This paper addresses the responsibilities of upholding safety and reducing injuries in housekeeping. The paper argues that housekeepers have an individual responsibility to ensure that they uphold safe work practices. The paper further indicates that employers have a responsibility to provide the housekeeping employees with protective gear and safe working environments.
Employers also have a responsibility to train their housekeeping employees about relevant safety practices. The paper concludes by noting that regardless of how safety practices are enforced in the workplace, injuries cannot be completely reduced since housekeepers are exposed to heavy workloads, which brings about cumulative trauma injuries.
Housekeeping jobs are physically demanding and stressful. Studies conducted in the housekeepers’ work environment found out that workers stand the risk of suffering from musculoskeletal injuries due to the repetitive lifting of items (Liladrie, 2010). Additionally, studies indicate that in addition to heavy lifting, housekeeping jobs involve repetitive reaching and pulling (Cheng & Chan, 2009).
Such actions can be damaging to the skeletal or muscular anatomy of the workers. In addition to lifting and carrying heavy objects, housekeepers are also exposed to chemicals, body fluids, cleaning detergents, electricity and steam. All the aforementioned items and substances pose a risk to the wellbeing of individual housekeepers if not well handled.
This paper provides a detailed discussion that addresses housekeeping safety and injury prevention. The paper borrows insight from a wide range of literature sources and notes that housekeeping employees need to be educated on matters related to reducing their exposure to risk.
Hospitality service providers also have an obligation to ensure that their employees are given roles that they can handle without over-exertion. In other words, the paper champions a case of dual responsibility for both employees and employers, in order to enhance housekeepers’ safety.
Cleaning chemicals are present in the most basic cleaning agents. Although such cleaning agents are vital in ensuring that a housekeeper does his cleaning duties effectively and without much strain, they also contain hazardous chemicals. Walker (2011) identifies the potential hazard areas on the human body as injuries to the eyes and face.
Additionally, housekeepers risk inhaling chemical fumes or getting burns or irritation from chemicals. To uphold safety and prevent injuries, Walker (2011) suggests that housekeepers should wear protective garments while working; this includes face shields where necessary, respirators, gloves, long sleeved aprons and goggles.
Body fluids can also transmit infections if not well-handled. The Canadian Centre for Occupation Health and Safety (CCOHS) (2014) recommends that housekeepers should use disposable gloves when cleaning body fluids. Additionally, the housekeeper should use cleaning devices that prevent direct contact with the body fluids. Such devices include shovels or brooms. CCOHS (2014) further recommends for housekeepers to wash hands after cleaning and change gloves after each cleaning.
Walker (2011) notes that housekeepers need to practice situational awareness when doing their jobs because sometimes the body fluids may not be too obvious. Additionally, used needles, razors or other sharp objects may risk the housekeepers’ safety when not seen in good time. The general rule for injuries according to Walker (2011) is to report them immediately and get the necessary medical attention in the soonest time possible.
The risks of inhaling dust or chemicals and sustaining foot injuries from sharp objects that had been dropped on the floor are also present in most housekeeping job environments. Walker (2011) further identifies trauma as a possible hazard that can be caused by chemicals, hard surfaces or being hit by projectiles. To reduce the housekeeper’s vulnerability to such hazards, Walker (2011) recommends that all housekeeping staff should wear safety shoes while working.
Additionally, they should wear gloves and long pants in order to reduce the risk of chemicals splashing on their skins. The use of a dust mask or a respirator is also necessary when using inhalable chemicals or when working in dusty environments. Finally, every housekeeper needs to practice situational awareness in order to reduce the risk of trauma (e.g. from being hit by projectiles or coming into contact with hazardous chemicals).
Hazards posed by lifting or carrying objects include trauma (especially to the spine) and injuries to the feet. Walker (2011) recommends that housekeepers should wear protective clothing such as toe and metatarsal guards, and should also practice situational awareness.
For example, a housekeeper should know that a wet floor increases the risk of falling, and as such, should avoid lifting or carrying heavy objects on such a floor. If anything, the housekeeper should move objects before cleaning the floor, or if any moving needs to be done after cleaning, the housekeeper should wait until the floor is completely dry.
Electricity seemingly has the greatest range of hazards for housekeepers. According to Walker (2011), housekeepers can suffer electrical shock, foot injuries and trauma when handling electrical appliances. The risk of fire is also present whenever the housekeeper is using electrical appliances. To reduce the risk of electrical shock, Walker (2011) recommends that housekeepers should read the manufacturer’s instruction on all appliances.
Additionally, the housekeeper should learn how to properly switch on and switch off an electrical appliance. To reduce the risk of fire, Walker (2011) argues that housekeepers should learn to identify all fire hazards and combustibles. Additionally, housekeepers should learn to avoid using electricity near combustible items.
