Building a Buffer Between Man & Machine

There’s a catchy slogan that says,“Safety is no accident!” But leaving aside catchphrases and buzzwords, achieving success in this arena is no different than in any other. It takes discipline, training, commitment and a concerted effort by the entire organization to ensure that at the end of each day employees leave work in the same physical condition as when they arrived.This is no simple task, given the multitude of jobs that are executed daily, the pace at which business moves and the complexity of the automated industrial environments in which today’s employees work.

So given these challenges, how do business leaders ensure that they’ve taken appropriate steps to safeguard their employees and their work environments?

Management Principles

Safety is a dynamic topic. We must approach it from multiple angles to ensure that the textile service work environment is safe and productive. There’s no perfect route to success, but experts agree that in most cases those that do succeed need to have the following:ƒ

  • Exceptional training and awareness programs 
  • A commitment to proactive and preventive maintenance 
  • Dedicated safety professionals, safety committees and active participation by management personnel at each level of the organization who reinforce the importance of this topic... safety must be part of the organizational culture!
  • A dedicated evaluation or “risk assessment” of each job description or work environment so that appropriate automation, guarding, and/or operational practices exist 
  • A clear understanding of regulatory requirements that impact each and every environment
  • A proactive relationship with suppliers, customers, insurance and safety professionals to make sure that their talents are leveraged to enhance the safety system

In recent years, the industry has emphasized safety in the wash alley, with improvements noted across the board.These efforts have fueled advances in work practices, operator training and equipment.As a result of a drive by business leaders, supply chain partners,TRSA and others, the industry has reduced its level of incidents. In fact, according to TRSA’s annual Safety Survey, accidents have dropped by more than 50% over the past six years, with reportable injury and illness rates (TRIR) falling 42% and the rate of days away or restricted or transferred work (DART) dropping by 33%. But there’s still much to do.The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently reported that linen supply and industrial laundries are in the top 15% among U.S. industries in terms of TRIR and DART rates.The fact is that the industry operates in three high-risk areas: vehicles on public roads, materials handling and automated machinery. As for washroom safety, over the last 18 months, news outlets have confirmed the unfortunate fact that fatalities have occurred among employees working on or around wash aisle equipment.

In light of these circumstances, many independent operators and national companies have invested significantly in safety— particularly in the wash aisle—to safeguard their employees.Technology will continue to play a critical role as the industry faces the challenges of ensuring safety in operational environments.A particular focus is the need to increase the buffer zone between employees and wash aisle machinery when loading washers in semiautomated or manual work environments. In either scenario, plant personnel manually load a washer by pushing slings of soiled linens/garments into the spinning cylinder. As the goods exit the bag, centrifugal force pulls them in, but in some cases, the bag, along with the rope at the bottom, is also pulled in. The potential exists for the bag/rope to get caught on the operator’s arm, and as the bag begins to spin, a serious injury could result.

Safer semiautomated wash floors

One new technology recently developed to address the challenge of manual loading operations on a semiautomated wash floor is the “SafeLoadTM Shuttle,” (patent pending) developed by G.A. Braun Inc., Syracuse, NY.The SafeLoad system provides safety from two standpoints. First, it provides a safe means for loading and unloading open-pocket washers. Second, it enables production operators to continuously monitor and control hazardous motion on the wash floor.

How does it work? The operator controls the movement of an enclosed SafeLoad Shuttle and drives it to any machine in the wash alley, says Steve Wilbur, Braun’s engineering director. The operator also can remotely order the shuttle to load/ unload a washer, or to load a dryer using safety monitored two-handed controls.This limits the automated functions of the shuttle and ensures that operators initiate all hazardous motion, as opposed to an automated control system.This technology represents a step forward in Braun’s development of safer wash aisle systems.

“The team at Braun leveraged its extensive experience not only in designing automated wash floors, but also in executing numerous WASS (Wash Aisle Safety System) projects over the past four years to define a solution to this long-standing need,” Wilbur says. “Once we established a need, we developed various solution alternatives that we refined to the ‘SafeLoad’ concept. Once this concept was technologically secured via the patent process, we invited customers to Syracuse to spend time watching the SafeLoad perform in our research and development-processing cell.The suggestions they made have been incorporated in our final design, which further improved the functionality.”

Manual wash aisle challenges

Another area of innovation is focused on increasing a buffer zone between operators and machinery on manual wash floors. Braun also has developed a patent-pending solution for these plants.This device is currently undergoing testing, and the company will leverage end user input to refine its system prior to releasing it to the market later this year.

Teaming Up For Accident Prevention

“Laundry operators and suppliers are working together to improve wash floor safety,” says Braun COO Joe Gudenburr, noting that the SafeLoad system is now undergoing testing at an industrial laundry facility in the Midwest.“We have had the good fortune of working with very conscientious professionals who share the same goal as we do to develop technological solutions that are robust, simple to operate and maintain, and that provide for a safe and productive operational environment.We take safety very seriously, and have imbedded it into the design and operational criteria for all of our products.”

TRSA is equally committed to promoting safety. From the association’s Safety Committee, to its collection of educational resources,TRSA is focused on helping the industry improve its safety record. For 2012, we’ve planned a Safety Summit on May 21-22 at the Hilton Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport—Mall of America hotel.Watch for new resources, including the release of a Hazard Communications Manual, a Web-based driver safety-training program and more.

Without question, safety—whether on the wash floor, on the route or in any other aspect of textile services—is as vital a concern to us as it is to you and your employees.

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