Departmental operations within a hotel usually consist of: reception, which oversees reservations and guest reception services; housekeeping, which cleans and stocks guest rooms and public areas; maintenance, which does heavy cleaning, setup, painting, repair and remodelling; food and beverage; office and accounting; and other miscellaneous services such as health centres, beauty salons, barber shops and gift shops.
Hazards by Department
Reception includes the following job classifications: managers, desk clerks, telephone operators, bell and door staff, security personnel, concierges, drivers and parking attendants. Key job safety and health hazards include:
Visual display units (VDUs). Desk clerks, telephone operators and other front desk personnel often use computer terminals. It has been shown that computer use under some conditions can cause various repetitive strain injuries (RSIs), such as carpal tunnel syndrome (in the wrist) as well as shoulder, neck and back problems. Employees are at special risk if workstations are poorly adjusted and require awkward body postures, or if VDU work is continuous without adequate breaks. VDU work can also produce eyestrain and other visual problems. Preventive measures include providing adjustable computer workstations, training staff on how to adjust their equipment properly and maintain correct postures, and ensuring that employees take rest and stretch breaks.
Shift work. Many guest service employees work shifts that can vary according to the level of daily hotel occupancy. Staff members may be required to work both day and evening shifts, or split shifts with random days off. Physiological and psychological health effects of shift work can include disturbed sleep patterns, stomach trouble and stress. Staff may also use drugs or medicines as sleeping aids to adjust to unusual work hours. Workers should receive training on health hazards related to shift work. Whenever possible workers should have adequate time off between rotating shifts to allow for sleep adjustments.
Special consideration should also be paid to other issues associated with swing and graveyard shifts, such as safety concerns, access to healthy meals while on duty and proper ventilation (as air conditioning is often turned off in the evening).
Poor indoor-air quality. Employees can be exposed to second-hand smoke in the lobby, bar, dining rooms and guest rooms. Where ventilation is inadequate, second-hand smoke can pose a risk of cancer and heart disease.
Lifting. Lifting hazards affect staff who load, unload and carry luggage and convention supplies. Back, neck, knee and ankle injuries can result when staff are not trained on proper lifting techniques. Luggage carts should be available. They should be well maintained and equipped with smooth-rolling wheels and safety locks.
Parking and garage hazards. Garage jobs in hotels range from valet parking, to collecting fees, to site maintenance. Employees may work part time, and turnover is often high.
Workers can be struck by vehicles, can inhale exhaust fumes (which contain carbon monoxide among other toxins), or can be exposed to chemicals in automotive products, cleaning products and paints. They can be exposed to asbestos from brake dusts. They can fall from ladders or other maintenance equipment, and can trip or fall due to fluid spills, broken pavement or snow. They can also be assaulted or robbed.
Measures to prevent auto accidents include having clearly marked traffic lanes and walkways, warnings indicating the direction of traffic flow, stop signs for crossing lanes and roped-off areas wherever maintenance work is being done.
Workers exposed to car exhaust, paint fumes and other chemicals should have access to fresh air. Training should be provided about chemical hazards and health effects.
Kerosene heaters sometimes used to warm workers in parking garages can release toxic fumes, and should be prohibited. If heaters are necessary, properly guarded and grounded electric heaters should be used.
Oil spills, water and debris should be cleaned up immediately to prevent falls. Snow should be removed and not allowed to accumulate.
This group includes housekeepers, laundry workers and supervisors. The department is usually responsible for cleaning and maintaining guest rooms, public areas and meeting and recreational facilities. It may also supply laundry services for guests. Typical safety and health hazards can include:
Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs). Housekeepers are subject to strains from repeated lifting, pushing, bending, reaching and wiping when cleaning bathrooms, changing bed linen, vacuuming rugs, wiping furniture and walls and pushing supply carts from room to room. Laundry workers are also at risk for to RSI injuries due to reaching and to rapid motions from folding, sorting and loading laundry.
Housekeeping carts help transport supplies and equipment, but carts need to be well maintained, with smooth-rolling wheels, and designed to carry heavy loads without tipping over. Carts also need to be relatively light and easy to manoeuvre, with sufficient clearance above the cart so housekeepers can see where they are going.
Training in both ergonomics and proper lifting should be available for housekeepers and laundry workers. Training should include RSI risk factors and methods for reducing them.
