Hotel housekeeper work getting more dangerous with more injuries, pain reported by workers

May 8, 2006

A new study, “Creating Luxury, Enduring Pain,” couples new research with the stories of hotel housekeepers to paint a dramatic picture of the work of a hotel housekeeper. Findings show that behind the luxury and comfort that housekeepers provide for hotel guests is a pattern of persistent pain and injury.

The report utilizes the first comprehensive analysis of employer records of worker injuries, including records of the major five hotel companies. The analysis covers seven years (1999-2005) and over 60 hotel properties with approximately 40,000 hotel employees. The report finds that not only are housekeepers injured more frequently than other hotel and service workers, but also this problem is getting worse as hotel companies implement room changes including heavier beds and linens and room amenities like coffee makers and treadmills.

Housekeepers endure this workplace pain and continue to work because they value their jobs and their customers, the report says.

Valessie McCaskill, a housekeeper at the Chicago Hilton and Towers, explains, “Some days my leg would swell up and I would literally limp from room to room. When the pain was at its worst, I would sit on the beds and cry because it hurt so much.”

Unfortunately, the study finds that stories like Valessie’s are all too common.

The statistical analyses of hotel housekeeper pain and injury is based on recent work by a group of occupational medicine experts in conjunction with Unite Here. The results were presented at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s 2006 National Occupational Research Agenda symposium last month. Using hotel employer records of housekeeper injuries, combined with evidence from earlier surveys, the study reveals that housekeepers face prevalent pain and disproportionate rates of workplace injury.

Ninety-one percent of the 600 hotel housekeepers surveyed reported experiencing workplace pain. This pain is so severe that 66 percent of hotel housekeepers who reported workplace pain took pain medication and 67 percent visited a doctor.

In the 1999 to 2005 period, the study reported that hotel housekeepers faced an injury rate of 10.4 percent, which is over 86 percent higher than the injury rate experienced by non-housekeepers (5.6 percent).

Also, between 1999 and 2005, housekeepers faced a 61.4 percent higher risk of injury compared to all hotel workers.

Additionally, the study reported that hotel rooms have become more hazardous places to work in recent years. Between 2002-2005 period, housekeepers had a 71 percent higher risk of injury relative to all hotel workers compared to 47 percent in the 1999-2001 period.

According to Laura Punnett, an occupational epidemiologist and ergonomist at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and one of the coauthors of the recent NIOSH presentation on housekeeping health and safety, “Work like hotel room cleaning has been shown over and over again to increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders, such as low back pain and tendonitis. The prevalence of low back pain and related symptoms is unusually high in hotel workers.”

The evidence suggests increasingly excessive workloads add to rising rates of musculoskeletal disorders among hotel housekeepers. Hotel housekeeping workloads and the physical demands of the work have increased significantly in recent years as the hotels have upgraded and introduced new room amenities like luxury beds with heavy mattresses, triple sheeting and heavy duvets.

Hotel workers across North America are coming together to improve working conditions through the Hotel Workers Rising campaign. In addition to improved wages and benefits, safe workloads are expected to be in issue in many cities this year as 60,000 hotel workers negotiate new contracts.

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