Best practices for room attendants

As the pandemic finally begins to wane and millions of restriction-weary Americans start to schedule long-anticipated vacations, the hospitality industry stands poised for a strong recovery this summer. This reopening period will give many hotel housekeepers the opportunity to return to work for the first time in well over a year, and they will likely be accompanied by additional new hires joining their ranks. It is fair to expect that housekeeping staff members will be more prone to injuries if they have not been working, making it essential that hotels give extra consideration to keeping these workers safe during this transitional time.

Traditionally, when new hires join a hospitality industry team, training is typically very focused on overall hotel protocols as they relate to guest experience. New housekeepers generally receive training related to typical job tasks, but they are never really taught injury prevention best practices as they pertain to these tasks. Many times, “safety” training is included as part of the guestroom quality-assurance process. Most brands have specific standards that need to be followed when cleaning a room: placement of a coffee maker, bed linen corner tucks, TV remote control location, bathroom linen location and many other requirements. When training focuses around these items, things like lifting best practices may be taught, but how that relates to specific job practices may not. This is a lost opportunity. 

Proper Training Now will Prevent Injuries Later

In the world of hotels, room attendants typically represent the largest percentage of both accident frequency and severity when it comes to worker-related injuries. This is really not a surprise; their job responsibilities expose them to awkward postures, tool use, chemicals, continuous movement from guestroom to guestroom and numerous job tasks performed throughout the course of the day, and a lot can go wrong. Educating the housekeeping staff about safety fundamentals when engaging in work activity is a key strategy for mitigating risk. And there’s no better time to do this kind of training than when nearly everyone is acclimating at once.

Last summer, when the hospitality industry saw a temporary lift in occupancy levels, hotels brought staff back and hired new employees in a hurry, some providing little training in the rush to meet consumer demand. As a result, many saw an increase in injuries. While it’s easy to fall back on the “we’re so busy” excuse, it’s important for the industry to learn from past mistakes and ensure the same issues do not happen again. The bottom line is that devoting time to safety training now will ensure fewer injuries over the coming months. As housekeeping staff return, this is an optimal opportunity to provide task specific training, following a methodology that will keep employees safe. 

Best Practices for Room Attendant Safety 

COVID has resulted in many changes to housekeeping practices over the past year. Each hotel operator may respond in a different manner, but overall, multiple night stays do not receive housekeeping service at many properties; room attendants may provide fresh linens, but are not conducting stayover cleanings. As a result of detailed sanitization protocols, they are spending more time in rooms between guests and are more aware of items that need to be cleaned and in what manner.

The ideal training program will provide room attendants not only with information about new cleaning protocols, but also with the knowledge of how to safely perform these job tasks. This includes information on the nature of strains and sprains, the importance of promptly reporting injuries, best practices associated with housekeeping cart use, the bed linen change, bathroom cleaning, vacuuming, and tidying and tips to reduce the likelihood of awkward postures such as twisting or turning. Here are some key areas of safety focus to highlight:

  • In the linen closet or supply room, best practices begin with adequate lighting and easily accessible supplies. Heavy items should be stored between mid-thigh and chest level to avoid any excessive reaching or awkward postures.
  • The housekeeping cart should be in good operating condition, with well-organized stock and adequate room for all tools and supplies. Proper handling of the cart should be taught, including maintaining a clear line of sight and pushing rather than pulling the cart.
  • Best practices for bathroom cleaning begin at the doorway, where room attendants should be taught to turn on the lights and check the floor for dryness before entering. The use of personal protective equipment and specific task-related tools (i.e. scrubbers, telescoping poles, sponges) is essential, as is the safe use of cleaners. Avoiding awkward postures is also key, as is making sure not to step inside or on the side of the tub.
  • For changing bed linens, room attendants should ensure the floor area is free of luggage or obstruction and that bed linens are removed one corner at a time and moved along with pillow cases to an area that does not create a trip hazard. Once again, avoiding awkward postures is an important consideration for this task.
  • When it comes to tidying, including vacuuming, dusting and trash removal, room attendants should be taught to avoid excessive reaching while dusting wall art, mirrors, headboards, etc. They should take care to mind their positioning while vacuuming, including keeping the vacuum close to the body, lifting it with two hands and managing the cord to prevent a trip hazard.

Other Safety Considerations

Insurance is generally a top 3 expense for the hospitality industry, and mitigating claims is unquestionably an ongoing priority. As important as a strong training program may be, embracing a safety mindset involves a holistic approach to protecting people, property and guests. There is a significant world outside of worker injuries, and all aspects of safety should be considered and factored into training. COVID safety is an obvious area of focus right now, but don’t forget to consider fire safety and de-escalation training, among other concerns. As occupancy rates rise with summer here, and states ease restrictions and lift mask mandates, sensitivity training around social distancing and mask wearing will also be important. 

There’s never a bad time to implement a safety and awareness program, but with so many new and returning employees, this is a particularly important opportunity to evaluate and implement training protocols. Creating a safety culture that is supported by leadership and embraced by the entire staff will ensure accountability and give the message that management is concerned about employees and their safety. This is important not only for your bottom line, but also for employee retention because creating a culture of caring and support will help keep employees happy and wanting to be at work—this summer and hopefully for years to come. 

Glen O’Connor is SVP, technical services director, risk control, Sompo Global Risk Solutions.