Corinne Zudonyi

Many of you aren't aware of this, but my husband is an OSHA inspector. While I point out cleaning products on hotel housekeeping carts and floor equipment in use at retail stores, he's often talking about fall protection, safety goggles and the amount of worker injuries he encounters on a daily basis.

Not too long ago, he shared with me that janitors made up the third most injured workforce — and as much as I hate to admit it, he was right. The United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revealed that only freight/stock/material movers and tractor-trailer truck drivers have more on-the-job injuries than janitors. The most recent data showed almost 43,000 annual nonfatal injuries and illnesses and 38 fatal injuries in the cleaning sector.

Now, many of you might immediately think these nonfatal injuries are a result of repetitive motion. Certainly, repetitive tasks the custodial staff tackle on a daily basis can result in wear and tear on the body and increase the chances for chronic pain and arthritis, but the BLS reported another cause for injuries.

As outlined in our cover story, overexertion is the leading cause of worker injuries in this industry.

Think about it, in addition to the strenuous job of cleaning, how many of your staff work more than one job? How many have families they care for in their off time? When was the last time you were completely exhausted and realized your productivity was lacking?

As cleaning staffs are expected to tackle more square footage in the same or less amount of time, it's normal for workers to feel tired after prolonged physical effort. But fatigue, compounded with meeting daily cleaning expectations, leads to overexertion, which has shown to result in injuries.

As an industry, change needs to happen and you as managers can start within your departments. Reduce physical fatigue by implementing more ergonomic cleaning tools — bonus if they also improve productivity. You might also consider allowing regular breaks for the staff — experts suggest 10-minute breaks every hour — and minimizing overtime work.

Ignoring the signs of overexertion can not only risk employee safety, but it can also result in poor quality of work and low morale.