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May 9, 2012

Hyatt workers facing ergonomic risks: U.S. government agency

Heavy lifting, other housekeeping-related tasks contributing to ergonomic strain
By Karen Jacobs
    
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(Reuters) — Hyatt Hotels employees could face ergonomic strain as a result of heavy lifting and other tasks involved in housekeeping, a United States government agency said.

The finding, contained in an April letter from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to the hotel chain, did not rise to the level of meriting a general duty clause citation, which has been used to flag hazards that could result in serious injury or death. OSHA did not indicate Hyatt violated OSHA standards.

But an OSHA spokesman said on-site inspections at Hyatt "did identify the presence of ergonomic risk factors associated with the housekeeping tasks."

In response to injury complaints filed by union-represented workers, OSHA inspected Hyatt hotels in Illinois and Texas. The federal agency wrote that it found risk factors involved in housekeeping work such as repeated heavy lifting and carrying, bending, twisting and forceful gripping.

Chicago-based Hyatt, which is controlled by the billionaire Pritzker family, said in a statement it agreed there was no basis to issue ergonomic risk citations for housekeeping staff.

"The health and well-being of our association remain one of our top priorities and, as we always have, we will continue to work with our associates to ensure that we provide a safe, healthy workplace," Hyatt's statement said.

The OSHA letter suggested a number of strategies to Hyatt that could reduce the level of potential stressors, including providing workers with long-handled mops, lighter-weight vacuums with a better hand-grip design and knee pads that can be used to perform jobs that require kneeling.

"Employees should be consulted on evaluations of potential risk factors and on interventional strategies," the OSHA letter said.

UniteHere, a union that represents hospitality workers, said the OSHA letter validated reports by Hyatt workers about pain and injuries received while cleaning hotel rooms.

"Over time, lifting heavy mattresses and other cleaning activities can lead to debilitating injuries, surgery and even permanent disability," UniteHere said in a statement.

There has been a long-running dispute between UniteHere and Hyatt over worker safety and other issues. Hyatt has said that UniteHere has distorted the company's safety record.

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