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For the first time in history, a tailored regulation has been created to protect those who are exposed to the highest risk of work-related injuries in the hospitality industry: hotel housekeepers – our heroes who do their utmost to provide a clean and safe environment for guests.
The state of California is taking the plunge to set this new ergonomics standard nation-wide, which will be enforced with California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). It requires all hotels and lodging establishments to create, implement, and sustainably maintain an effective Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention Program (MIPP) to address hazards specific to housekeeping. Finally – this is a great step forward in promoting employee well-being!
Musculoskeletal injuries, which are defined in the standard as “acute injury or cumulative trauma of a muscle, tendon, ligament, bursa, peripheral nerve, joint, bone, spinal disc or blood vessel” are of high risk to housekeepers due to their daily physically demanding tasks such as pushing heavy carts, picking up linen, and lifting mattresses. Excessive force, awkward postures, and repetitive motions during long shifts of work are the root cause of such an injury risk. Years and years have gone by with a multitude of injuries impacting the lives of these hardworking individuals and the time has come to put an end to this and help them to lead healthier lives, both on-the-job and personally.
This standard, approved on March 9th, 2018 by the California Office of Administrative Law, will become effective on July 1st, 2018. Time is fast approaching and employers within the hospitality industry only have until October 1st, 2018 to roll out their version of a program that aligns with the new regulation. Are you compliant? Dive deeper below and take the lead on helping transform our industry into a stronger, more sustainable one!
Over the years, housekeeping teams have had to face increasingly challenging cleaning tasks with the introduction of more guestroom amenities to maintain, a growing variety of surfaces to clean, and more luxurious, heavy beds to make. Imagine all this, combined with growing business expectations to clean more rooms in less time to generate better financial performance results.
Hotel worker representatives have followed these challenges closely, indicating the toll that such a physical workload takes on a housekeeper’s well-being over time. To tackle this, members from the labor union, UNITE HERE, presented a petition to the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (OSHSB) in 2012 to request for a workplace health and safety regulation. After multiple years of research, meetings and sharing of experiences with dozens of workers this has now become a reality.
Hotel employees have higher rates of work-related injuries and sustain more severe injuries than most other service workers. Given that housekeepers form roughly a quarter of the hospitality workforce, running one of the largest parts of hotel operations, the impact on staffing is huge when considering that housekeepers experience the highest annual injury rate of 7.9% compared to the overall injury rate of 5.2% for hotel employees1.
Data from California Worker’s Compensation Information System (WCIS) from 2010-2014 shares that the number of injury claims by housekeepers in the accommodation industry has increased on average by 897 more claims each year, also indicating that housekeepers have a significantly higher percentage of musculoskeletal injuries than any other worker in this sector: 67.2% vs. 56.6% respectively2.
In addition, a study that included 941 Las Vegas hotel room cleaners established that 75% of respondents experienced work-related pain during a one-year time period, where more than half of them used sick or vacation time for this pain, and only a third of them reported this pain to management3. This highlights significant underreporting of injuries in hotels. If housekeepers that experience pain continue to do their jobs without reporting and treating it, they are more prone to sustain serious injuries over time, which primarily impacts the housekeeper’s well-being in the long-term and ultimately also the hotel’s performance.
With all this data in mind, it’s no wonder that the Bureau of Labor Statistics shares that out of the $500 million the hospitality industry pays annually for repetitive motion injury claims, 70% were claims made by housekeeping employees4.
The petition shared by hotel worker representatives to Cal/OSHA covers even more scientific recognition of the occupational hazards of housekeeping and it is definitely a wake-up call to the industry. Now is the time to take action!
To get a head start on addressing the new standard, here are the top actionable guidelines in the following three categories:
a) Signs, symptoms and risk factors associated with musculoskeletal injuries.
b) Body mechanics and safe practices, taking into account identified hazards at the workplace, how to address them, and the appropriate use of tools and equipment.
c) Open communication on overall health and safety concerns, including the process for early reporting of symptoms and injuries.
As UNITE HERE’s New York-based director of worker safety and health, Pamela Vossenas, mentioned this year: “The state of California has recognized the seriousness of the dangers housekeepers face and took an important step to protect these workers”.
Taking into account a study of hotel housekeepers in Orlando, over half of them agreed that management does not care about health and safety5. This overall perception can lead to high disengagement levels at work, lack of motivation, lowered productivity, and high turnover rates. They are the beating heart of hotel operations, they need to feel valued and their important role over the guest experience should be recognized.
We like to call housekeepers the heroes behind the scenes – not only do they ensure the cleanliness and hygiene of all hotel areas, they also ensure guest safety, security, and comfort, and significantly contribute to a hotel’s reputation. Unfortunately, this seems to come at the price of their well-being: 27.3% of housekeepers are injured within their first year of working, with more than half injured even in the first six months2. This highlights the need for hospitality establishments to place emphasis on providing housekeepers with effective training and tools at the very start of their employment, to help them to do their job in a healthy, safe and productive manner. We firmly believe in this at Novility, and as mentioned in our earlier piece on Ergonomics & Technology: Improving your hotel operations, “The benefits of integrating proper ergonomics practices within your workplace are to promote the well-being of your team, allowing them to work more efficiently with fewer injuries and perform at a higher quality”.
The European Agency for Safety and Health (EU-OSHA) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) reveal that worldwide work-related injury and illness result in the loss of 3.9% of GDP, at an annual cost of roughly 2,680 billion euros; these findings were released in 2017 at the XXII World Congress on Safety and Health at Work. No doubt, these numbers are staggering!
That being said, it’s great to see that a progressive and forward-thinking state like California is taking steps to help address these issues by starting to enforce a MIPP specifically for housekeeping teams in hotels. The European legal framework also makes employers in its member states responsible for minimizing risks to workers’ safety and health, encouraging the improvement of good working conditions. However, the requirements don’t relate directly to musculoskeletal injury prevention on a granular level for specific roles. With new economic data putting the California economy at 2,747 trillion dollars, making it the 5th biggest economy in the world all by itself, the new law is gathering a lot of attention and will set the standard going forth for other countries worldwide.
What is important to remember, is that everything can only be made possible and successful with the input from all relevant stakeholders along the way. Cal/OSHA’s Board shares the following statement on the new standard: “Employee involvement will improve the implementation of the recommendations and solutions and thus increase the effectiveness of the prevention program. These requirements should reduce the number of serious musculoskeletal injuries suffered by housekeeping employees, and in turn should reduce the fiscal losses due to work absence, staff replacement, workers’ compensation, and possibly other legal costs.”