Hospitality Workers and On the Job Injuries
Providing Service Can Be Back-Breaking Work
The main focus of the hospitality industry is customer satisfaction. Unlike many other industries that also aim to keep the customer satisfied, this industry, for the most part, centers around the customer’s disposable income and leisure time—the wants as opposed to the needs. So, the pressure is on, and it can impact the lives of these workers in a variety of ways.
Consider the job of a hotel housekeeper. For the past decade, hotels have upped their amenities game in a competition to attract patrons. According to the New York Times, “It’s a competition in which the nation’s premier hotels are trying to have their accommodations resemble royal bedrooms. Super thick mattresses, plush duvets and decorative bed skirts have been added, and five pillows rather than the pedestrian three now rest on a king-size bed.”
That king-size bed weighs about 100 pounds. When you consider lifting 100 pounds to accommodate fitted sheets 15 to 20 times a day, which is the average number of rooms a housekeeper is expected to clean per shift, you can imagine the toll it takes on a body. And that doesn’t take into consideration the other beds that need attending to; estimates are that four to five hours are spent on beds alone. Other tasks include carrying heavy linens, pushing and pulling carts, kneeling, stooping and climbing to clean bathroom floors, tubs and showers.
Among the most common injuries for hotel housekeepers are:
- Musculoskeletal disorders involving the joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves, tendons, neck and back.
- Acute trauma, such as contusions, fractures, lacerations, burns and strains/sprains.
- Chemical exposure.
- Stress due to anything from increased work load and time limitations to sexual harassment/assault.
These injuries are on a major scale. Consider the following statistics from the American Journal of Industrial Medicine regarding the hotel housekeepers they surveyed:
- Forty-seven percent had severe or very severe bodily pain in the last month.
- Eighty-four percent took pain medication during the last month for pain they had at work.
- Seventy-eight percent experienced pain in the last year caused or made worse by their work.
Effective risk management protocol must be in place to reduce the severity and pervasive nature of these injuries. To that end, Ohio State University’s Institute for Ergonomics, with sponsorship from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, developed alternative work methods that make the job of housekeeper easier. These include:
- Store heaviest or most-used items between the hips and chest.
- Push the cart using both hands.
- Empty trash from the cart as often as possible.
- Replenish the cart a few times over the shift to minimize the load.
- Reduce the force needed to push the vacuum by emptying the bag on a regular basis and choosing the proper height setting for carpet conditions.
- Line up your body with the path of the vacuum to limit twisting the back.
- Alternate vacuuming between the right and left hands.
- Minimize reaching and lessen shoulder stress by standing inside the bathtub to clean the wall tile, as long as there is no risk of slipping.
- Keep dirty towels off the floor as much as possible to limit bending.
- Don’t carry heavy, wet towels; make smaller piles to reduce stress on the back and shoulders.
- Do work at waist level as much as possible to reduce bending.
- Alternate arms when cleaning surfaces.
Effective risk management protocol is also imperative for those who work in restaurants. The bar, kitchen and dining floor can pose many risks, particularly when workers are striving to provide top-quality service. The most common injuries for these workers stem from burns, lifting and falls. Here’s a more in-depth look into what restaurant workers face:
- Musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and low back pain, are related to many of the duties of the kitchen crew, from cooks to dishwashers. In addition, wait staff is constantly twisting, reaching and lifting.
- Ergonomic hazards include working in unnatural or awkward positions and standing for long periods of time.
- Slips, trips and falls result from wet and slippery floors, either from water or food spills.
- Burns can be caused by hot surfaces, steam, deep fryers and hot grease.
- Cuts and lacerations stem from using knives incorrectly or by using machines with no guards or guards that malfunction.
- Chemical exposure can result from using or being around compounds used to clean and disinfect.
- Assault—workers who handle cash are at risk of workplace violence.
Minimizing such hazardous conditions is key to keeping restaurants employees healthy and on the job. Consider the following:
- Avoid loose clothing, and keep sleeves buttoned.
