Housekeeping injuries and the employee satisfaction factor

Nov 18, 2011

Housekeeping injuries and the employee satisfaction factorA bill working its way through California’s legislative process has brought public attention to a repetitive strain issue facing a key demographic in the hospitality industry: hotel and motel housekeepers. Although the issue may seem narrowly defined, the solution applies to all industry sectors.

California’s Bill 432 aims to eliminate unsafe housekeeping practices that require housekeepers to clean bathroom floors and tubs on their knees and lift heavy mattresses while making beds. The proposed solution: long-handled cleaning tools and fitted bottom sheets.

Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, says the industry is well aware of the problem, and many employers are already taking steps to address it. But Elenis says both the problem and the solution is broader and has wider application than an initial reading would suggest.

First, the problem. Adrian Varao, a Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) consultant, and facilitator of a WSPS hotel/motel Safety Group chapter, notes that housekeepers perform a number of repetitive tasks all day long, many involving lifting, bending, twisting and overreaching. Add an aging workforce, and the potential for repetitive strain injuries increases dramatically.

Consider these statistics: a study reported in a 2010 issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine1 analyzed incidents from five unionized hotel companies for a 3-year period, estimating injury rates by job, company, and demographic characteristics. Room cleaning work was of particular concern.

A total of 2,865 injuries were reported during 55,327 worker-years of observation. The overall injury rate was 5.2 injuries per 100 worker-years. The rate was highest for housekeepers (7.9), and about double in three companies compared to the other two. Housekeepers had the highest rate of musculoskeletal disorders, and acute trauma rates were highest in kitchen workers (4.0/100) and housekeepers (3.9/100). Age, job title, and company were all independently linked to the risk of injury.

Ontario statistics also suggest a higher than average injury rate for the industry.

Industry Group

Lost-Time Injury Rate

Total Injury Rate

Hotels, Motels & Camping (Rate 921)

1.70

4.54

All Ontario

1.15

3.86


These statistics show that Rate 921’s lost time and total injury rates are higher than the average for allOntario firms by 48% and 18%, respectively.

Responding to the issue
In addition to reducing the risk of injury, existing best practices improve productivity by enabling housekeepers to make beds faster and clean bathrooms more efficiently, reaching into tubs and corners at floor and ceiling level with less strain. The solutions also support an aging population, an issue in many industries.

“Many hotels and motels have already stepped up,” says Elenis. “Has everyone? No, it takes time. But more and more are moving forward because they understand the overall benefits.”

Time is a factor for several reasons, all cost-related:

  • replacing bottom sheets with fitted is costly, especially if the existing inventory of flat sheets still has years of life ahead of it
  • the elastic in fitted sheets wears out faster than the sheets, shortening their life span compared to flat sheets
  • many facilities, in-house or otherwise, don’t have the equipment needed to launder or press fitted sheets.

Nevertheless, says Elenis, the industry is not standing still. Perhaps the biggest recent improvement the industry has seen is in training.

“More aspects of health and safety are increasingly being built into orientation and refresher training, such as safe lifting techniques, WHMIS, use of personal protective equipment, violence and harassment, and security lockdowns,” says Elenis. “The industry also continuously adopts new practices that help employees, such as spraying a cleaning product onto a bathtub and sink, letting it soak, and then scrubbing it. Less elbow grease required. This is just one example of many.”

Taking a more comprehenisve approach
Standing back from the specifics, Elenis notes that “all these improvements are important to an organization that aims to deliver a high standard of service to its clients. This is why the association encourages members to see health and safety as part of a broader management priority: employee satisfaction.

“You cannot run a successful business without employee satisfaction,” continues Elenis. “Housekeepers, kitchen staff, wait staff, administrators, they all have health and safety concerns specific to their jobs,” says Elenis, “but what links all these concerns is their role in promoting employee satisfaction and customer service. Sound safety and customer service practices have to be part of training in a successful business. Some organizations do it very well, some not as well. This applies to every industry.

“It all goes back to organizational culture, and the standards the organizations put in place. Before I joined the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, I worked for the Intercontinental Hotel Group. One of the number one goals for the management team is employee satisfaction. It’s given the same weight in our performance appraisals as revenue. If you don’t meet that goal, you’re not performing well and it affects your remuneration and your career.

“To drill this down to Intercontinental’s housekeepers, the chain introduced fitted sheets almost four years ago. And it’s not the only chain to do so.”

How we can help

  1. Find out more about WSPS’s Safety Group. Chapters across Ontario serve the agricultural, manufacturing and services sector. WSPS’s hospitality industry chapter, based in Toronto, includes members from Kingston, Niagara Falls and Sault Ste. Marie.
  2. Check out our extensive list of resources for preventing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) including resources specifically for the services sector.  MSDs for 43% of all work-related injuries, 43% of all lost-time claim costs, and 46% of all lost-time days.
  3. Speak with a WSPS ergonomics specialist. WSPS consultants offer a wealth of experience that your organization can draw on to implement, manage and continually improve your health and safety program.
  4. Watch for MSD sessions and exhibits on at Partners in Prevention events.

1 Am. J. Ind. Med. 53:116–125 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc., http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajim.20724/abstract