Depending on the position, hotel employees are vulnerable to a wide range of potential injuries or safety concerns, but Harold Hacker, real property administrator, VP at Able Services, a provider of janitorial and engineering solutions, said all accidents are a result of three key causes:
- An employee was not properly trained for a task,
- An employee was not assigned proper equipment such as gloves, glasses, etc., or
- An employee was not following proper procedures.
Because housekeepers inhabit the position most at risk for injury due to the frequent contortions these employees endure as they flip a guestroom and then lug heavy carts from hall to hall, Hacker said his group recommends hotel operators permit a five to 10-minute stretch period before work starts for housekeeping employees to prepare for their shift.
“These are soft-tissue injuries,” Hacker said. “Pulled backs and strained shoulders are common. Bedding is also thicker and heavier than it used to be, and is only getting bigger.”
David Quezada, VP, loss control at small business workers compensation insurance company Employers, said strains caused by overexertion are the No. 1 most commonly reported claims for injury in hospitality. For this reason, Quezada said operators should host weekly safety meetings, establish a workplace safety program and carry out ongoing training.
Most of all, Quezada said it is never within a hotel’s best interest to wait before submitting a claim for injury.
“The bottom line is, when a claim does have to be filed, getting involved quickly can help drive down the cost for operators, sometimes by as much as 30 percent,” he said.
Behind housekeeping in the hierarchy of safety concerns, according to Quezada, is kitchen staff. Burns from hot liquids, cuts from sharp knives and slips caused by errant spills are all a part of the job, but they don’t have to be. Quezada said tools are available to help address safety concerns in the kitchen, such as Kevlar gloves for staff who are tasked with cutting large volumes of meat.
In fact, Quezada said if operators do just one thing, he recommends they put some research into the gloves available for hand protection throughout hospitality.
“I encourage research into glove technology for the type of exposure your employees are faced with, and there are gloves out there for anything you do,” he said. “Chemicals, kitchen use, grip, it’s all there.”
Hacker highlighted the safety concerns faced by maintenance workers. These workers are tasked with performing preventative maintenance on boilers, chillers, cooling towers and more, and often end up in confined spaces with a variety of electrical and chemical hazards, as well as high-temperature equipment and even great heights.
“People underestimate the affect of LEDs on maintenance workers,” Hacker said. “LEDs average 50,000 hours in their life cycle; that means less time high up changing out the lamps, and the potential for injury has been reduced.”
Hacker said operators should work with employees so they understand Occupational Safety and Health Administration 1910 compliance codes, incorporating video-based training and biweekly testing.
“When managers undertake 30-hour OSHA training, that is a key thing that helps change employee culture,” Hacker said. “It shows employees we really care and want to train.”
Safe Employees, Safe Guests
Operators may have some control over employee health and preventative safety, but in the result of a belligerent guest or even another employee the rules begin to change.
Hacker said the greatest external risk to employee safety is altercations with the general public that then escalate into violence. For this reason, he recommends frequent staff training to allow workers to be cognizant of their surroundings and identify abnormal behavior in guests and other employees before reporting it to security.
“We tell our staff if there is any kind of altercation, do not put yourself in harm’s way,” Hacker said. “Talk to the guest in a soft tone and do not be confrontational in any way. A disgruntled guest is a risk to other guests and employees, and this approach will minimize the risk of irrational decisions being made.”
The types of “abnormal behavior” Hacker is referring to are easy to spot. Loud, abusive verbal comments; slurred speech patterns; and staggering are three of the most frequent characteristics of an individual likely to start or become involved in an altercation. Just spotting abnormal behavior isn’t enough, though, because violent altercations often result in lawsuits or insurance claims being filed for injuries or property damage. Having a system on hand to record the event is advisable.
Hedgie Bartol, business development manager at network camera manufacturer Axis Communication, said hotels are infrequent targets for robberies, but having a camera on hand for proof when dealing with disgruntled or irate guests is almost always worth the investment. Because of this, the key areas for surveillance equipment to be installed are the lobby area, dining areas, side entrances, rear entrances, back hallways and stairwells.
“Security surveillance is tricky in hospitality because you have to respect guest privacy,” Bartol said. “Because of this, critical areas can go unseen in some properties but they are very important. If you have a pool area, make sure that is well surveyed as well.”
While guestrooms, bathrooms and locker rooms are most definitely off limits for camera installation, elevators are excellent candidates but can require some creativity to get the best view. “Hotels have to be aware of the views they have access to because in order for surveillance equipment to be effective you need to be able to verify and validate what your camera is seeing,” Bartol said. “I don’t recommend cutting corners here. Guest and employee safety go hand in hand.”