Laundry may indeed be a mundane task to many but there is no room for complacency, even when the safest state-of-the-art commercial laundry equipment is available. Laundry work can actually be more dangerous than people allow themselves to believe. Hazards range from handling laundry that has been contaminated with dangerous chemicals or biological substances to the risk of injury from tripping, slipping or carrying heavy loads.
The following health and safety tips are intended for laundry workers in any commercial situation to read and adopt.
Know Who to Call for Help
- Laundry staff should undergo induction before being allowed to work in a laundry environment. Part of this training should include knowing who to call for help should a hazardous event occur.
- Post emergency contacts in full view in the laundry area. This includes 000, the Poisons Information Centre (13 11 26) and the emergency phone numbers of your products’ manufacturers.
- Always read and comprehend MSDSs (Material Safety Data Sheets). Supervisors should provide these to staff upon employment in a laundry setting and have them read and sign to indicate comprehension.
- Keep user manuals and other documentation within easy reach so that laundry staff can refer to them as necessary.
- Always follow manufacturers’ instructions.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn at all times. This may include designated uniforms, gloves, safety glasses and steel-capped boots.
- Shoes must have feature a non-slip sole due to the potential for spills of water and detergents.
- Laundry sorting can expose employees to physical hazards and contamination. Gloves should be mandatory if workers are expected to come into contact with needles, scalpels and other sharps that may have been inadvertently mixed in with soiled linens.
- Urine, blood, saliva and other bodily fluids represent another physical hazard for which gloves should be mandatory because contamination with blood borne pathogens is a real risk.
- Heat exposure can be a problem in commercial laundries due to the presence of hot water pipes, hot machine surfaces, ironers and so on. Guards should be installed where necessary and workers should be advised to wear clothing made from lightweight, non-synthetic fabrics. Extra breaks are advised for workers operating in high heat, and they should consume around one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes.
- Laundry workers may suffer injuries from heavy lifting unless the appropriate equipment is provided. Conveyor systems and spring-bottomed carts are recommended, or larger loads can be broken down into smaller loads.
- Commercial laundry machines – however new, high quality or well-maintained – can represent physical hazards to staff. They feature moving parts including hinges, spinners, door closures and electrical connections. Regular professional servicing will help to avoid the risk of failure but staff should also be instructed on the correct operation protocols for every machine.
- Laundry products of all kinds should be stored in their original containers to avoid problems with identification.
- All containers must be securely closed after use.
- Spills of laundry products must be cleaned up immediately. Staff should immediately wash their hands after handling spilled product.
- According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, industrial laundry workers may be vulnerable to exposure to ethylene glycol, benzene and other hazardous chemicals. Gloves are one line of defence however respiratory masks are also recommended to prevent injurious inhalation and safety goggles to protect the eyes.
- Consider using one third to one half less of laundry products. Studies have shown that often, too much is used. This creates waste, is a burden on the environment and can also cause damage to washing machines which could lead to the proliferation of mildew and mould.
- Investigate the possibility of using environmentally friendly laundry care products. These are less toxic to humans and the environment.