Custodial/Maintenance Summer Safety Reminders
By Harry Cheff, MSGIA Risk Management Associate, and Annette Satterly, MSGIA Risk Management Associate
We are looking forward to the summer! No more shoveling snow and scraping ice off of windows – just loads of time to enjoy long days, short nights, and a welcome change of pace! However, (there is so often a however when it comes to heartening news about the weather in Montana!), for the custodial and maintenance employees, summer is the busiest and most strenuous time of the year and thus one of the most dangerous.
Every summer we have two major problem areas for which frequent and severe claims are often reported. The first is slips and falls. These slipping incidents are most prevalent when staff are stripping and waxing floors ($224,380.00 in reserves); and, as you might expect, the falls are commonly associated with staff working at heights, especially on ladders ($333,822.00 in reserves). The second problem area pertains to those injuries resulting in strains caused by lifting ($1,335,109.00 in reserves) and from repetitive-motion injuries ($447,777.00 in reserves).
All too familiar with these summer-specific and practically predictable problems, we provide the following information concerning the most common causes of these seasonal injuries; and we offer here practical, proactive measures to help you and your staff prevent and/or avoid such costly and painful injuries.
Stripping and Waxing Gyms, Hallways, Classrooms, and other Floors
This can be one of the most time-consuming tasks conducted each summer, and for this reason, many districts contract the refinishing of the gym floors, something we strongly recommend that our constituents consider. By contracting the activity, you pass the liability onto others and, in so doing, decrease the chance of injuries among your staff.
However, when contracting out the work of finishing floors is not an option due to scheduling limitations and/or budgetary restrictions, please keep the following guidelines in mind when attending to this type of work on a space-by-space basis:
- Ensure that items are off of the floor and that plugs and windows are accessible.
- Because sanding floors to remove the old varnish, wax, etc., is a dusty process, workers should wear masks. Also, when refinishing the floors, make sure that there is adequate ventilation.
- When working on floors with asbestos-containing tile, use a wet process to avoid sanding or stripping down through the wax to the floor tile. (Contact Annette Satterly if this is a concern.)
- Because refinishing any floor is a slippery endeavor, workers should be encouraged or required to wear *non-slip shoes or “wax socks” or “booties” over their shoes.
- Employees need to be trained on the use of the machinery before starting the job.
- After the finish/wax has been applied to the floors, the area needs to be “blocked off” to ensure that the material sets/dries properly and so that no one walks through it. Also, in terms of process, workers should start from the corner furthest from the exit and work toward the exit.
*Amazon supplied some of the following pictures to demonstrate the shoes to which we are referring. There are other suppliers as well.
(These and other shoes, booties, and “socks” have been met with mixed reviews, and therefore the best advice we can offer is to encourage your staff to SLOW DOWN when doing this particular type of dangerous work.)
Working at Heights: Using Ladders, Scaffolds, and Genie Lifts
- Anytime employees are working at or above six feet, they are required to be tied off. This requires a harness such as the one in the picture.
- This equipment is needed even when a worker is in a genie lift, on a ladder (including a four-legged ladder), or on scaffolding.
- Ensure that you have the correct ladder, and make sure that the ladder is positioned against a support that can assist with the stability of the ladder.
- Do not set up a ladder against something that is narrower and/or weaker than the ladder, such as a flagpole, or a power pole.
- When using a straight ladder to access a roof, ensure that there is enough above the edge of the roof to assist in getting on and off the ladder.
- All ladders should be tied-off to assist in stabilizing the ladder and ensuring it does not fall out from under the user.
- If the job requires two people, make sure another person can steady the ladder.
Proper Lifting and Ergonomics
- To prevent repetitive-motion-type injuries, break up the day.
- If you are doing the same motion for an extended period of time, remember to reverse that motion.
- Break up repetitive routines by alternating tasks in order to provide strained body parts a break.
- Prior to lifting and moving items, plan the lift. For instance, before you lift and begin to carry something somewhere, make sure pathways are clear.
- Use a hand truck, desk mover, or hydraulic garbage can lift whenever possible; or, ask for assistance when the load is heavy.
- When possible, reduce the amount of weight to be lifted by breaking the load down into more manageable sizes/amounts.
- The best position to lift from is in your shoulder-to-waist area. If you need to lift from a lower level, position yourself by keeping feet apart and squatting down as close to the object as possible. Keep heels off the ground and get a good grip.
- Use special caution when lifting objects above shoulder level. Get as close to the object as possible by using a sturdy step stool or ladder. Bend your knees and keep your back straight. Set your feet shoulder-width apart, and gently lift the object using your legs, abdominal and gluteal muscles. Finally, throughout the lift, keep the load as close to you as possible. Don’t twist. Turn your whole body if you need to make a turn.
- NEVER bend, lift, and twist at the same time. Instead, bend your knees and use your legs to lift; as importantly, reverse the motion when setting an item down.
Finally, remember that the best lift of something too heavy and therefore dangerous is one you don’t do at all! Return to newsletter