Finally, housekeepers should know where the nearest fire extinguisher is, and should also know how to use it in case of fire. To avoid electricity-related trauma, housekeepers need to practice situational awareness. Additionally, they should use protective gear (e.g. wearing shoes) always, and should know some of the basic precautions to observe when handling electrical items (e.g. never handling electrical sockets with wet hands).
Other possible hazards in a housekeeper’s job involve steam cleaning. The most basic steam cleaners expose the housekeepers to the risk of fire, eye injury, hand injury and trauma. To manage such risks, Walker (2011) recommends that the housekeeping staff should avoid smoking while using the steam cleaner.
Additionally, the housekeeper should not work near open flames. Finally, the housekeeper should know the location of the nearest fire extinguisher in addition to knowing how to use it. To avoid eye injuries, Walker (2011) recommends the use of a full face shield. Managing the risk of hand injuries requires housekeepers to wear gloves and also practice situational awareness.
Finally, managing trauma-related risks require the housekeeping staff to ensure that the rotating parts of the steamer are in good working condition before commencing work. Additionally, the housekeeper should wear protective clothing, and should practice situational awareness (Walker, 2011).
The Importance of Personal Wellness
A study conducted by Cheng and Chan (2009) reveals that nobody is better able to prevent injuries in housekeeping than the housekeeper himself.
Considering that not all housekeeping staff have the knowledge on personal wellness, Cheng and Chan (2009) recommend that all employers should ideally offer their housekeeping employees relevant health education and training. Employers also need to ensure that the development of relevant skills is fostered among employees.
Cheng and Chan (2009) further argue that individual housekeepers need to understand the importance of safety practices and injury prevention in the workplace. Once employees understand the critical nature of safety practices, they can appreciate any advice or protective items given to them by the management.
For example, Cheng and Chan (2009) indicate that stretching exercises are important for housekeepers who reach out to pick items, or bend down to lift objects. However, only housekeeping employees who understand the importance of such activities would embrace them when advised to do so by their employer or manager. The rest would perceive stretching exercises as an additional and perhaps unnecessary physical activity on their part.
The Employers’ Responsibility
Just like the individual housekeeping staff, employers also have a responsibility towards the enhancement of housekeeper safety and injury prevention. Gosner and Weiss (2008) indicate that the first responsibility for an employer is to identify the riskiest housekeeping activities.
The second responsibility on the employer’s part is to develop risk management strategies, which should eliminate risks that can be done away with, or mitigate those that cannot be completely eradicated. Next, the employer should train managers on how best to manage the identified risks, after which, the managers should teach the housekeeping staff about the same.
The management staff should be charged with the responsibility of creating awareness about specific risks (Gonser & Weiss, 2008). The employer should also charge his managers with the responsibility of ensuring that risk mitigation strategies are implemented consistently because as DaRos (2011) says, such strategies “are only effective if they are carried out consistently” (p. 20).
The employer further needs to identify individual housekeeping behaviours and attitudes for each of his employees. As DaRos (2011) notes, behaviours and attitudes are developed over time and changing any negligent or distractive behaviour that employees may have requires “consistent and long-term education precipitated at every level of an operation” (p. 22).
To succeed in any form of behaviour or attitude modification in the interest of fostering safety in housekeeping practices, Ficca (2003) argues that the employer and his managers must communicate clearly to the housekeeping staff. Additionally, the management must engage employees through well-defined safety objectives, measuring outcomes, and appreciating housekeeping employees who have superb safety records.
Writing about the same issue, Gonser and Weiss (2008) recommend that managers should engage employees directly in matters related to risk avoidance and mitigation. The two authors indicate that personal engagements make the risks more real for most housekeeping staff hence increasing the possibility that they will practice the mitigation measures keenly.
On their part, Cheng and Chan (2009) found out that companies that taught their housekeeping staff effective ways to handle risky materials and situations registered lower workplace injuries compared to companies that did not offer any training.
Cheng and Chan (2009) further found that housekeepers also benefit from ergonomics training and job-specific education. Such training enhances the risk perception of the housekeepers and enables them develop coping strategies, which in the end reduce their risk exposure and workplace injuries.
Williams (2010) observes that there is a behavioural aspect in safety and that most injuries in the workplace are partly due to risky behaviours by the employee. He cites the A (activators), B (behaviour) and C (consequences) model, which posit that activators “get our attention to behave in a certain way” (Williams, 2010, p. 72).
According to Williams (2010) activators can shape desirable or undesirable behaviours. For example, time pressure could be an activator that discourages a housekeeper from dressing in protective clothing when working. However, proper training or supervisory presence could also act as activators, which make the housekeeper reconsider wearing protective clothing when attending his duties.
