From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

OSHA, Unions and Ergonomics in the Hospitality Industry; Ergonomic Guitars

OSHA focuses on housekeeper injuries

An article in the Houston Chronicle describes OSHA’s enforcement focus on the hospitality industry. A study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine (subscribers to The Ergonomics Report™ may access our review of this research) found that hotel workers — especially housekeepers — Hispanic housekeepers in particular — have higher rates of on-the-job injuries.

Housekeepers are prone to repetitive stress injuries from such continual work as changing sheets, washing bathroom floors and vacuuming, according to nine researchers who studied three years of government-required accident logs at five union-represented hotels.

More surprising, however, is that Hispanic housekeepers had a proportionally higher rate of injuries than non-Hispanic cleaners, according to the study.

The research was funded by the union Unite Here, which represents hospitality employees, but the problem also has captured the attention of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The Chronicle article goes on to explain that although OSHA doesn’t have a standard that specifically addresses ergonomics-related injuries, it does have the General Duty Clause at its disposal (subscribers to The Ergonomics Report™ may access Where Is OSHA Headed With Ergonomics?, which provides a detailed review of OSHA’s emerging approach to ergonomics under the Obama administration). The article also provides perspectives from the hospitality industry, and from an injured worker.

Since the study came out last year, hotel companies have been working on new ways to reduce injuries, said Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association in Washington. Some have added extra employees so housekeepers don’t have to do heavy lifting.

Celia Alvarez … described overwhelming pain in her hands, shoulders, back and knees as she pulled and tugged to change sheets, pillowcases and bedcovers during her 19-year career as a hotel housekeeper in Long Beach, Calif. She’s already had knee and shoulder surgery and has operations scheduled on her lower back and hands.

Read the full article …


Multiple embarrassing OSHA citations: the next union organizing tactic?

That’s the headline of an article appearing in Lexology, a web publication serving business lawyers. The author, Howard A. Mavity, refers specifically to the Houston Chronicle article reviewed above:

A recent Houston Chronicle article posted on UNITE/HERE’s website illustrates the next costly step in this "organization by harassment" strategy. The May 12 article described the high rate of ergonomic injuries suffered by hotel employees, especially housekeeping employees, and their disproportionate impact on Hispanic workers.

The article relied on a UNITE/HERE study, which was in turn praised at the April OSHA "Hispanic Workers Summit." That event morphed into an unabashed organizers event where the message was, "a union will solve all of your safety issues – especially if you are a Latino worker." If this not-so-coincidental cooperation of OSHA and UNITE/HERE concerns you, your instincts are sound.

Mavity shares some strong opinions about what he sees as unions’ use of ergonomics as an organizing tactic:

Starting today, and continuing into the foreseeable future, you can count on unions to use OSHA’s interest in ergonomic enforcement. That’s because as many as 80% of workplace injuries fit into OSHA’s broad definition of ergonomic or musculoskeletal disorders (MSD’s). Unions will undoubtedly file multiple OSHA citations, which they will then use as effective campaign issues to show employees that they need the union to protect them.

The article goes on to describe organizing tactics in detail, and provides guidance to hospitality businesses regarding how they can protect themselves from OSHA citations, as well as union organizing efforts. Accessing this article requires registration on the web site (free): Read the full article …

No matter how you feel about unions or corporations, defining a battle that uses ergonomics as a focus is not likely to be good for the future of workplace ergonomics, nor for the future of the ergonomics profession as a whole. In my opinion, the more ergonomics is used as a safety related battle ground, the less potential it has to improve human performance and well-being. Ultimately, when used as a divisive political issue, ergonomics gets painted with a negative brush, and the significant value we can and should bring to companies gets lost in the furor.


Ergonomics fuels unique guitar business

Enough of that serious stuff. Regular readers know that I have an interest in musical instruments. I own an odd assortment of them, most of which I can’t play at all, a couple of which I can produce sounds pleasant enough that you may not be compelled to cover your ears (my wife may differ on that point). So, I was interested to see this article in the featuring a guy that says he designs electric guitars with better ergonomics (I haven’t seen one, so can’t really judge).

This also reminded me of a site I became aware of some years ago, Building the Ergonomic Guitar — "Guitar Designs. Ergonomics. Guitar Making" — which is run by Rob Irizarry (Rob posted a question in our Ergoweb Forums). I just visited the site and am very impressed with the progress he’s made and the innovative designs they showcase and discuss on this social site. If you’re at all interested in guitars, this is definitely worth a visit.