Chemical products. Housekeepers and maids use chemical cleaning products for sinks, tubs, toilets, floors and mirrors. Some products can cause dermatitis, respiratory distress and other problems. Some general cleaning agents containing ammonia, detergents and solvents can irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat. Certain solvent-based products can damage the kidneys and reproductive organs. Disinfectants often contain phenol compounds, which can cause irritation and are suspected to cause cancer.
Preventive measures include supplying protective gloves and substituting with less hazardous products. Proper ventilation should be provided through open windows, mechanical air vents or fans. Chemical storage areas should be well maintained and away from break and eating areas.
Training should be provided about chemical hazards and health effects. It should be conducted in a way staff can understand. To be effective, some training procedures may need translation into workers’ first languages.
Trips and falls. Housekeepers are required to move quickly. Speed can result in slipping on wet floors, falling from tubs and other surfaces when cleaning, and tripping over cords, sheets and bed covers and debris. Laundry staff may slip on wet floors.
Training should be offered emphasizing safety measures to prevent falls and work methods that reduce the need to rush.
Cuts. Cuts from glass, discarded razor blades and debris can be reduced by using liners in wastebaskets and by installing razor blade disposal devices in bathrooms. Workers should be trained in proper waste-handling techniques.
Needlesticks. Used hypodermic needles left by guests in wastebaskets, linens or rooms put hotel staff at risk of getting infectious diseases from accidental punctures. Housekeeping and laundry personnel are the most likely to encounter a discarded needle. Staff should be instructed on how to report and dispose of needles. Staff should have access to approved types of needle receptacle boxes. Management should also have effective medical and counselling procedures to assist staff who have been stuck by a discarded needle.
Heat stress. Hotel laundry workers wash, iron, fold and deliver linen. Heat from machinery, combined with poor ventilation, can result in an oppressive work environment and cause heat stress. Symptoms may include headache, nausea, irritability, fatigue, fainting and accelerated pulse. Eventually these can lead to convulsions and more serious problems if early symptoms are not treated.
Heat stress can be prevented by installing air conditioning, insulating sources of heat, ventilating hot areas with hoods that draw hot air away, taking frequent short breaks in cool areas, drinking plenty of water and wearing loose-fitting clothes. If the work area is only moderately hot (below 35°C), fans may be useful.
Maintenance staff do heavy cleaning, set-up, painting, repair, remodelling and grounds work. Hazards include:
Chemical products. Maintenance staff may use toxic cleaning products to strip and polish floors as well as to clean carpets, walls, furniture, brass fixtures and marble. Certain products can irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat; can affect the nervous system; and can damage the kidneys, lungs, liver and reproductive system.
Solvents may be present in painting and remodelling materials. Fast-drying paints are used to enable rooms and public areas to be available quickly, but these paints contain high solvent concentrations. Glues used in laying carpet and flooring and in other remodelling jobs may also contain toxic solvents. Solvents can irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat. Some may damage the nervous system, kidneys, lungs, liver and reproductive organs. Certain solvents are known to cause cancer.
Pesticides and herbicides may be applied in kitchens, dining rooms, public areas, locker rooms and outside the hotel in gardens and driveways. Some of these chemicals can cause respiratory problems; can irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat; and can damage the nervous system, kidneys, liver and other organs.
Preventive measures include training about chemicals, proper ventilation and proper use of personal protective equipment. If respirators are required, staff should be trained on how to select the proper respirator and cartridge, and how to fit test, use and maintain the equipment. In addition, employees should be given a medical exam to ensure that they are physically fit to work wearing a respirator. Wherever possible, less toxic chemicals should be used.
Asbestos. Asbestos is present in many hotels. Used for years as an insulator and fire retardant, it is found around pipes and in ceiling materials and floor coverings. This highly toxic substance can cause asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma (another form of cancer).
Asbestos is most hazardous when it ages or is damaged. It may begin to break up, creating dust. Hotels should regularly inspect areas where asbestos-containing materials are present to ensure that the asbestos is in good condition.
Extreme caution must be used to protect workers and guests when asbestos dust is present (through ageing or damage or during asbestos abatement jobs). Hotel workers and guests must be kept away from the area, warning signs must be posted and only skilled and licensed personnel should be hired to abate the hazard. The area should be inspected by qualified professionals when work in completed. In new construction or renovation, substitute products should be used in lieu of asbestos.
Trips and falls. Maintenance staff may fall when using ladders and hoists to reach high places such as ceilings, chandeliers, light fixtures, walls and balconies. Training should be provided.
