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Ergonomics In The Laundry / Linen Industry

On March 13, 2003 OSHA released the first in a series of industry-specific guidelines for the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) in the workplace.  These guidelines focus on practical recommendations for nursing homes. Nursing homes were a high priority for OSHA given that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports indicated nursing and personal care facilities ranked number one with the highest incidence rate of injury and illness from overexertion resulting in days away from work in 1994 (most recent data) for private sector industries.

Breakdown of 705,800 cases (32% of injuries reported) attributed to overexertion or repetitive motion

Reported injuries

Resulting from

 % affecting the back





Pushing or pulling objects



Holding, carrying or turning objects


Bureau of Labor Statistics Report above resulted in the median time away from work as 6 days for lifting; 7 days for pushing/pulling; and 6 days for holding/carrying/turning.

Facilities throughout the U.S. are currently struggling to address the high incidence of work related MSD’s, cumulative trauma disorders (CTD’s) and repetitive motion injuries in their work population. Back injuries alone account for nearly 50 percent of all workers compensation claims within the healthcare and hospitality industries.

Tasks involving manual handling activities are performed by workers in housekeeping, laundry, food service, and facility maintenance. These tasks require repetitive or sustained use of poorly designed hand held tools and equipment.

While the precise cost of occupational MSD’s is not known, estimates vary from $13 billion annually [NIOSH 1996] to $20 billion annually [AFL-CIO 1997]. Regardless, the problem is large both in health and economic terms.

At Citizens Memorial Health Care Facility in Bolivar, Missouri, establishment of an ergonomics component in the existing safety and health program was reportedly followed by a reduction in the number of OSHA-recordable lifting-related injuries of at least 45% during each of the next four years, when compared to the level of injuries prior to the ergonomics efforts. The number of lost workdays associated with lifting-related injuries was reported to be at least 55% lower than levels during each of the previous four years. Citizens Memorial reported that these reductions contributed to a direct savings of approximately $150,000 in workers’ compensation costs over a five-year period.

There is growing evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of ergonomic programs and interventions in all industries. Successful implementations of such plans depend on how well they are designed to link to and compliment goals of other facility programs, such as risk management and employee safety.

Ergonomics programs are systematic methods of preventing, evaluating, and managing work-related musculoskeletal disorders. The most successful ergonomics programs have the following four elements:

Worksite analysis -- a safety and health audit that identifies those jobs and workstations that are potential work-related musculoskeletal hazards, the risk factors that pose the hazards, and the causes of the identified risk factors.

Injury prevention and control -- eliminating or minimizing those identified risk factors that pose hazards determined in the worksite analysis. These adaptations can be performed by changing the jobs, workstations, tools or environment to fit the worker.

Medical management --
the effective utilization of health-care resources to prevent or manage work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

Training and education -- providing necessary information to give both workers and managers and understanding of the potential risk of injuries, their causes, symptoms, prevention and treatment.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) operates a toll free number to provide workers, employers, and organizations information about various workplace safety and health concerns.

In response to the widespread concern about work-related MSDs and with the knowledge that many workplaces have begun successful programs to control them, a wide variety of organizations have published ergonomics program manuals and primers. NIOSH publication No. 97-117 (a link to this publication is provided on the NAILM website
www.nlmnet.orgin the “Industry Issues & Updates” area) can be an excellent guideline for company’s concerned with ergonomic issues.

The primer is based on the extensive practical experience accumulated by NIOSH in conducting investigations in actual workplace settings. The seven elements of an effective program comprise a seven-step “pathway” for evaluating and addressing musculoskeletal concerns in an individual workplace. A brief summary of the steps are as follows:

  1. Looking for signs of a potential musculoskeletal problem in the workplace, such as frequent worker reports of aches and pains, or job tasks that require repetitive, forceful exertions.
  2. Showing management commitment in addressing possible problems and encouraging worker involvement in problem-solving activities.
  3. Offering training to expand management and worker ability to evaluate potential musculoskeletal problems.
  4. Gathering data to identify jobs or work conditions that are most problematic, using sources such as injury and illness logs, medical records, and job analyses.
  5. Identifying effective controls for tasks that pose a risk of musculoskeletal injury and evaluating these approaches once they have been instituted to see if they have reduced or eliminated the problem.
  6. Establishing health care management to emphasize the importance of early detection and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders for preventing impairment and disability.
  7. Minimizing risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders when planning new work processes and operations by building good design into the workplace is less costly than redesign or retrofit later

Acknowledgement: This article originally appeared in its entirety in the NLM Journal and was developed by Linda Freeman, NAILM Director of Academic Affairs in conjunction with NAILM member Peter W. Schuchardt, BSME. Schuchardt is President and founder of ERGOtech, Inc. since 2000. For the past three years he has developed battery powered ergonomically friendly product which can be seen at, or call toll free (877-374-6884.).

Quick Rinse - News From Around The World

Charged For A Fire That Killed 2 Firefighters

CHICAGO, Ill. — The owner of an abandoned laundry in which two firefighters died during a fatal fire was charged with criminal contempt because it was alleged that he ignored a court order to secure the laundry building and repair the roof which collapsed during the fire. In addition to the death of two firefighters, 15 other firefighters were injured when the roof collapsed.