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The Evolution of Linen and Laundry

By Jeff Welles, Vice President of InvoTech Systems

Laundry operations are going high-tech with new UHF-RFID systems. A growing number of businesses are cutting labor costs, maintaining accurate item counts, and verifying pickup and delivery totals with advanced, affordable software and hardware.

Driving the exploding adoption of laundry technology are durable, affordable UHF-RFID (ultra-high frequency radio frequency identification) laundry tags, electronic scanners, and software. These systems identify, record, and invoice entire carts of linens and uniforms in seconds to increase operational efficiency, reduce labor, and boost bottom lines. But, when did this start and where is it going?

Until about 10 years ago laundry businesses relied on labor-intensive hand sorting, counting and recordkeeping. Laundry processing was often done by weight, and inventories and billing reflected inaccuracies requiring corrections that strained client relationships.

In 2003 a small number of laundry and uniform company pioneers began using high-frequency (HF) RFID chips in garments. Early HF chips were scanned by an ntenna that 'read' each uniform as it passed the antenna/ The read-range of HF technology was only about 2 feet, which was acceptable for processing uniforms on racks, but transformed laundry and uniform operations came in 2010 with the introduction of affordable, durable UHF-RFID tags and tracking software. The new generation of UHF-RFID tags had a read-range of 6+ feet and could withstand over 200 industrial wash cycles. Entire carts of soiled items could be identified and recorded instantly as they passed under antennas. Since labor is often the largest laundry expense, companies that implemented UHF-RFID systems saw expenses fall. Operators saw the ROI on UHF-RFID systems drop to less than a year thanks to lower labor expenses and accurate automated reporting and invoicing. 

Each UHF-RFID tag carried a item's complete identification and history. Where and when purchased, its cost, if and when it was repaird, and how many wash cycles it had. Accurate wash-cycle tracking let operators accurately forecast and budget for replacement. Further, many businesses such as medical centers and clean-room companies must replace linens and uniforms after a specific number of washings. UHF-RFID systems accurately priovide this information. The advanced software that supports UHF-RFID hardware automatically creates invoices, inventory reporting, shipment tracking, and verifies pickup and delivery totals. It also keeps accurate records for each client that eliminates accounting errors.

The future of UHF-RFID laundry technology is small, wireless, and global.

The newest UHF-RFID scanners are wireless. These lightweight, handheld tools read and instantly commnicate item counts over a company;s Wi-Fi network to update inventories in real time. Imagine scanning and inventorying a linen storeroom in 30 seconds, or a warehouse in minutes. Handheld wireless UHF-RFID readers are carried into trucks and used on loading docks for accurate item counts and billing.

Software providers continue to innovate solutions and now offer familiar touch screen controls in multiple languages like Spanish and Mandarin. UHF-RFID is not just for US cities. Today these advanced laundry systems are used in businesses from Australia to Shanghai and from the Philippines, Morocco, and Seoul to New York City. The bottom line for the future of laundry UHF-RFID is lower operating costs, better client communications, and stronger long term customer relationships.

Top Ten Laundry ID System Needs

 When you work in an industry that requires keeping an inventory of goods, you know what a nightmare it becomes when you don’t get the results you need. Laundry identification is everything. Whether you work with a nursing home, university, professional sports team, correctional facility, hospital, cruise line, or an amusement park, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The top complaint among staff and the people wearing the clothing is usually lost or stolen clothes. Laundry markers may seem like the simple solution but with wash after wash, those efforts fade and become difficult to decipher, and eventually non-existent. You’ll find yourself re-marking laundry after every few washes to make this effort work. The wrong identification method can even result in forcing too many items into a laundry bag just to stay organized, creating a wadded up wrinkled mess and longer drying times. When you decide it’s time to put down the marker and get serious, there are some things you need to know before you purchase a laundry identification system. 

