Thoughts on Hotel Worker Safety and the Role of Technology

By Adria Levtchenko CEO & Co-Founder, PurpleCloud Technologies | April 07, 2019

As a people business, among the first priorities for hospitality organizations is to ensure the safety of guests and the people who care for them.

Of special concern, despite training programs and on-site security systems, hospitality workers are vulnerable to on-the-job injuries, as well as personal harm caused by another individual. The personal threat can be from anyone-a guest; a visitor to a property like a vendor, service person or delivery person; an intruder; and, even, another staff member.

Beyond the issue of an individual acting against another, anything from unwelcome contact to literal assault, there is a broad range of safety concerns that can impact workers. These include property protection in the form of fire alarms and suppression, security systems, environmental air quality, accident prevention and ergonomic issues.

In all of these areas, advances in technology can make significant contributions to worker safety through securing the work environment, providing personal alert capacity-in both directions, and improving the ways in which tasks are accomplished as we interact with our human and physical environments.

Moreover, our growing ability to gather and analyze data in new and faster ways, along with improved communications, will continue to advance the cause of safety while reaping dividends in worker productivity, employee satisfaction and operational efficiency. Safety is also an important contributor to overall health and wellness, another important goal that compliments well the hospitality mission and is currently top of mind for many organizations.

This article discusses some approaches to worker safety through the use of technology, including current "hot button" topics; choosing among competing modalities for a given safety challenge; and integration to the hospitality organization's total technology platform-with an eye to best use of resources.

Industry Adopts 5-Star Promise

Many safety issues concerning workers in hospitality were brought to the forefront in 2017. In particular, the potential jeopardy that housekeepers and others who often work in isolation can face has received renewed attention by the public and the industry.

While there has been some new activity with respect to hotel worker safety in individual municipalities and states, the supervisory authority over all American workers remains under the U.S. Department of Labor, including its familiar administration of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

Most importantly, this issue of possible assault upon individual hotel workers has been addressed directly by the industry. In September 2018, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), in conjunction with Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and Wyndham, announced a 5-Star Promise safety program.

Among the Promises are ongoing training and education for employees on identifying and reporting sexual harassment; and providing U.S. hotel employees, including housekeepers, with employee safety devices "to help them feel safe on the job."

As reported by Lodging Magazine a number of other brands signed on, including AccorHotels, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, Four Season Hotels and Resorts, G6 Hospitality, Las Vegas Sands Corp, Loews Hotels & Co, Montage International, Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, Radisson Hotel Group, RLH Corporation, and Red Roof.

Personal Safety Devices Take Center Stage

In all, as reported by Occupational Health & Safety Magazine, AHLA members have committed to providing U.S. hotel workers with portable panic buttons and implementing better policies, training, and resources aimed at hotel worker safety. U.S. hotels aim to have full implementation of panic buttons at all properties by 2020.

Identifying, acquiring and deploying the best personal safety devices, i.e. Panic Button, for any hospitality organization is a complex chore. Strategic issues to consider include type of device and its versatility, initial and ongoing costs, training requirement, assigning the devices and controlling inventory, user acceptance, the device's localization capabilities and integration with other hotel information systems.

The capabilities and mode of function of specific technology solutions are further considerations. Among key issues are the modes of alarm, whether an alarm system can issue graded alerts, and whether the alarm event can be recorded, either by the device or on the receiving end. Modes of alarm can include a "dumb" high-decibel siren; or voice or push-button communication through a cell phone or tablet.

For example, can the device distinguish among a staff member experiencing a medical emergency; being overcome by environment issues like fumes from housekeeping chemicals or needing to report a fire; and impending or actual assault by another individual. This approach can assist with emergency response and in delivering the appropriate resources to a scene as quickly as possible.

Whether hotel rooms should be equipped with surveillance devices beyond existing smoke detectors is a complex issue beyond the purpose of this article. Certainly, all existing and proposed personal safety devices for hotel workers are designed to respect and enforce guest privacy and confidentially, following existing hotel policies and the law. Hotel workers in certain jurisdictions like Chicago and New York already carry panic buttons, so the industry has good existing experience to guide us as personal safety devices become more prevalent.

