Hotel Safety and Health Update: It’s Time to Check In

According to the American Hotel and Motel Association (AHMA), the U.S. lodging industry brings in $134 billion and employs nearly 1.8 million people. Meeting the needs of guests is of the utmost importance in order to keep the business thriving, but protecting the safety and well-being of employees is just as crucial.

From cleaning guest rooms, to serving meals, to maintaining hotel grounds, employees are put in situations each day that can put them at risk. The most common injuries often occur from sprains and repetitive work, but employees can also experience risks related to slips and falls, indoor air quality, violence, bloodborne pathogens, chemical exposure, and more.

With this Compliance Report, you can get solutions to your toughest hotel safety challenges. You’ll learn how the top safety executive for the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas works to protect his staff, hear tips from the man who is considered the dean of the lodging-safety world, and read about hotel efforts to go green. You’ll also learn about:

  • MGM’s highly decentralized approach to protection
  • An update on the ergonomic risks of new, plusher hotel bedding.
  • How the “green hotel” movement impacts safety and health
  • The timeless contributions of risk management expert Ray Ellis
  • MGM Safety on a Grand Scale The opening lines of the Las Vegas MGM Grand’s “commitment to safety” states, “Safety is the first concern in every job and task that you perform. There is no job assignment that you should undertake if you have not been trained to safely perform the work.” The Grand is one of 17 properties owned and operated by MGM MIRAGE in Nevada, Mississippi, and Michigan. This enormous hotel and casino employs a staggering 10,000 workers and 1,200 contractors.The company’s policy states that “all accidents are preventable,” and it lists guidelines and requirements covering everything from reporting unsafe conditions to inspecting work areas; use of chemicals; lockout/tagout procedures; medical emergencies, earthquake, and fire; evacuation; and accident reporting.A decentralized worker-protection program is run by a two-person department. “Safety is part of the operating procedures of every one of our departmental entities,” said Tim Jones, executive director of safety, health, and the environment. Departments are accountable and responsible for all safety functions, including training. The MGM Grand is typical of the lodging industry, as overexertion and lifting-related issues are the primary cause of employee injury. Jones says they account for about 50 percent of incidents; slips and falls are second. The two categories make up about 95 percent of injury-related costs and lost workdays. Most of the injuries befall employees in housekeeping and beverage service.Reducing the Risk

    Asked how the hotel is battling back against ergonomic injuries, Jones points to several initiatives, including an improved housekeeper training program. New hires spend two weeks on a training floor learning how to safely conduct their job duties. Training covers fire and evacuation procedures, bloodborne pathogens, and other compliance requirements.

    The MGM Grand, like so many others, has moved toward more luxurious, heavier bedding and other amenities that can increase ergonomic risk, so to combat that, Jones says the hotel has slightly reduced the number of rooms a housekeeper is required to clean each shift.

    Another change that’s benefiting employees and the company is a strengthened return-to-work program. The hotel set out to enhance the program about a year ago, and the results are promising, with about $1 million saved to date.

    The Grand contracts with nearby occupational medicine clinics whose physicians are familiar with jobs performed at the hotel. The emphasis is getting injured workers released to light duty. Depending on job classification and labor representation, an MGM Grand employee on light duty will earn 80 percent to 100 percent of regular income; state law requires that such jobs pay at least 67 percent.

    According to Jones, only about 1 percent of injuries currently result in lost time. Because the hotel complex is so large, there are many opportunities for alternative employment.

    For example, a housekeeper recovering from an injury might be temporarily assigned as a greeter and towel distributor at the swimming pool. Light duty for an employee in the custodial group could be touch-up window cleaning.

    An effort to reduce slips and falls is also starting to pay off. One simple strategy has been to improve signs that indicate floors are being cleaned or are in need of repair. Several of the facility’s 30 kitchens are now using epoxy floor covering that is antislip, does not peel, and is easier to clean thoroughly than other types of flooring. The hotel participates in Serv-Safe (, a National Restaurant Association training program that primarily emphasizes food safety but includes employee safety components.

