CHICAGO — Working in a laundry isn’t in the Top 10 list of most dangerous U.S. occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but that doesn’t mean the job doesn’t have its share of danger or risk.
While rare, laundry-related fatalities grab the headlines. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed $2.78 million in penalties against Cintas Corp. following the March 2007 death of a worker who fell into a dryer while clearing a jam of wet laundry.
Most recently, two men were found dead at a New Jersey drycleaning plant on Dec. 1. Toxic fumes overcame them while they cleaned an industrial-sized tank.
Even as they perform their myriad duties, laundry workers must be acutely aware of the potential hazards around them: heavy machinery, electricity, moving parts, heat, pinch points, chemicals, wet floors, hazardous materials found in soiled linen and more.
It’s an employer’s responsibility to maintain a safe work environment, but to whom do managers look for support in this effort?
Trade associations make safety a priority in their programs, and vendors incorporate it in their product development and marketing.
Safety is of great importance to the Educational Affairs Committee of the Association for Linen Management (ALM), which describes itself as “the premier educational source for people and organizations that purchase, process, distribute and manage the use of linens and other textile products,” says its director of academic affairs, Linda Fairbanks.
The committee has directed that at least one of ALM’s audio conferences each year deal with safety, Fairbanks says. ALM’s American Laundry and Linen College at Eastern Kentucky University offers two four-hour courses on safety each session.
This year, ALM plans to host a new, two-day educational program focusing on OSHA safety requirements for laundries. It’s to be offered at three sites yet to be determined throughout the United States.
“It’s going to be an OSHA-approved training course,” Fairbanks says. “You will receive a certification from OSHA.”
She hopes to formally announce ALM’s plans by Feb. 1.
Several years ago, the Textile Care Allied Trades Association (TCATA) – an international trade association that represents manufacturers and distributors of laundry and drycleaning equipment and supplies – saw a chance to make laundries safer.
It developed a series of English- and Spanish-language equipment safety labels designed to more clearly inform operators of the hazards inherent with the heavy machinery found in laundries. The labels are free to TCATA member companies.
“We had been hearing from some members that they thought they could do a better job of helping their customers foster a safe workplace by having uniform warning labels opposed to kind of a mishmash,” explains David Cotter, TCATA’s chief executive officer.
A committee of industry professionals sought the counsel of experts, including an attorney familiar with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the input of other machinery manufacturers in developing the labels that warn operators of moving parts and electrical, crush and burn hazards.
TCATA provides another important function in industrial safety as an ANSI member and accredited standards developer.
In 2006, TCATA released an updated ANSI Z8.1, Safety Requirements for Commercial Laundry and Drycleaning Equipment and Operations, which details safety requirements for design and operation of equipment such as washers, flatwork finishers and presses.
TCATA’s goal is to update the voluntary standard again in 2011 and hopes to begin work on it this year.
“From the manufacturing side, we think we’re doing everything possible to do our part, which is to design out all possible hazards and sell to the operator a machine that is as safe as possible,” Cotter says.
The Uniform & Textile Service Association (UTSA) and the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA), which represent member textile rental, supply and service companies, each maintain plant operations committees.
UTSA’s Plant Operations Conference this month and TRSA’s Tech/Plant Summit next month will include educational sessions involving safety topics.
PUTTING OUT THE FIRES
When looking at the various equipment and supplies used in the laundry industry, fire is a potential hazard for which many products have been developed.
McClure Industries, for example, markets a line of laundry carts made from fire-retardant materials and offers test results in support of its carts’ safety performance.
Hot Bags offers what it’s calling the first fire-resistant laundry bag, designed to prevent spontaneous combustion from oily rags. The lined bag prevents property damage, and its use may result in lower insurance premiums, the company says.
American Dryer Corp. (ADC), Pellerin Milnor Corp. and the Alliance Laundry Systems brands all offer dryers featuring a fire suppression system. When a sensor detects high heat or fire inside the drum, the machine activates a water jet to extinguish the flames.
Lint buildup on equipment and along beams and ceilings represents a significant safety concern for the laundry industry. Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES) has developed a powerful fan with mounted and portable versions that blows down this combustible nuisance. Not only is a plant cleaner, it might warrant lower insurance rates, IES says.
These are, of course, only select examples of what’s available. A curious manager need only look to industry publications or to the Internet for many more instances of manufacturers and suppliers seeking to keep the laundry industry safe and its workers out of the headlines.