Regardless, as implementation grows and organizations make significant investments in their deployment, wearable devices make the most sense at the present time. Wearable devices are proven to be workable, think of the Medical Alert devices marketed to seniors and other with serious medical conditions, and won't suffer from WiFi blind spots as a smart phone app might. Wearable devices will also be helpful in "non-attack" situations should a housekeeper or other staff have a medical emergency or personal injury on the job, especially if the device is capable of a graded alert.

Further Aspects of Housekeeper and Worker Safety

More specifically, in addition to the jeopardy of working alone, a housekeeper can experience countless stresses on muscles and joints in a single day. These may include everything from lifting heavy mattresses and bending over to clean floors or empty wastebaskets to pushing heavy, bulky carts through a maze of hallways. There are also potentially hazardous cleaning agents that must be handled with care.

Many of these ergonomic issues will relate to items under OSHA, as well as the training programs and job protocols of hospitality organizations. Of states, California recently addressed potential injury issues, as well as the use of hazardous chemicals, through comprehensive new legislation established specifically for hospitality housekeepers that took effect this July 2018. (Section 3345, Hotel Housekeeping Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention ). The act mandates that each property have a musculoskeletal injury prevention program (MIPP), with documented training and annual reassessments of all employees.

Legislation like that just discussed will formalize and mandate many of the best housekeeping practices already in operation at hotels nationwide. It will also direct our attention to a closer study of the daily routines of housekeepers, which should help us find practical ways to reduce stresses and strains on the body, as well as mind and spirit.

Besides tech savvy protective equipment, we can employ monitoring and playback devices to assist in task training and, further, verify whether the lessons learned are being applied on the job. Think of a golfer or tennis player recording one's self in the quest to perfect that swing. Data analysis of accomplished tasks can also help detect common threads like the most risky procedures or the most troublesome individual steps of a given procedure; often identifying unrecognized safety issues.

These analyses can be integrated with accident reporting systems and management programs for worker compensation. For hotel operators, this last item is not trivial. As reported by EHS Today, according to the 2017 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, serious, nonfatal workplace injuries for all industries now amount to nearly $60 billion in direct U.S. workers' compensation costs per year; more than $1 billion dollars a week spent by businesses on these injuries.

The Nexus Between Health and Safety

It is important to briefly mention that a healthy worker is most likely a safer one, as well as a happier one. Good health and regular physical exercise brings with it many benefits, including enhanced alertness and the fitness required of many hospitality tasks.

Many properties have fitness centers or pools for which staff may have user privileges at certain times. Other organizations may sponsor formal wellness programs, including special membership deals with community resources.

The many technologies informing today's wellness programs, from blood pressure and pulse monitors, all linked to our smart phones, to state of the art fitness machines, thus contribute to the safety of workers.

Final Thoughts: Implementation

Technology applications ultimately rely on strategic clarity and user skills, acceptance and interaction. This process starts with hospitality organization leadership and management that are on board with a comprehensive worker safety program and allocation of appropriate resources for the program.

Next, as indicated earlier, select from the best technologies, including personal safety devices, that are cost-effective, that will integrate well with the existing hotel technology platform and management principles and practices; and that promote staff acceptance and adeptness in use. All of this must be supported with strong training efforts.

Last, alert devices, in particular, are only as effective as the emergency response system backing them up. Hotels should assign responsible first responders for each shift, most likely the general manager or assistant general manager on duty. Emergency response should be practiced regularly, just like fire drills, so everyone on the hospitality team knows what to do should a personal alert be initiated. Respond, resolve and document are keys to a successful system.

Ensuring a safe and productive work place for staff in our complex social world is a daunting assignment. With a solid boost from modern technologies, thoughtful hospitality organizations are definitely up to the challenge.

Ms. Levtchenko Hotel technology entrepreneur Adria Levtchenko is CEO and Co-Founder of PurpleCloud Technologies, a software platform that provides real-time access to data and analytics for operational associates and managers in the hotel industry. Under Ms. Levtchenko's tenacity, creativity and guidance, PurpleCloud has become a leader in the data-driven task management space with proven capabilities and cost savings for major hospitality entities. Ms. Levtchenko attended the Hospitality Program at Drexel University and earned from the school a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. Adria Levtchenko can be contacted at adria@purplecloudtech.com Please visit http://www.purplecloudtech.com for more information. Extended Biography

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