Even though a housekeeper may want to behave in a certain way (e.g. ignore wearing protective garments because of the time pressure), the ABC model suggests that the possible consequences may trigger a completely different behaviour. For example, if by not wearing protective garments the housekeeper risks falling and losing his mobility, he will choose to wear his protective clothes however long it takes.
This model is relevant in housekeeping because most employees do not perceive the consequences of some of their actions as serious. A person may, for example, decide to carry something on a wet floor without consciously acknowledging that sliding on the same floor may cause him to fracture his leg or dislocate a joint. A seemingly innocent oversight on their part would thus make them spend days recuperating. Absence from work impacts the employer negatively since he would need to find a short-term replacement employee.
While explaining that human beings are naturally inclined to risk-taking, Williams (2010) notes that it is the responsibility of the company’s management to ensure that behaviour-based safety (BBS) practices exist. BBS is a safety model that encourages organisations to have an identifiable safety culture.
The safety culture is championed by the supervisory personnel who ensure that every employee abides by the safety rules. The model further encourages safety training and encourages people (most especially colleagues) to speak out when a safety breach has occurred. In the housekeeping profession, for example, housekeepers should keep an eye on what their colleagues do, offer advice where necessary and alert the supervisors if there is a continuous violation of safety practices.
Communication is also critical in ensuring that safety is upheld in the workplace, and that injuries are reduced. Williams (2010) observes “employees often fail to speak up when they observe their co-worker’s risky behaviours even though they want to” (p. 98). Failure to speak up or even warn others has been found to increase risk-taking and in some cases has led to serious injuries.
Williams (2010) therefore recommends that every employer needs to teach his employees the importance of peer feedback and praise. In other words, people who work together need to warn or praise each other depending on their behaviours. In recognition that not everyone will take feedback directed at them well, Williams (2010) suggests that each employer needs to train his employees on how to deal with difficult people.
This paper has established that the duty to reduce injuries and increase safety in housekeeping is a shared responsibility between individual housekeepers and their employers. The paper has also used information from different authors to show the different responsibilities that individuals have, and the responsibilities of an employer.
From the above section, it is clear that the biggest responsibility for safety and the reduction of injuries is held by the employer. The employer needs to train, communicate with, and supervise his housekeeping staff in order to ensure that they uphold safe work practices. On their part, the housekeeping staff members have a responsibility to utilise the knowledge obtained from training, and put on the protective gear provided by the employer.
Statistics provided by Vossenas (2009) indicate that in Canada and the US, hotel workers (most especially housekeepers) have a 5.8 percent injury rate compared to the services sector rate of 4.2 percent. The same report indicates that housekeepers in both countries register a 10.4 percent rate of injury, which is almost double of what is registered among the non-housekeepers.
Vossenas (2009) also notes that of all injuries reported among housekeepers in the US and Canada, strains and sprains were the most common with a 44 percent occurrence rate. The two forms of injuries were linked to the nature of housekeeping jobs, which include pushing heavy carts, cleaning overhead showers, stuffing duvets, and lifting heavy mattresses.
The frequency of such injuries has also been linked to increased workloads, which include the fact that most employers (especially hotels) allocate housekeepers specific room numbers which they have to clean. Notably, housekeepers are required to combine quality and quantity while attending their cleaning chores, and often times, the complexity of cleaning specific rooms is not considered. Consequently, housekeepers are always pressed for time since they have to meet their room quotas within an allocated period.
With the foregoing in mind, it is important to note that regardless of how much safety behaviours are encouraged, the possibility that complete safety and injury reduction will be attained with the current workload is almost minimal. The importance of situational awareness has been underscored in this paper severally. However, and as Williams (2010) observes, situational awareness is hard to practice if one is always in a hurry to finish one duty and start another.
Arguably, the only way that safety practices can be embraced by the housekeepers, hence resulting in a reduction of injuries, is if such practices are embraced by both individual workers and the employers. The employers, however, cannot claim to foster safe working environments if they overburden the employees. Notably, while the impact of too much work may not be seen in the short term, such work exposes housekeepers to cumulative trauma injuries such as wrist pain, back pain and shoulder and neck pain.
The responsibility for establishing and maintaining a safe workplace arguably lies with the employers. However, it is also the responsibility of individual housekeepers to ensure that they embrace safety practices while at work and that they do not engage in risk-taking practices that compromise their health and welfare.
Notably, housekeepers can also enhance peer safety by ensuring that they speak out when one of their colleagues engage in unsafe practices. As noted herein, heavy workload is one reason that housekeepers suffer cumulative trauma injuries. Unless such workloads are addressed, housekeepers will continue sustaining injuries, regardless of the short-term safety practices they adopt.
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