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MMI opposes proposed fitted-sheets law

From Cal-OSHA Reporter, November 2, 2012.

Housekeeping Committee Explores Whether Interventions Are a Good Fit

OAKLAND – Opponents of a proposed standard providing new protections for hotel housekeepers say proponents need to provide “sound science” to back up their push for the regulation. At the first and hard-won advisory committee on the subject convened by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) on Oct. 23, they saw some data that demonstrates the plight of the housekeepers. But it wasn’t nearly enough to sway them.

DOSH characterized the committee meeting an information-gathering event, emphasizing that there is no rulemaking effort underway at this point. The Division still has to determine whether a standard is necessary.

Setting the stage for the meeting was Dr. Niklas Krause, professor of epidemiological and environmental health sciences at the UCLA School of Public Health. His presentation noted that there are more than 400,000 hotel maids and housekeepers in the American accommodation industry and they rank in the top 10 of 800 occupations tracked by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics for injuries involving days away from work, restricted work or job transfer. They suffered about eight injuries per 100 workers between 2003 and 2005, he noted.

The accommodation industry is the second leading industry in California for injuries per 100 workers, but Dr. Krause has so far not been able to obtain data on injuries to maids and housekeepers in this state, he said.

In a detailed, confidential survey Dr. Krause conducted in 2005 among housekeepers at five Las Vegas hotels, 78% said they experienced pain in the preceding year that was “caused or made worse by work” as a hotel room cleaner. Those participating – up to 93% of the housekeepers at one hotel — told the survey they experienced twice as much back pain than the general population in a particular month.

Seventy-four percent said heavy bedspreads or comforters posed a “somewhat” or “big” ergonomic problem, and 84% said the same about heavy push carts, two of the problems singled out in the regulatory petition by UniteHere.

“Maids and housekeepers have one of the highest injury rates in the hotel industry and in the entire private service sector,” Dr. Krause said. “Housekeepers are exposed to known risk factors for musculoskeletal pain and injury such as awkward postures of trunk and extremities, forceful movements, heavy pushing and pulling, heavy lifting, and frequent trunk bending and twisting.”

He concluded that reducing workloads, time pressure and providing tools that reduce awkward postures and frequency “can be expected to lead to a reduction of work-related injury” among these workers.

But his data and conclusions were challenged by attorney Baruch Fellner, representing the California Hotel & Lodging Association, who insisted that the committee process must be “data-driven.” He questioned the methodologies used in the studies Dr. Krause cited (OSHA 300 logs, for instance, which he called “confounding.”). He also questioned the use of “observational” studies, such as the 2005 survey of Las Vegas housekeepers. He noted that a study that is expected to be released soon demonstrates that housekeeper activities “fall within NIOSH biomechanical rates.”

Dr. Krause replied that OSHA logs are not confounding; it’s the analysis that confounds. “We’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg” when examining housekeeper injuries using the logs, he said, which do capture injuries. And, he added, it’s not accurate to state that observational studies shouldn’t be used to determine the cause of injuries.

The researcher also cautioned against concluding that specific tasks fall within certain guidelines. “Maybe the guidelines are wrong,” he said.

Fellner repeated his objections to a new ergonomics standard specifically for housekeepers, but Linda Delp of UCLA’s Labor Occupational Safety and Health program said the current ergonomics standard, General Industry Safety Order ยง5110, is not adequate to control acute injuries, calling it “fundamentally flawed.” She pointed out the path to enforcing the standard is “unwieldy and convoluted.” When DOSH cited a Los Angeles hotel for ergonomics violations, it required “considerable work,” but under the standard, if employers can show that interventions are “unreasonable,” they are not required to do anything.

Fellner insisted that hoteliers consider it “morally wrong to injure housekeepers and economically contraindicated,” but allowing a “housekeeper-only standard” is an invitation to other sectors to “demand” their own regulations, a never-ending process.

John Manderfeld, of Marin Management, a management and support services firm for hotel owners, said such proposed interventions as fitted sheets will “in no way” add to worker safety. He says when his firm tried the sheets, the housekeepers “hated them.”

The proposed rule “will do nothing to help hotel safety,” but will add costs and hurt the industry.

A number of housekeepers told the committee that they need help. Rosa Sandoval, who works at a Los Angeles luxury hotel, said fitted sheets would prevent her from having to lift heavy mattresses. Workers in other industries have the tools they need, why not hotel workers, she asked.

Another worker at a Hollywood hotel said she dislocated three discs in her back pulling a heavy mattress away from a wall. The hotel has increased housekeepers’ workload, and has instituted a safety incentive program that actually is an incentive to not report injuries, she added.

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