Elevatedinjuries among hotel housekeepers
Employeesin the hospitality industry are frequently exposed to injury in theworking place. This is largely due to the kind of work involved suchas heavy lifting, increased workloads and handling hazardouschemicals among others. Some of these injuries can be prevented byproviding the right working conditions, right tools to get the jobdone, safety equipments, proper training among others. In some cases,employers may be culpable of negligence which exposes employees tohigher risks of injury. Different jobs and positions in thehospitality industry involve different levels of risk. Housekeepingroom cleaning has been one of most injury prone occupation amonghospitality employees. This paper assesses prevalence ofmusculoskeletal disorders and injury among housekeepers and the legalaspect of injuries in the workplace.
Housekeepingor housecleaning generally requires physical strength to get the jobdone. At times, it involves long working hours and lifting of heavyobjects. In an article published in the New York Times authored byGreenhouse (2006), it was reported that growing changes in hotelrooms which make them cozier and plusher has resulted to increaseinjuries to housekeepers. The beds are increasingly larger andheavier same way as the mattresses. The end result is that the closeto 400,000 employees working as housekeepers in the hospitalityindustry report high cases of arm, shoulder and lower-back injuries(ibid).
However,other studies have reported working conditions that exacerbateexisting medical conditions. Housekeeping workload and managementlevels cause and worsen stress and depression (Lee & Krause,2002) while Sanon (2013) reports that the influence of supervisorysupport, workload, work pace, and work hiring practices have a hugeimpact on managing chronic illnesses such as diabetes andhypertension among housekeepers already affected by the condition.Ordinarily, the work of a hotel housekeeper involves “changingsheets and towels making beds emptying wastebaskets dusting andpolishing furniture and equipment scrubbing sinks, taps, toilets,and bathtubs washing and mopping bathroom floors vacuuming floorsreplenishing supplies pushing heavy supply carts and responding torequests from guests and front desk employees” (Hsieh et al, 2013,p. 363).
Itis these tasks that cause the most common physical injury among thisgroup of employees in the name of musculoskeletal disorders. A studyby Krause etal.(2005) revealed that hotel workers report 6.7 injuries per 100 peopleway above the service industry average of 4.6 per 100 people. Thebureau of Labor Statistics (cited in Krause, 2012) reports thatmajority of the injuries reported among female hotel housekeeperswere trauma (52%) followed by musculoskeletal injuries (39%). Ofthese musculoskeletal injuries, 36.7% were in form of sprains, 25% inbruises/contusion, 13.8% soreness/pain and 11.2% cuts/lacerations(ibid). These injuries are caused by awkward postures, lifting,bending and twisting which all characterized the various tasks.
Again,the causes are bound to have a larger impact on employee health giventhat many hotel housekeepers are female. Despite the increase inworkload caused by new additions in the ordinary hotel room intendedto make rooms plusher, the number of male housekeepers, who naturallyhave better physical adaptation to perform more physically demandingworkload, has been going down (Lee & Krause, 2002 Greenhouse,2006). Data available from 1999 to 2003 shows that the number of malehousekeepers per every 100 hotel employees fell from 18 in 1999 tobelow 12 in 2003 and the number has been going down further. In fact,in San Francisco, 99% or room cleaners are female (Lee & Krause,2002). This implies that the higher number of women working ashousekeepers contributes directly to increased number ofmusculoskeletal injuries among housekeepers.
Employersare legally bound to provide the right working conditions to allemployees. Failure to do makes these employers legally culpable to besued for negligence. Various countries around the world havedifferent laws on employment with various provisions on the role foremployers in ensuring safety in the workplace. In the US, theOccupational Safety and Health Act articulate these requirements(OSHA, 2015). The act calls for employers to adhere to set standardsfor various workplaces in different industries. For instance, in workplaces where employees are exposed to hazardous chemicals, employersare required to provide adequate training and communication toemployees on the risks involved in handling such chemicals.Additionally, employers are required to provide the needed safety andequipments. For housekeepers in the hotel industry, they should beprovided for instance with gloves to handle detergents and othercleaning agents. Furthermore, tools to aid in lifting and movingheavy objects should be provided (ibid).