  1. There is a dignified cost-effective way to identify apparel...and that is a system with a label printer that is completely portable and does not require the use of a computer. This offers important advantages. When the system is mobile, it’s always at your fingertips so that you can conveniently print 1 or even 100 labels with no waste and staff will never have a reason to grab a marker instead!
     
  2. Choose a label that you can apply to ALL clothes so you don’t have to avoid delicate items to prevent burning them. A low heat application label will help ensure everything gets labeled, even a pair of Ted Hose. 

  3. Look for a label that is guaranteed to stay on for the life of the clothes, or at least 300 industrial washes. 

  4. The label needs to be soft on skin—never fraying, or getting hard, crunchy and uncomfortable. 

  5. Labels need to be thin enough in the event you need to put one, or several labels, right over the top of the existing label. 

  6. A laundry identification system needs to be simple to use, so anyone can use it. One-on-one training for the right system shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. And make sure you have easy access to friendly and helpful customer service if and when questions arise. 

  7. Insist on getting the best warranty in the industry. 

  8. Consider cartridge prices along with the entire system—the entire package needs to save your company more time and money than alternatives. 

  9. Select a system that allows you to print names, bar codes, or both— with or without a computer. 

  10. If you have the opportunity to purchase a system with a heat press, look for a quality heat press made and manufactured

ALM and ARTA Join Forces

MISSION, KS. — The Association for Linen Management (ALM) and the American Reusable Textile Association (ARTA) have joined forces to combat the issue of healthcare linens disposed of as Red Bag waste. Their method? Education, PR and some assistance from OSHA.

THE RED BAG WASTE CHALLENGE

Healthcare laundry operators estimate that over the course of year, as much as 25 percent of their linen that is saturated with blood or bodily waste is disposed of as Red Bag Waste. A recent survey of 200 nurses and healthcare professionals at five healthcare systems in the U.S. revealed that 95 percent have recently disposed of at least one item as Red Bag waste — even though linen is reusable, not waste!

WHAT OSHA SAYS

OSHA regulations require that any linen saturated with blood or bodily waste be placed in impermeable soiled linen bags. So, why are clients throwing it away as Red Bag waste? Essentially, they are paying twice: paying to replace the linen, and paying 18 to 33 cents per pound to dispose of it as Red Bag waste. 

It’s a complex issue, but basically many waste haulers and hospital administrators train hospital staff to dispose of bloody or saturated linen as Red Bag waste. For waste haulers, it’s extra revenue. For hospitals, it’s lack of education on OSHA regulations and risk management liability concerns.

THE START OF A SOLUTION

The two associations have requested that OSHA review the problem of Red Bag waste and issue a Statement of Intent. This Statement of Intent would clarify and affirm OSHA’s regulations on the proper handling of saturated linen. ALM’s Executive Director Linda Fairbanks has been successful in working with the State of Kentucky OSHA to secure this statement. The request for review has now been sent to Federal OSHA. The effort is progressing and both groups hope for a response from OSHA later this summer.

In addition, both groups plan to develop and share education materials with laundry operators to help them train and educate their clients on the correct method for handling linen saturated with bodily wastes. ARTA now has a tip sheet on Linen Management and on Reducing Linen Losses, as well as three posters that members or nonmembers can post at client locations. The groups will also create a PR campaign to create awareness around the issue and the potential for cost reductions if hospital policies comply with OSHA regulations. “When we realized that both of our organizations were working on this issue, we decided to join forces,” said Fairbanks. “This is a huge issue,” says ARTA President Ed McCauley, “and it makes good sense to combine our efforts.”

Clean Show Expands to Four-Day Format

 ATLANTA, Ga. — Clean 2015 in Atlanta will expand to a four-day show. Dates are Thursday-Sunday, April 16-19, in the Georgia World Congress Center. The longer show format will afford attendees more time to explore the exhibits, attend added educational sessions and network with industry peers. After reviewing post-show surveys and gathering feedback from exhibitors and attendees, the Clean Executive Committee (CEC) made the decision to extend the show to a fourth day. 

