should receive training on how to properly handle hazardous materials, and all employees should receive refresher training on a regular basis.

Slips, trips and falls. These are the most common causes of workplace injuries. Common causes include:

  • Wet Floors - Place anti-skid mats near entrances and exits, as well as next to utility sinks, dishwashers and washing machines. Keep a mop and bucket at-the-ready, and place signs alerting people to slick spots following a wet clean-up.
  • Improper Footwear - Encourage employees, especially kitchen and housekeeping staff, to wear close-toed footwear with anti-skid soles.
  • Power Cords - Use cord covers to conceal and protect cables and reduce the risk of someone tripping over them.
  • Poor Lighting - Regularly inspect lamps and overhead lights. Replace burned-out bulbs and faulty switches. It is important to make sure utility closets and stockrooms have adequate lighting.

According to OSHA, falls from portable ladders are one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries. Hotel employees may frequently use ladders to retrieve goods from stockroom shelves, change lighting or assist with event set-up or tear-down. Make sure ladders are maintained in good condition and that employees understand how to use them. OSHA provides a comprehensive guide to ladder safety.

Musculoskeletal Strain

Housekeepers are especially prone to back and neck injuries due to the repetitive nature of their jobs. Stuffing pillows, changing bed linens, pushing and pulling vacuums, wiping down mirrors and scrubbing showers can all lead to repetitive-motion injuries. OSHA provides training tips, resources and information on improving housekeeping work using ergonomics to reduce joint and muscle injury.

Burns

Kitchen staff and waiters interact with boiling liquids, deep fryers, and hot ovens and plates, any of which could cause a serious burn. Make sure all employees wear gloves, aprons and hats when handling hot equipment, plates and tools. Employers should also regularly inspect safety gear and replace when worn, torn or burned.

Cuts and Lacerations

Handling knives, meat slicers and other sharp kitchen tools are common causes of cuts and lacerations for kitchen workers and restaurant servers. Train employees on the proper way to handle and clean slicing equipment and how to safely use knives. Keep a first aid kit handy with an assortment of bandage sizes to care for small and large cuts. If your hotel staff includes groundskeepers who use hedge trimmers, mowers and other electric and non-electric tools, make sure the equipment is regularly cleaned and serviced and that your employees follow the manufacturer's safety precautions. For housecleaning staff, picking up broken glass should be treated with the same care. Make sure employees wear puncture-resistant gloves and wash thoroughly with hot soap and water following any clean-up.

Infectious Diseases

Housekeeping staff can be exposed to biological waste (feces and vomit) and blood borne pathogens found on broken glass and uncapped needles left behind by guests who might require regular insulin or an emergency epi-pen injection. Provide workers with puncture-resistant gloves and make sure your hotel has access to approved Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sharps containers. These containers are made of puncture-resistant plastic with leak-resistant sides and bottom, and they also have a tight-fitting, puncture-resistant lid. Never place loose needles or other sharps in trash cans or flush them down the toilet. This puts trash and sewage workers, housekeepers, people and pets at risk for being harmed. It is also bad for the environment. Contact your local trash or public health department to locate a sharps disposal program in your area. Respiratory illnesses. Exposure to mold and mildew, cleaning products like bleach, laundry detergent and ammonia, and irritating aerosol cleaners can cause respiratory illnesses. Make sure housekeepers turn on bathroom fans while cleaning rooms. To prevent high humidity indoors, keep laundry rooms properly ventilated and consider installing dehumidifiers.

Another option to reduce over-exposure to toxic chemicals is to choose safer cleaning agents. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides an online, interactive portal to search for safer cleaning products - everything from carpet cleaners to deicers to odor removers.

Any one of these hazards could result in a serious or even fatal employee injury or illness, triggering an OSHA inspection. The best way to prevent any workplace injury or illness is to maintain proper housekeeping and maintenance practices, conduct regular safety training sessions, and make sure all employees understand the importance of following proper protocols. Effective hotel maintenance is not a hit-or-miss practice to be done on an as-needed basis, it is an ongoing operation that requires dedication and attention to detail.

For more information on safety in the hospitality industry, as well as free signage and resources, contact your local departments of labor, OSHA or your insurance agent or carrier.

David Quezada is Vice President of Loss Control for EMPLOYERS, America’s small business insurance specialist®, which offers workers’ compensation insurance and services through Employers Insurance Company of Nevada, Employers Compensation Insurance Company, Employers Preferred Insurance Company, and Employers Assurance Company. Insurance is not offered in all jurisdictions. Mr. Quezada can be contacted at 800-588-5200 or losscontrol@employers.com Please visit https://www.employers.com/ for more information. Extended Bio...

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