Laundry workers wash, dry, steam, iron, dye, and chemically treat fabrics in commercial laundry services, hospitals, detention facilities, hotels, and other settings. Laundry can be heavy, treated with chemicals, and the work environment can be hot and humid. Training, machine maintenance, and good body mechanics are essential for laundry worker safety.
Safety begins when you first contact dirty linens. Linens may be contaminated with bodily fluids, body tissues, and even needles. Get training in bloodborne pathogens. Wear gloves and practice good hand washing. Have customers minimize contamination before sending their laundry. Label laundry from customers that send contaminated laundry. Talk with your doctor about your job exposures and get recommended vaccinations.
Chemical detergents, bleaches, fabric softeners, and starches clean laundry. Some laundry is treated with stain removal solutions, dyes, fire retardants, and waterproofing. Contact with concentrated chemicals can cause skin sensitivities. Read and understand the safety data sheets (SDS) for the chemicals you use. Follow the directions for use. Use recommended personal protective equipment (PPE), including protective clothing, gloves, and safety glasses. Wear shoes with a non-slip sole around slippery water and soaps.
Hot water, hot irons, and steam presses can make a hot and humid environment. Wear light layers of clothing to stay cool, but make sure it covers your skin to protect you from heat sources, chemicals, and burns. Guard and protect hot surfaces and water lines so that you do not come into accidental contact with them. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and prevent heat stress.
Moving machinery like washers that agitate and spin laundry, dryers that spin and tumble laundry, robotic arms and conveyors that move items can cause severe injuries if you come into contact with them. Perform regular maintenance on machines to ensure that they operate properly. Practice lockout/tagout when you need to clear jams and perform maintenance.
Laundry can be heavy and processed in large loads up to 300 pounds. When you manually move laundry, break down the loads into smaller batches to avoid ergonomic strains. Lift properly by keeping your back straight. Use equipment like carts and conveyors. Carts with spring-up bottoms bring the items up to your waist level instead of requiring you to bend to the bottom of the cart.
When you finish, fold, press, and hang items, work at a level that is comfortable to use and close to your body. Adjustable tables ensure that you don’t have to reach up or bend over to do your work. Standing for long periods can lead to fatigue, so use floor mats. Use a footrest to place one foot at a time in a different standing position. Doing repetitive tasks all day can lead to overuse of your muscles. Try to vary your job tasks, rotate assignments, and take frequent, short breaks to reduce fatigue and the risk of ergonomic injury.