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Safety And Security

Risky Business!

September 19, 2010
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In the cleaning industry, professional cleaners are required to perform work, such as hard floor care and carpet care, which is both labor intensive and physical.

As with any physical activity, there exists a risk of work-basis injuries, which cause havoc on the activities that help complete tasks to maintain business and keep building occupants happy.

Let''s take a look at how work-related injuries affect your operation and what you can do to overcome their negative impacts.

Before we get too far, we need to understand which types of injuries are involved in cleaning and restoration work.

They can essentially be broken down into two distinct categories: Physical and chemical.

Physical: Rotator Cuff

A major debilitative physical injury related to our industry involves the rotator cuff and involves both tears in the rotator cuff or shoulder bursitis, also known as rotator cuff tendonitis.

For example, in carpet cleaning, insurance data suggests that these injuries ultimately affect more than 71 percent of carpet cleaners who work more than 10 years in the industry.

These cleaners seek medical attention for shoulder pain from "moving the wand."

The repetitive back-and-forth nature of wanding causes lateral pressure on the shoulder bursa, which eventually becomes impinged.

This essentially means that there is inflammation of a particular area in the shoulder joint.

When one moves the wand, there is lateral inside and outside twisting of the shoulder in a complex motion, which makes several bones, muscles and ligaments operate contrary to each other.

Tendons slide back and forth and are protected by the bursa.

Inflammation causes a lack of space for the tendons to operate and the resulting "pinching" causes the pain.

As you can imagine, these types of injuries affect all cleaners who perform similar tasks, such as mopping.

Too many times, a cleaner suffers the symptoms of a rotator cuff injury but does nothing to have it corrected.

The most prescribed treatments are non-surgical and include cortisone injection and physical therapy, as well as taking anti-inflammatory medicines.

The major problem with injections of this nature is that repeated cortisone injection causes a weakening of tendons.

There are times that conservative treatment methods do not work.

Surgery to correct shoulder bursitis is called subacromial decompression.

Rotator cuff tear surgery is usually more complex.

What is the downside for the operator who has these surgeries?

There is usually total immobilization for two weeks, followed by up to six months of physical therapy.

During this period, the patient is definitely not performing effective work.

Physical: Back Injuries

We know that, with constant lifting, bending and moving, etc., the back takes a beating in our industry.

Too often, back problems are the culprit that takes a person totally out of our industry.

Repetitive movement causes muscle fatigue or injury.

The exertion of too much force on your back also causes injury.

The lifting or movement of objects — such as furniture — causes a marked increased risk of back pain or injury.

You''ve probably felt it … a pain that radiates down your legs or arms, or a numbness, weakness or tingling in your arms or legs.

This is your vertebrae in a traumatized state.

Your spinal cord runs down through your vertebrae, through the soft, gel-like center.

Your nerves can become pinched when problems reduce the amount of space in your spine.

Hours of poor posture have been proven to lead to debilitating back injuries.

Documented back injuries in our industry have been related to the number of years of repetitive motion.

In many cases, back problems will heal on their own, as long as the repetitive motions causing the problem are eliminated.

Physical: Carpal Tunnel

These injuries are caused by the repetitive operation of activating a spray bottle, for instance.

The carpal tunnel is essentially a channel in the palm side of the wrist which has tendons running through it.

The median nerve runs right through this tunnel.

Repetitive motion or pinching of the median nerve can lead to aching, tingling, burning, numbness or pain in the hand and fingers and can spread up your arm.

Splints and cold compresses are often used as non-surgical treatments.

In severe cases, carpal tunnel release surgery is performed to cut the carpal ligament to make more space for nerves and tendons.

Recovery can take two to three months.

Chemical: Severe Acute Respiratory Illness

It has been reported that severe acute respiratory illness linked to the repeated use of chemicals in the workplace affects more than 33 percent of such users.

All too often, our workers are not taking proper precautions with chemicals.

Even with the "greening" of our industry and the responsible elimination of certain chemicals, the increased use of complex chemical polymers still causes a potential health risk.

Severe acute respiratory illness has been reported from the use of aerosolized chemical irritants.

Many cleaners do not notice that they are spraying chemical fogs and walking through them.

Prolonged contact with aerosolized chemical irritants can eventually cause chemical pneumonitis or polymer-fume fever, which has been linked to more than 15 percent of medical claims in our industry.

Signs of this are mucous membrane irritation, coughing, chest tightness, headaches and fatigue.

Doctors have advised that sprays containing polymers or solvents should only be used in well-ventilated areas.

Many cleaners who suffer severe acute respiratory illness become permanently disabled and not able to work.

Chemical: Skin Irritants

The most prevalent chemical sensitivity injury in our industry is tied to chemical irritants to the skin.

These chemical irritants affect the barrier properties of the epidermis and can remove the fat emulsion and remove water-binding mechanisms in the skin.

Alkalies, which are prevalent in many cleaning chemicals, can cause a severe skin reaction.

Reaction can involve a red rash, blisters, welts or hives or itchy, burning skin.

You know that feeling when you have a high-pH chemical on the hand? The skin be comes very smooth and "shiny."

The reaction is that the top layer of your skin has actually been chemically "peeled."

Even the capability of tear ducts to function has been affected by chemical skin irritants.

Cures for this condition usually involve the removal of all irritants from the patient.

This essentially means that one cannot be around the chemicals causing the irritation.

What can you do to reduce these types of work-related injuries?

The percentages of injuries and resulting medical care are high because cleaners often do not take adequate measures to prevent the injuries in the first place.

Make your plans now to overcome any difficulties that could come your way.


Dr. Neal Seymour is a speaker, trainer, writer and recognized authority on legal, business and technical operations matters relating to the carpet cleaning and restoration industry. He holds degrees in both engineering and law and has extensive experience as a corporate lawyer and businessman.

The above are modified excerpts of a feature article that was originally published in the April 2009 issue of Cleanfax® magazine. To view the entire article, place click here.

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