Ideally,individual employers should develop unique programs to manageworkplace safety. This is not just a legal requirement but also anethical requirement. Employers have a moral and ethical obligation topromote and safeguard the welfare of their employees (Lee &Krause, 2002 DaRos, 2011). This drives up motivation among employeesand also portrays well the public image of the employer. From a HRperspective, promoting the well being of employees is a strategyoption. Providing good working conditions, competitive compensationand benefits, health cover that offer compensation in case ofinjuries or illness in the workplace are all used to attract newtalents to an organization (DaRos, 2011).
However,workplace injury and safety in the workplace is also a managementissue. Injuries and illness sin the workplace in the workplacepresent new costs to employers in form of compensation reduce output,cause distraction and disruptions and lead to loss of work hoursthrough sick leaves and hospitalizations. The National Academy ofSocial Insurance (NASI) estimates that compensation benefits paid forall compensable injuries and illnesses in 2009 stood at a whooping$58 billion while in 2010 the figure stood at $53 billion (OSHA,2015). Additionally, workplace injuries and illnesses are emotionallydraining and can lead to low motivation in the workplace whereemployees tend to defer or avoid certain activities in the workplacethat have a higher risk of injury and illness.
Inspite of legal protection for employees against injury and illness inthe workplace, employees face certain barriers to reporting injuryand illness (Krause, 2012). Seventy eight percent of hotel roomcleaners reported experiencing pain that was worsened by their workin the last one year. However, of all employees, reporting workplaceinjuries and illness was not common as many downplayed the illness.About 44% of employees surveyed thought that the work-related painwould get better though 84% experienced pain in the workplace in thelast one month. However, the most worrying figure is the 13% whothought they would get in trouble for reporting injury or illness inthe workplace and another 13% who thought they would get fired andeven a larger fraction at 23% who felt that too many steps wereinvolved in reporting workplace injury and illness (Krause, 2012).The law anticipates such incidences and provides legal protection foremployees.
TheOSHA act provides for whistle blower protection. This provisionprotects employees who report unsuitable working conditions toauthorities or these who make demands for better working conditionsin their jobs. The provision allows employees who feel they have beenpunished, or retaliated against or even unfairly discriminated forreporting poor working conditions can file a complaint with OSHAwithin 30 days (OSHA, 2015).
Anew challenge exists in the case of hotel housekeepers in reportingpoor working conditions to OSHA. Majority of hotels in the US havebeen reportedly targeting unregistered immigrant workers to work intheir hotels and specifically in housekeeping and cleaning jobs. Thefact that these workers are not legally recognized as citizens of theUS makes them ineligible to minimum wage requirements and otherrights as employees. Consequently, they have no capability to reportcases of poor working conditions as they will be practicallyannouncing their illegal presence in the US that sets them up fordeportation back to their home countries. Majority of these workersare immigrants from Mexico Philippines and other South Americancountries (Alba, Rumbaut & Marotz, 2005). Therefore, illegalimmigrants working as housekeepers are subjected to low wage, poorworking conditions and injury and illness in the workplace thatviolates their rights as workers. However, their illegal presence inthe US complicates the situation.
Fromthis current discussion, it is clear that hotel housekeepers’rights as employees can be easily violated. The law, though eager toprotect employees is not sufficient to address the issue of illegalimmigrants. The high costs involved ensuring safe working conditionsor even hiring additional employees to avert long working hours tendto discourage employers. Nonetheless, it is high time that the lawsought to carry out proactive investigations to assess cases ofemployee abuse rather than rely solely on employee self-reporting.Only this way can the rights of employees be adequately protected.
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