“The positive feedback we’ve received on Clean 2013 has been overwhelming. In visiting with exhibitors, attendees and the show partners, it was clear that the best way to build upon that success was to add a day to the schedule. Clean 2015 will run four days, which will give all involved even more opportunity to gain the most value from our industry’s premier tradeshow event,” stated CEC Chair Brian Wallace. “People are going to be pleasantly surprised at how much Atlanta has changed since the Clean Show was last held in the city in 1987. It is a major destination with so much to see and do,” said John Riddle, the show’s manager. 

The World Educational Congress for Laundering and Drycleaning, the show’s formal name, attracts every facet of textile care and textile rental services — retail, commercial, coin/ card, institutional, and industrial laundering and drycleaning. It is the world’s largest exhibition of textile care products featuring working equipment. A successful Clean 2013 drew 10,300 people from all 50 states, including 1,663 from 83 other countries. Clean 2015’s sponsoring associations are Association for Linen Management, Coin Laundry Association, Drycleaning & Laundry Institute, Textile Care Allied Trades Association and Textile Rental Services Association of America. For more information about Clean 2015, visit its website at www. cleanshow.com, or contact show management, Riddle & Associates, 3098 Piedmont Road NE, Suite 350, Atlanta, GA 30305 phone 404-876- 1988, fax 404-876-5121, email info@ cleanshow.com

LAUNDRY WORKERS FIGHT To Keep Jobs in Hempstead

NEW YORK — Industrial laundry workers, who wash linen for New York metro area hospitals, such as NYU Medical Center and St. Johns Hospital, are fighting to keep their jobs and maintain fair wages and benefits, according to Workers United/SEIU.

Angelica Workers were joined by Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU leaders, Executive Director of the Long Island Federation of Labor, Richard Clemens, Executive Director of Long Island Jobs with Justice, Charlene Obernauer and staff from Hempstead Mayor Hill’s office to call attention to the possible loss of 165 good jobs from the City of Hempstead.

“Laundry workers in the New York Metro Area have fought long and hard to raise standards in an industry that is still plagued with sweatshop conditions, “ said Albert Arroyo, Secretary/ Treasurer of the Laundry, Distribution, Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU, “We cannot go backwards and turn laundry jobs into poverty level jobs again.”

Angelica Corp, an Atlanta based healthcare launderer, notified the 165 workers at their Hempstead facility that the corporation is selling the plant to Plainview, New York based FDR Services Corp. However, FDR is demanding workers take a 15% pay cut or the company will not buy the facility resulting in the loss of 165 good jobs. A majority of workers at the laundry plant make between $9 and $12 an hour. Over a third of the workforce has worked at the plant for 20 years or more and 77% of the workforce has been there for 10 years or more, according to Workers United / SEIU.

“I have worked at this plant since 1998 and I make $10.98 an hour,” said Angelica laundry worker Adela Alberto, “It is a fair wage for the hard work we do washing, folding and mending soiled hospital linen. If my wages were slashed by 15% I would have a hard time making ends meet. We welcome FDR, but not at such a high cost”

The workers who process the linen and deliver it to area healthcare facilities are represented by the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/ SEIU and have free healthcare, a pension and other important benefits and protections.

The Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU represents nearly 70% of all industrial laundry workers in the New York Metro area. In August laundry workers at JVK Operations in Long Island voted to join the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/ SEIU and the Joint Board continues to organize the remaining laundries in the New York Metro area in order to bring all laundry workers up to the standards of their membership.

Quick Rinse - News From Around The World

Man Freed From Laundry Machine

ENGLAND — Firefighters freed a man trapped in a laundry after he tried to pull some sheets that were stuck from a folding machine. The machine had not been turned off when he began trying the free the sheets. The employee’s arm became trapped in the machine but the firefighters worked quickly cutting the machine’s belt to free the man. He was rushed to the hospital where he was stabilized.