    Training 10,000 employees in required safety standards and procedures sounds pretty daunting. But like other elements of the safety process, it is managed and tracked at the departmental level, says Jones. The training itself is centralized within The University at MGM, an in-house function overseen by the Human Resources department.

  • Successful Safety Initiatives
    Other successful safety initiatives at the MGM Grand include:

      • An active safety committee whose members become the “go-to safety people” within their departments.
      • A safety-solutions committee that encourages and rewards employee input.

    Participation by Jones in regular meetings with his counterparts at all 17 Las Vegas properties owned by MGM MIRAGE.

    • Pre-Shift, a daily e-mail newsletter that covers topics of interest to employees.

    Included are:

    • Special daily events
    • Available positions
    • Safety news and information
    • Hotel developments such as a store opening or a new show

    The January 2008, edition thanked all employees for their assistance with a fire at the Monte Carlo hotel. Staff members were praised for their quick thinking and responsiveness “in a potentially dangerous situation.”

    MIRAGE also “promotes a culture of health and wellness” with tools like Healthy Living, an internal website that encourages and provides incentives to employees to practice healthy habits. The site offers the corporation’s 70,000 workers:

    • Changing daily news about fitness, nutrition, and disease prevention
    • Health coaching by phone
    • Online seminars on topics such as diabetes and smoking cessation
    • Wellness activities through which employees earn points that convert to cash

    Although Tim Jones would like to see zero injuries among his hotel’s workforce, he is pleased that incident rates are below industry average. He emphasizes that as a self-insured company, MGM Grand works hard to remain responsive to employees’ needs and to avoid an adversarial work environment.

    A Concern for Comfort

    In 2006, the union UNITE HERE published a report titled “Creating Luxury, Enduring Pain.” It examined research on injuries among 40,000 hotel workers at 87 U.S. hotels and concluded that housekeepers were at highest risk for occupational injuries and that such injuries were on the rise.

    The union concluded the spike was due to new bedding that can include triple sheeting, bulky duvet covers, and heavy pillow-top mattresses. Changing and handling these is heavy work and can result in repetitive motion injuries.

    One veteran housekeeper complained that the new bedding added 15 minutes to the time it took her to clean a guest room. Her problem was that even with the new bedding which requires more time to clean, her room quota had not changed.

    Although the MGM Grand says it has made some quota changes to accommodate for the extra risk, not all hotels have taken this step.

    UNITE HERE says that although it has worked with certain hotels to negotiate changes through contract agreements, the industry as a whole needs to become more engaged in reducing the hazards in housekeeping work. They found that “hotel workers are 48 percent more likely to be injured on the job than the typical worker in the service sector.” They also log higher rates of days away from work.

    The report cited a Canadian study that found that a hotel housekeeper changes body position every three seconds while cleaning a room. If it takes 25 minutes to clean a room that would mean 8,000 different body postures are assumed during a shift. Combined with forceful movements, such as those required to lift a mattress, clean tiles, or vacuum, the result can be serious injury.

    In the survey of housekeepers, 91 percent of 600 housekeepers reported physical pain associated with their work. Of those, 86 percent said the pain started after beginning their jobs as housekeepers.

    Attention to the issue appears to have had some impact. Last May, an appellate court upheld the Illinois Hotel Room Attendant Rest Break law. The first-of-its-kind statute requires hotels in Cook County to provide room attendants with two 15-minute rest breaks and a 30-minute meal period. The state’s Hotel and Lodging Association had fought enforcement of the rule but lost on appeal.

    The issue is coming to the attention of regulators as well. UNITE HERE points to a recent Cal/OSHA citation at the LAX Hilton for failing to control exposures that cause repetitive motion injuries, as required under California law.

    Strategic Vision: Mastering Safety Challenges Fay Feeney is a certified safety professional and principal of Envision Strategic Group, a California-based consultancy serves clients in hospitality, entertainment, insurance, manufacturing, retail, and other sectors. Her areas of expertise include safety culture improvement, management training, and ergonomics.