Food and beverage
These staff members include kitchen workers, dishwashers, restaurant servers, room service personnel, hosts and bartenders. Among the hazards are:
Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs). RSIs can occur when room service personnel or restaurant servers deliver food. Trays can be heavy and the server may have to walk long distances. To reduce the risk of injury, room service carts can be used to deliver orders. Carts should be easy to manoeuvre and well maintained. If carts are equipped with heating boxes, the staff should be trained on their proper use.
Trips and falls. Floor surfaces in the kitchen, as well as in all areas to which serving personnel must go, should be kept clean and dry to prevent falls. Spills should be cleaned up immediately. See also the article “Restaurants” in this chapter.
Swimming pools and fitness centres. Many hotels provide swimming facilities or fitness centres for guests. Often showers, saunas, whirlpools, weight rooms and locker rooms are available.
Chemicals used to clean and disinfect showers and locker rooms can cause skin and respiratory irritation. In addition, employees who maintain swimming pools may handle solid or gaseous chlorine. Chlorine leaks can cause burns and severe respiratory problems. If mishandled, it can explode. Employees should be trained on how to handle all these chemicals properly.
Workers who maintain pool and fitness facilities are exposed to injuries from slips and falls. Nonskid, well-maintained and well-drained walking surfaces are important. Water puddles should be wiped up immediately.
Gift shops. Hotels often provide gift and convenience shops for guests. Employees are subject to falls, strains and cuts associated with unpacking and stocking merchandise. They should be trained on proper lifting techniques and should have hand carts to aid in transporting merchandise. Aisles should be kept clear to avoid accidents.
Beauty salons and barber shops. Barbers and cosmetologists risk injuries including skin irritation from hair chemicals, burns from hot towels and curling irons, and cuts and punctures from scissors and razors.
Special hazards include a risk of respiratory problems and possibly even cancer from repeated exposure to certain chemicals such as some hair dye ingredients. There is also a risk of RSIs due to continual use of the hands in awkward postures. Employees should be trained to recognize chemical and ergonomic hazards, and to work in a way that minimizes the risk. They should be supplied with proper gloves and aprons when working with dyes, bleaches, permanent-wave solutions and other chemical products. Shop areas should be properly ventilated to provide fresh air and remove fumes, especially in areas where employees are mixing solutions. Scissors and razors should be properly maintained for ease in cutting, as discussed elsewhere in this Encyclopaedia.
Sexual harassment. Housekeepers and other hotel employees may be exposed to sexual advances from guests or others. Employees should be trained about sexual harassment issues.
Management should have a clear policy on how to report and respond to such incidents.
Fires and other emergencies. Emergencies and disasters can result in loss of life and injuries to both guests and staff. Hotels should have clear emergency response plans, including designated evacuation routes, emergency procedures, an emergency communication system and methods for clearing guests out of the hotel quickly. Certain managers as well as the switchboard operators should have clear instructions on how to coordinate emergency communication with guests and staff.
Staff training and joint labor-management safety meetings are vital components of an effective emergency prevention and response programme. Training sessions and meetings should include translation for staff who need it. Training should be frequent since there is high turnover among hotel workers. Periodic emergency drills should be scheduled, incorporating “walk-throughs” of evacuation routes, staff roles and other emergency procedures.
There should also be a fire prevention programme, including regular inspections. Management and staff members should ensure that exits are not blocked, flammable materials are properly stored, kitchen hoods are regularly cleaned and electrical equipment is well maintained (without frayed wires). Fire retardant materials should be used in interior decorating projects, and there should be screens around fireplaces. Ashtrays should be properly emptied, and candles should be used only in semi-enclosed containers.
Hotel accommodations as well as all facilities attached to the hotel, such as beauty shops, restaurants and gift shops, should be in compliance with all fire codes. Guest rooms and public areas should be equipped with smoke detectors and water sprinklers. Fire extinguishers should be available throughout the hotel. Exits should be well marked and illuminated. Back-up generators should be available to provide emergency lighting and other services.
Evacuation instructions should be posted in each guest room. Many hotels now provide in-room videos with information on fire safety. Guests who are hearing impaired should have rooms equipped with alarms using bright lights to alert them to an emergency. Visually impaired guests should receive emergency procedure information in Braille.
There should be a central alarm system which can display the exact location of a suspected fire. It should also automatically communicate to local emergency services, and broadcast messages over the public address system for guests and staff.