Angelica Textile Services employs approximately 430 workers in the laundry industry. According to MassCOSH, laundry work may entail dangerous tasks that can include handling soiled laundry that includes biological materials or needles; exposure to heat from drying and other operations; material handling hazards from pushing heavy carts or lifting heavy laundry; repetitive motion tasks; exposure to chemicals; and more. Without proper safety precautions, laundry workers may risk injury and illness from their duties.
The MassCOSH survey revealed that Angelica workers reported exposure to various health or safety hazards. Responses also indicated that employees faced a “hostile working environment that fosters intimidation and fear about speaking up about unsafe working conditions,” the report stated.
“Employees of Angelica Textile Services are being injured on the job at an alarming rate,” the report stated. “Workers have sustained musculoskeletal injuries from performing demanding laundry tasks, including awkward postures loading and unloading machines; force and strain moving and dumping heavy laundry carts, repetitive motions required for operating machines such as the ironer, and intensive hand folding and for loading carts. Workers in the soiled laundry/washing area report repeated exposures to chemicals, including bleach and ammonia, that are causing eye, nose and throat irritation.”
Production vs. Safety
According to the surveyed employees, safety and health concerns grew stronger as the company increased production quotas. One 20-year company veteran said, “They gave me a written warning because I do not perform at 100% of [the newly implemented] production [quotas]. I’m in pain, my joints hurt. And I’m very worried about my health.”
The survey reveals that this worker is not alone. In fact, 86 percent of surveyed employees reported health problems related to their work. Fifty-seven percent reported shoulder pain; 80 percent experienced either upper or lower back pain; 34 percent suffered wrist pain; and 29 percent reported neck pain. Workers also reported knee, foot, leg, elbow, ankle, hip and groin pain, as well as headaches and hand or arm pain.
MassCOSH offered the following recommendations to Angelica to ensure its workers are protected:
- Remove work quotas until work practices are studied and employees have a chance to rotate their types of work tasks;
- Launch a heat stress program that includes improved ventilation, air conditioning, access to drinking water, training and rest breaks;
- Offer health and safety training in languages workers understand;
- Prevent supervisors from retaliating against employees who address unsafe working conditions;
- Put into place a preventative maintenance program for machinery;
- Reduce laundry cart load weights;
- Ensure the bathrooms and cafeteria are sanitary;
- Inform employees of their rights regarding workers’ compensation and procedures to report injuries or illnesses;
- Offer adequate PPE to protect against needle punctures and bloodborne pathogen exposure;
- Take precautions to avoid chemical spills and provide adequate PPE against chemical exposure; and
- Supply better lighting in the facility’s final cleaning and packaging (SurgiPac) department.
To read the report, visit http://www.masscosh.org/node/722.