Housekeeper, maid, custodian, janitor: whatever their title is, these are the individuals who keep the world clean and safe for the rest of us. But these people are also at great risk of getting hurt on the job. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in 2010 alone there were over 46,000 injuries to custodial workers on the job. This makes it the sixteenth most dangerous occupation in the country.
A big part of the problem is that no one, including the workers, really thinks much about the dangers that they face throughout their daily routine. They become complacent; these tasks are performed throughout the world by untrained people, even children, in every home and business. The tasks don’t seem terribly dangerous, but they most certainly can be. Custodial workers of every sort will benefit by reviewing these tips to keep safety a top priority each day at work.
Listen to your body
Many injuries to custodial workers are musculoskeletal and repetitive motion related. Using force, working in awkward positions, standing for long periods, applying continuous pressure, and enduring vibration are just some of the factors that contribute to these kinds of injuries. Workers should be encouraged to think about this and make an effort to follow any company suggestions, or come up with their own, to improve the way each task is preformed. And as always, appropriate PPE, such as back support devices and supportive work shoes, should be worn to mediate any potential problems before they happen.
A little effort can go a long way when it comes to working smarter. Taking a few moments each morning to organize the work day is a good place to start. Repetitive or similar physical activity tasks should not be done over an extended time but broken into shorter segments where possible. It is also important to take take breaks. While it may be tempting to “just get it done,” we really do work better, and safer, when rested and not stressed.
Another way to work smarter is to use the appropriate tools to make the day safer and easier. Extension poles should be used instead of overreaching for things, for example, and PPE should be a given, especially when working with chemicals or hazardous materials. Bending over for prolonged periods should be avoided; bending puts undue strain on the back and causes tiredness more quickly, which can lead to stress and strain injuries, which can cause chronic pain and put a worker on the disabled list permanently.
Watch your feet
Trips, slips, and falls are understandably a huge problem for custodial workers because of the nature of the job. Avoiding such accidents needs to always be in workers’ thoughts when doing this type of work. As always, the best way for everyone to avoid slip-and-fall accidents is to practice good housekeeping and maintenance in the first place. Custodial workers also need to prepare themselves to be in direct contact with this danger. The most important preventive measure is to choose good quality footwear with slip-resistant soles that are rated for the type of hazard you are in contact with. Soles that are superior for water-wet floors may be like ice skates on an oil-soaked floor. Workers should also be reminded to simply slow down.
Changes in skin colour of hands and fingertips
Weakness or reduced grip strength
Loss of sensation
Aching, burning, or shooting pain
Decreased range of motion
—Danielle Darling for Safety Reboot
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