Key health and safety issues include solvent safety in dry cleaning and machinery safety in laundries, with some laundry machines presenting severe burning hazards.
Inspectors have found poor standards of maintenance of small water-cooling towers in dry cleaners. Alternative means of cooling are available and should be encouraged.
Proper control of solvents is a basic health and safety requirement in dry cleaners. With good solvent management and basic controls it should be possible to reduce exposure to perchloroethylene as measured by personal dosemeters to a fraction of the 50 ppm occupational exposure standard. Priorities in the control of solvents are for companies to carry out solvent monitoring as part of their control strategy, and to prepare effective emergency plans to deal with accidental releases or spills of solvent. Advice should be sought from the Local Authority for further advice on compliance with the Solvents Emission Directive.
Poor standards of electrical safety are often encountered in for example small dry-cleaning premises. Inadequate maintenance combined with susceptibility to damage and ingress from water combine to increase the risk. Electrical installations should be maintained by a competent electrician.
This is a hazard at laundries handling work from hospital and other health care premises, asbestos stripping work and factories producing solvent soaked wipers. Association and there is an NHS guidance note HSG (95) 18 which is still of relevance.
Guidance has also been published by the Textiles Services Association
Overcoming language barriers
Increasingly, many laundry workers do not have English as a first language. This is no excuse for not providing proper training. Where necessary interpreters should be provided at training events. Health and safety notices and literature in other languages may also help.
Main causes of injury in laundries
The weight of laundry bags can be a problem. Some bags are designed so that they cannot be overloaded: they are effectively smaller capacity bags. Laundries should work with their customers to prevent bags being overloaded. In the laundry manual handling can be greatly reduced by conveyor systems or properly designed and maintained laundry trolleys.
Machinery accidents in laundries are invariably caused by missing and defective guards and interlocks.
Serious accidents and fatalities have been caused by rotary hydro-extractors/spin driers with defective interlocks, calenders with defective trip guards for the entry nip and automatic machinery with inadequate perimeter guarding or interlocking arrangements.
Folding machines continue to cause minor accidents. These are usually as a result of contact with moving machinery where guards are missing or where untrained operatives try and remove jammed articles with the machine running.
Sheet feeders/spreaders on calenders are another common cause of accidents. Accidents are not normally serious and are often preventable by operator training and vigilance (fingers struck by clamps or caught in corners or folds of sheets).
However, in a recent case, a firm was prosecuted following an accident in August 2006, when an employee received third-degree burns to the back of her right hand and three of her fingers when she was trapped between the roller and feed plate of a calendar. Her injuries resulted in extensive medical treatment (nine operations between August 2006 and August 2007) and she faces the prospect of further medical treatment. Both the trip guard and brake of the calendar operated but the calendar did not stop before her hand was pulled into the machine. Crucially, the company did not have a procedure to routinely test the efficiency of the brake, and hence the stopping performance, as described simply in trade and HSE guidance. The company was charged with a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and subsequently fined £10,000.
Accidents have been caused by overhead bag conveyors systems becoming jammed. Injuries have occurred when operators have climbed up to release the jam and have been struck by moving machinery.
Main causes of occupational ill health
- Musculoskeletal injury from manual handling boxes, sacks, wheeled trolleys etc
- Work-related upper limb disorders (WRULDs), eg from repetitive sorting/packing work
- Noise induced hearing loss from noisy machines, eg cleaning plant, packaging machinery
- Respiratory irritation from breathing fumes such as chlorine, hypochlorite, ammonia and sulphur dioxide?
- Occupational dermatitis from chemical cleaners