    Feeney sees similarities between safety challenges at hotels and at other types of workplaces. In all industries, safety professionals must learn how to work with top management. “A best practice is to really understand your job and what the executive team is looking for,” she says. It’s up to a safety professional to help corporate leaders solve problems of concern to them; it’s not up to top brass to understand the particulars of a safety program.

    Is It Good to Be Green?

    One current hot-button concern on the minds of many in the lodging industry is improving environmental performance. Feeney believes that safety professionals have a significant role to play in making hotels green because they’re accustomed to working in a regulatory environment and they understand risk management. “We have a very important seat at the table. We clearly have the expertise to help executives in this initiative,” she says. But Feeney emphasizes that green initiatives be conducted with a people-first focus. Hotel staff should not be exposed to additional risk as a result of environmental improvements. In fact, such green efforts as reducing the use of toxic materials benefit employees as they help the planet. When these steps also save money, it’s a triple win.

    Safety Implications of Greening: A White Paper Working with a group of industry insiders, Feeney edited a white paper published recently by the Hospitality Branch of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). “Safety Implications of Greening: Hospitality Executive Leadership Opportunities” provides a framework for safety leaders to begin moving toward greener properties. The document notes that hospitality businesses recognize greening as an opportunity to reduce costs, improve operational efficiency, increase brand equity, and reduce safety and health risks to employees and guests.

    It lists examples of greening that also positively affect employees, including:

    • Reducing use of hazardous products and materials. This cuts risks to employees and guests and reduces the amount of hazardous waste requiring disposal.
    • Using more energy-efficient equipment in heating, cooling, and lighting and in construction materials.
    • Improving air quality by eliminating smoking and by choosing lower-toxicity paints.
    • Making greener choices in housekeeping methods and products. The ASSE publication recommends that hotels “establish strict chemical standards for cleaning chemicals to reduce employee and customer exposure to toxins (low or zero volatile organic compounds) and to non-odorous chemicals.”

    The white paper recommends floor-care products that have been certified by organizations such as Green Seal or EcoLogoM. In some cases, green cleansers can eliminate requirements for personal protective equipment and medical monitoring.

    Ray Ellis: Dean of Risk Reduction

    Ray Ellis retired last month as director of the Loss Prevention Management Institute of the University of Houston’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. We interviewed him on his last day in the office. Ellis, 87, described a long and fruitful safety career that began in 1955 when he joined the staff of the National Safety Council. (He had worked in the retail sector for nearly 20 years before that.) Ellis was later employed the Howard Johnson group and the American Hotel Motel Association. He joined Hilton College in 1994.

    Some consider Ellis’s greatest accomplishment his role as editor of the “Loss Prevention Management Bulletin,” a monthly communication with tips and trends. The documents are archived on the college’s website at Ellis says he plans to continue to write the publication with support from A review of back issues reveals the longevity of some safety concerns. For example, an issue of the bulletin dated August 1997 addresses fire safety and the growing use of sprinklers in guest rooms.

    It also reports on workplace violence and hazard communication training to reduce chemical exposures. Asked his view of hot topics in lodging safety, Ellis mentions employee preparation. He advocates training all hotel staff in Red Cross first aid. He believes the heightened awareness that results from the training is an excellent injury-reduction strategy.

    He is also a firm believer in the value of good housekeeping: “If you drop it, pick it up; if you spill it, wipe it up; and if you weren’t the one to do it but you see something, stop and clean it up anyway!”

    Pre-shift stretching is another favorite technique. During a trip to China, Ellis observed the Chinese participating in early morning outdoor calisthenics. He praises businesses that have similar programs and believes they can contribute to injury reduction. When it comes to making ergonomic improvements, Ellis warns employers to be careful to “do it right the first time.” For example, if computer, desk, and chair are not properly aligned, readjustment can be costly.

    Awareness and Action

    Service is critical in the lodging business. Without well-protected, well-trained employees to deliver it, guests will not receive the service that makes such a difference in the quality of their hotel experience. As in any industry, awareness and action are the keys.