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From experience

The case studies in this section are real incidents with real consequences for those involved. The case studies cover the main causes of injury and occupational ill health in the laundries and dry-cleaning industries and include:

Manual handling/musculoskeletal

Several laundry workers were suffering musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Their Work involved tipping laundry bags onto the floor for sorting then re-bagging, which meant them having to work in stooped positions. Washers were then loaded by hand and yet more bending pulling and twisting was involved in pulling washed, entangled loads out from carts. More awkward movements were used when feeding onto the calender and then when placing folded items into low level trolleys. The company were not recording MSD problems and had not carried out a risk assessment. An ergonomics specialist was brought in to advise, and changes were introduced including reducing double handling by improving work flow, introduction of sorting tables, improved trolleys, training for staff, and a conveyor system for loading of washers. Both production and health and safety benefits were realised.

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Slips management

A laundry operative slipped and twisted her ankle whilst carrying a pile of laundry from the sorting area to the washing machine. This involved crossing a small 'bridge' consisting of 2 steps up, a small platform and then 2 steps down. She fell forward off the platform and landed on some sacks of linen.

She was wearing trainers with rubber soles which may have become slippery due to food debris from tablecloths and napkins which often contaminated the sorting area. Alternatively, she may also have tripped over fallen table linen. At the time of the accident the bridge was slightly darker than the adjoining areas.

As a result, new strip lights were installed above the bridge and the edges of the steps were highlighted. The company also changed procedures so that uncategorised linen was moved by conveyor instead of by hand. The steps now have additional markings at the edges. Regular cleaning is now done in the sorting areas.

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Falls from height

A laundry operative fell from stepladders which were being used to gain access to the 3m high hopper of a continuous batch washer. He was standing at the top of the steps and reaching over to clean a sensor when the ladders toppled and he fell to the ground breaking his arm. This was a regular job and use of these steps was custom and practice even though they were totally unsuitable. No one had ever given the risk any thought. Following the accident new steps with an access platform and handrails were purchased to allow the hopper to be reached safely and comfortably. All old ladders throughout the plant were destroyed and only suitable ones retained or purchased. These are logged and checked every 6 months for damage. Staff were trained and instructed in their use.

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Workplace transport

A busy laundry in a built up area had difficulties with vehicle safety. Lorries were reversing onto and parking on the public pavement outside. No risk assessment had been carried out for the site. A safe system of work was drawn up in response to HSE enforcement notice to but there were ongoing problems getting some drivers to follow the safe system of work and wear high visibility jackets. The company had to persist and take disciplinary action to change old habits but a high risk was reduced.

Workplace transport accidents happen for 3 main reasons: an unsafe site, an unsafe vehicle, or an unsafe driver. Site layout can be changed to reduce the risk from pedestrians and vehicles using the same routes, vehicles can be made safer by, for example, good maintenance, fitting CCTV for reversing as some laundries have done, or driver behaviour or training can be improved.

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Machinery

A laundry worker was injured whilst operating a folding machine. Whilst attempting to remove a trapped garment from rollers at rear of machine the person's hand was trapped in an in-running nip resulting in severe bruising to their hand and arm. Fortunately, a second employee was nearby and stopped the machine. Access to the area should have been prevented by guarding and the machine should have been switched off before entry.

In another accident, an operator received severe burns whilst operating a shirt press, resulting in one month in hospital. The two-hand control of the press did not operate correctly. What's more, another operator had been injured on the same press one hour earlier. Good management and simple maintenance would have prevented this.

Updated 2012-10-02