- Set pot handles away from burners and never place them over the edge of the stove.
- Don’t leave hot oil or grease unattended.
- Don’t move a heavy pot of hot liquid without help from someone else.
- Use splash guards on fryers, and fill fryers only halfway.
- When working with fryers, use protective gear, including hot pads, potholders, gloves or mitts.
Cuts and Lacerations
- Use knives that are the right size and suited to the job.
- Use box cutters when opening boxes.
- Never trying to catch a falling knife.
- Tuck fingers on the hand that’s holding the food while cutting.
- Don’t leave knives soaking in water.
- When cleaning a slicer blade, make sure the power is off, and wipe from the center hub to the edge.
- Always use a push stick to feed a meat grinder; never place fingers in the feed openings.
Sprains, Strains, Slips and Falls
- Utilize proper lifting techniques—lift with the knees, not the back, and keep the load close to the body.
- Wear appropriate footwear.
- Vary repetitive tasks.
- Clean spills immediately and place appropriate warning signs.
- Keep aisles and passageways clear, and remove any tripping hazards such as cords or hoses.
Accidents happen even when the most proactive steps are taken to prevent them. It is imperative that workers understand the full range of benefits they are entitled to should they get injured on the job. A knowledgeable, experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney cannot only explain these benefits but also help ensure the injured worker receives them.
From Our Files
- We represented a restaurant worker who was undocumented. She worked for a famous fast food chain, and sustained an upper extremity injury while lifting boxes. She reported the injury to her employer and was told that because she was undocumented she could not file a work injury claim. This is not true: undocumented workers who are injured on the job are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The doctor that examined our client wrote a report that addressed the cause of work injury. We subsequently filed for a hearing to address the injury claim before the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB), during which the employer conceded and agreed to provide workers’ compensation benefits. The employer never raised the applicant’s immigration status at the hearing.
- A restaurant worker we represented suffered injuries to his back, knees and feet as a result of repetitive lifting, walking, standing and bending over a period of 10 years. The employee never reported the injuries to the employer for fear of retaliation, but sought medical treatment for his injuries from his family doctor. The employee was subsequently laid off. He filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits but the employer denied the claim, stating that the employee never reported the injury until after his lay-off. During a hearing before the WCAB, the employer agreed to use an Agreed Medical Examiner (AME) to address all the issues, including the cause of injury. Because of the AME’s findings, the employer agreed to provide workers’ compensation benefits.
- We represented a housekeeper who injured her right shoulder by tripping on a vacuum cleaner cord. She reported the injury and was seen once by an employer clinic physician who stated that the worker made a full recovery and there was no need for additional treatment. However, the injured worker remained symptomatic and because she kept performing her usual and customary job duties, she began to experience neck symptoms. The employer returned her to the same clinic and was again told there was nothing wrong with her. We sent her for medical treatment with a different doctor who recommended an MRI of the right shoulder, which revealed a rotator cuff tear that required surgery. We were successful in getting the employer to authorize the surgery, which was successful. Our client’s symptoms improved significantly, and we secured a medical award for her shoulder and neck.
- A young housekeeper injured her neck and back while lifting a heavy mattress. She reported the injury to the employer, who denied the claim because three years prior the applicant suffered a work injury to the same body parts. A final medical report corroborated this. The injured worker maintained that she had made a full recovery from the prior claim. We requested a state panel doctor who found that the applicant suffered a new injury while lifting the mattress, but laid partial blame on the old injury. However, upon questioning the doctor, we were able to convince him to reverse his opinion, thus finding 100 percent of the applicant’s neck and back symptoms were related to the lifting of the heavy mattress. This helped increase the permanent impairment value for the applicant.
Keep in mind that because Workers’ Compensation is a no-fault system, an injured worker is not suing his or her employer, but rather making a claim for benefits. And, because each claim is different, with many variables involved, results cannot be guaranteed.