California has ratified a new law requiring specific training of housekeepers to help prevent the onset of musculoskeletal injuries as well as instructions on proper use of hazardous chemicals.
For years now, I’ve extolled the members of the housekeeping department, more often than not representing the heart of any hotel’s operations. For what is a hotel at its core but a clean room to rest your head?
A housekeeper’s job has never been easy, requiring a team to perform physically demanding work with often-hazardous cleansers all while under the guise of a time-sensitive, credit-based system. And the daily rigors have only gotten harder as the years march on, with increasing cleaning requirements as new features are added to the room, heavier equipment and more chemical products used. The end result has been the creation of a stressful work environment with a high disposition for chronic injuries.
Putting the housekeepers aside and thinking of only the hotel for a moment, an unhappy team can cause a serious disruption to the bottom line. A stressful environment means low morale, which in turn means lower employee retention, the incursion of staffing issues and the need for extra time devoted to onboarding new team members. Moreover, short-term disability leaves resulting from repetitive motion injuries (RMIs) or prolonged exposure to chemicals can also result in additional staffing problems, not to mention the possibility of insurance payouts.
Recognition of the benefits of proper and safe working conditions to both the team as well as the hotel is slowly sinking in, but the pressure to act in this case may first come from governmental pressure and not from any sort of corporate financial performance analysis.
California at the forefront
Following a series of comprehensive studies conducted around the world that reveal the true extent of this maltreatment, Californian legislators have rallied to become the first state to ratify a new law to protect the rights of housekeepers with all hotels now required to develop programs that mitigate the specific hazards of this line of work.
All properties in the Golden State have until 1 October to implement their new housekeeper-centric health and safety programs. These new programs must be specifically designed to help reduce the onset of bodily injuries through proper training for all employees, and all training must be recorded for the government to give its stamp of approval. Moreover, these regulations apply to outsourced labor—anyone who works on-property.
As you well know, time flies when you are a hotelier and autumn will be at your doorstep before you even have time to catch your breath. Moreover, this new law comes with some hefty fines, ranging from roughly $13,000 per incident for first-time offenders to $130,000 for willful or repeated violations. Hence, it’s important that you understand the requirements of these new regulations and what you can do to boost compliance.
First and most obvious is the creation of a more rigid and pervasive reporting structure for all occupational injuries and illnesses as well as a more inclusive system of communication where housekeepers feel free to share their concerns and their personal experiences. In line with this, accurate documentation of all steps taken to prevent on-site ailments is also mandatory, as auditing will be carried out by the California branch of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The crown jewel of this new legislation, though, is the setup and enforcement of a musculoskeletal injury prevention program (MIPP). Starting with periodic evaluations of any potential on-site risks, hotels are then required to develop a program with input from housekeepers and union representatives that actively works to correct the dangers posed.
The core of a property’s newly minted MIPP comes in the form of extensive training of both the room attendants along with their supervisors. Conducted in a language that the worker readily understands, everyone must now be educated and intermittently updated on the risk factors and symptoms of workplace injuries. Greater still, housekeepers must be annually trained on proper ergonomic movements to help prevent RMIs as well as the safe use of all equipment and cleansers.
Coming to a state near you
The plight of the housekeeper is hardly a unique challenge to California. As hotels throughout the United States continue to upgrade their rooms in order to improve the guest experience, the physical requirements for cleaning will only increase. Mattresses are thicker than ever, pushcarts are heavier and the growing variety of different surfaces to clean often means more chemicals deployed.
Then there are the issues of under-reporting and a mature workforce, both of which might accelerate adoption of similar regulations in other states. For the former, ignoring or pushing through a minor injury—likely because the employee doesn’t want to stir the pot out of fear for his or her job—could lead to a more serious sprain in the long run, which will ultimately boost regional workplace injury statistics to further support for new regulations. Add to that the latter whereby younger generations are not largely encouraged to join the housekeeping department and the aging team that remains is more predisposed to injuries in the first place.
Now that the initial work has been compiled by the labor unions to both gather all the necessary data to conclusively show some of the harmful instances confronted by housekeepers on a daily basis and render those findings into law, it will be significantly easier for other states to follow in kind. No matter the territory, housekeepers account for not only the largest staffing contingent in a hotel but also the highest occurrence of RMI claims—at a disproportional rate relative to their numbers mind you.
So, what can you do? As a start, you should monitor how events unfold in California very closely over the next several months in addition to any petitions put forward closer to home. From there, it would be prudent to investigate your options and put in place your own MIPP equivalent as the benefits to your bottom line from having a healthier, safer workplace are clearer now than ever before.
One of the world’s most published writers in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry is also on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology. His work includes four books “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012), “Llamas Rule” (2013), “Hotel Llama” (2015), and “The Llama is Inn” (2017). You can reach Larry at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss hotel business challenges or to book speaking engagements.
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