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Housekeeping Personnel Safety

Best practices for handling chemicals, proper personal protective equipment selection, material handling, and slip, trip, and fall prevention are discussed. Readers will gain an understanding of how to identify at-risk situations and how to avoid serious injury or illness.

Housekeepers are exposed to a variety of hazards while on the job and perform a variety of tasks throughout their work shift. Proper training to identify hazards and risks associated with these tasks will help prevent employee injury.

Where Do We Begin?

Before an employee is assigned housekeeping tasks, an evaluation of all job procedures should be completed to identify hazards. This process is called a Job Safety Analysis commonly referred to as a “JSA”. Typically, a supervisor or safety officer is responsible for looking at every step in a work procedure. Evaluating each task allows the supervisor to determine if a particular step has the potential to cause an injury. Any procedure that could cause injury can then be corrected or removed if possible. If the procedure cannot be removed or corrected, the supervisor should implement controls to ensure worker safety.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Once the evaluation has been made, determine if personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed. Selecting the proper PPE depends upon the nature of the tasks and the identified hazards. For example, when dealing with chemical hazards, consult the material safety data sheet (MSDS) to determine what type of PPE is needed to properly protect employees. Every chemical on-site should have a corresponding MSDS sheet that gives detailed information about the chemical.

Examples of types of personal protective equipment to consider:

  • Gloves (work gloves, latex, nitrile, chemical-specific)
  • Safety glasses, goggles
  • Face shields
  • Sleeve protectors
  • Aprons
  • Slip-resistant shoes

Back Belts

Contrary to popular belief, back belts are not a good PPE selection for preventing strain injuries. NIOSH does not recommend back belts for use in occupational settings or for use as personal protective equipment. Studies have shown that wearing belts for extended periods of time and/or cinching them too tightly can cause heart strain, mobility limitations, and create a false sense of security.

At-Risk Situations

What is an at-risk situation? An at-risk situation is one that has the potential for injury. Examples of at-risk situations are lifting heavy objects and repetitive motion tasks. Additionally, the work environment may be considered an at-risk situation when working around hazards like asbestos and lead found in many older structures. Exposure to potentially violent situations or working alone should also be considered when identifying at-risk situations. Housekeeping employees, with the many different tasks they perform, are exposed to more at-risk situations than many other employees. Identifying these at-risk situations is very important to prevent injury.

Once job hazards have been identified and proper PPE selected, special precautions must be taken when handling chemicals, transporting materials, and avoiding slip and fall hazards.

Working with Chemicals

Eye protection and possibly face protection should be used if there is a possibility that chemicals could be sprayed in the face and eyes.

Examples include spraying windows with window washing chemicals and spraying shower walls with chemicals.

A protective apron and eye protection should be worn when employees must mix chemicals. One way to remove the hazards associated with chemical mixing is to provide pre-mixed chemical solutions for employee use. Providing a station with pre-mixed solutions also takes the guesswork out of proper dilution ratios. Additionally, less chemical waste saves money.

It is important to emphasize that employees remove gloves and any other PPE that may be chemically contaminated before they go into public areas. Employees should also remove PPE after completing the tasks associated with a particular job. An employee wearing chemically contaminated PPE may contaminate another employee or family member. Hand washing is also important when handling chemicals to prevent ingesting or absorbing a harmful substance. It is a good practice to wash hands whether gloves are worn or not.

Eating, drinking, and storing consumables around chemicals should be strictly prohibited. Permitting this behavior can also lead to ingesting hazardous chemicals. Smoking around chemicals poses a double threat. The obvious hazard: creating a potential chemical fire by smoking around flammable and combustible materials. Secondly, chemical ingestion or inhalation can occur when smoking with chemically contaminated hands. The smallest amount of chemical residue on an employee’s hands can be ingested by mouth or inhaled after the contaminated portion of the cigarette is ignited.

Handling Biohazards

Housekeeping employees may encounter biohazards including blood and other bodily fluids during their regular work shift. These biohazards should be treated like hazardous chemicals. All biohazards should be treated as if they are contaminated with potentially infectious bloodborne pathogens like HIV and Hepatitis B. Employees need to be trained to handle biohazards prior to selecting PPE. If employees are not trained, they should be advised to contact a trained employee. The appropriate PPE should then be used to protect the employee from exposure. A biohazard cleanup kit should be provided in a central location.

Material Handling

Housekeeping employees may also move furniture, equipment, and various tools to complete a task. If it is deemed necessary to handle materials manually after a hazard assessment has been done, the employee should be coached about how to prevent a strain or sprain injury. Employees should be encouraged to lift the amount of weight that is comfortable. If the weight of an object seems excessive, assistance should be obtained. If lifting, pushing, pulling and carrying objects is not absolutely necessary, DON’T. Some tools that make material handling easier include housekeeping carts, mop buckets with wheels, removable ramps, water pick up machines, and portable vacuum packs.

Slips, Trips, and Falls

Wearing the proper footwear can help prevent slips, trips, and falls. Housekeeping employees working on floors covered by water or grease may need rubber boots, shoe covers, or rubber soled shoes for traction. Employees involved with floor waxing and stripping also need appropriate foot protection. “Wet floor” signs should be used to warn others walking in the area that there is a potential slip, trip, or fall hazard. Remember to remove the floor signs when the area is dry. The employee should also adjust the pace of work and walking stride when encountering slippery walking surfaces. If an area is wet, an employee should slow down to compensate for the reduced traction.

Ladders and Stepstools

Employees should select the right ladder for the job. The ladder should be tall enough to reach the work area without requiring the employee to stand on the top two rungs of the ladder. Employees should not straddle or sit on the top of the ladder and should maintain three points of contact at all times while on the ladder. All ladders and stepstools should be inspected prior to use. The ladder rungs or stepstool steps, latches, and platforms should be inspected for damage. If any component of the ladder is damaged, immediately remove it from service.

Electrical Equipment

Ground fault circuit interrupters, commonly called GFCI’s, should be used on any equipment exposed to, or potentially exposed to water. While many modern pieces of equipment may have GCFI’s built into them, any piece of equipment without an internal GFCI will need to utilize an external GFCI. Inspect all extension and equipment power cords before use and immediately remove any damaged or otherwise altered cords from service. Take special care when unplugging electrical cords from wall outlets and avoid tugging on the cord, which may cause damage.

Housekeeping is a very physically demanding occupation. Understanding exposure to injuries and available protective measures, in addition to using proper procedures and tools, will lower the frequency of accidents and serious injuries within the housekeeping department.

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