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Janitorial workload study: Washington L&I presents progress report to state legislature

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Photo: RicardoImagen/iStockphoto

Tumwater, WA — Poor safety climate, a low level of management commitment to safety and unlawful business practices are among the top concerns among janitorial workers in Washington state, according to a recently published report from the state’s Department of Labor & Industries.

Directed by the state legislature to address high injury rates among janitors, the Washington L&I Safety & Health Assessment & Research for Prevention Program in 2018 began a statewide study – projected to last four years – with the goal of identifying janitorial workload issues that “can be changed to reduce the risk of injury to janitors.” The report, an update on the status of the ongoing Washington State Janitorial Workload Study, was presented to the legislature in June.

In addition to commissioning a survey of 621 janitors and custodians via telephone, SHARP researchers conducted nine focus groups. Preliminary analysis of the survey results show that janitorial workers deal with various types of work-related injuries as well as exposures to chemical and physical hazards. Interviews with injured workers revealed that common injury causes were being struck against a stationary object, getting caught in or compressed by equipment or an object, falls, and overexertion/repetitive motion.

 

Among the issues raised by the workers concerning management’s commitment to safety:

  • Lack of safety and health training and personal protective equipment
  • Unsafe and unmanageable workload, fast pace, stress, and fatigue
  • Abusive supervision and discrimination

Recommendations for improving working conditions presented by focus group participants include:

  • Periodic workplace safety inspections
  • Improving company policies and procedures for workplace safety and health
  • Providing training for supervisors and janitorial staff, including language-appropriate safety and health training for janitors
  • Rotating task assignments to reduce the risk of repetitive-motion injuries
  • Preventing and reducing abusive supervision and discrimination

Plans for the second half of the study include completing worksite visits, restarting individual interviews, conducting a statewide survey of janitorial employers, continuing to develop multilingual and multimodal education and training resources, and developing and testing a workload calculator.

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