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Hotel Housekeeping - The Economics of Ergonomics

Thursday, August 3, 2017, 11:23 Hrs  [IST]

While designing opulent commercial spaces like hotels more often than not the challenges of its maintenance and upkeep are ignored. Such designs pose great amount of challenge for the housekeepers who are entrusted with the daily dusting, cleaning, maintenance, etc., of the space. Therefore, it is important that spaces, jobs, tools, etc., are designed ergonomically so that people who do the routine cleaning, maintenance are not put to any kind of health or safety risks. Although high level of standardisation in the hospitality industry has brought in improved ergonomics of housekeeping, there is lot needs to be done to improve the overall record of the industry, feel experts. P Krishna Kumar writes.

Pic Courtesy: Karcher Cleaning Systems

Ergonomics is largely understood as the relationship between a person and a job and defined as the science of designing jobs, equipment, and workplaces to fit the person. Hospitality industry being a service industry where guest experience and satisfaction are non-compromisable, it is quite important that high standards are maintained at all time such that safety, security, cleanliness, hygiene are achieved at all time. In the era of pro-active social media, hotels cannot afford to have any negative review about any of these vital elements from guests.

This puts a great amount of responsibility on the shoulders of housekeepers in a hotel environment. They required to be on their toes to respond to any kind of situation while remaining invisible to guests and visitors. Doing such daily chores, they are prone to develop various health related issues in the longer term. Various studies done by specialised agencies internationally have revealed prevalence of various health and fitness issues in housekeepers due to their work related regimen at their work places. And a very high percentage of these are related to musculo-skeletal, which is on account of the lack of ergonomics in terms of design of the interiors and other spaces, procurement related issues in terms of furniture, fittings, installations, etc., and poor selection of tools and equipment for cleaning and maintenance, etc. A recent study by Optum, a top provider of employee assistance programmes for leading corporate entities, have found that as high as 46% of the workforce in organisations in India suffers from some or the other form of stress.

On the other hand, attention on Ergonomics has proved to improve efficiency and work quality and reduces the work related stress, fatigue, and even injuries short and long term to housekeepers.

Designing luxury spaces scant regard to its upkeep and maintenance after the project is completed can lead to mammoth problems. The victims obviously would be people who are entrusted with the maintenance. In order to overcome that, Ergonomics need to be a focus from the very beginning and should be incorporated into the design, procurement, execution, etc.

At the design stage
Modern day designers seem to understand the perils of housekeeping a heavily designed luxury space. However, they are bound by the briefing and expectations of promoters while designing a luxury hospitality space. Often than not, misunderstanding the real meaning of ‘perfect guest experience’, owners and designers go on an overdrive to create extraordinary designs which becomes a nightmare for housekeepers.

“As hospitality designers we understand the importance of creating spaces that are aesthetically pleasing, highly functional, and easy on maintenance with impeccable upkeep. Housekeeping is integral to hospitality. Hotel design must ideally take into account the designing of the luxury spaces keeping in mind the housekeeping aspect of cleaning, linen tuckins, trolley movements, lifting of heavy mattresses, etc.,” says Sabeena Khanna, Architect & Founder Principal, Studio KIA (India & UAE).

Pic Courtesy: IP Cleaning India

“New technology, modern machinery and computer aided designs have ushered a new era in designing industry. Complicated patterns, designs and even new materials are flooding the markets, especially in the hotel and residential sector. While these designs and materials ensure additions of interesting design elements - their maintenance and upkeep is left to the housekeeping and maintenance staff,” says Nehit Vij of Intrigue Designs. Vij proposes “low maintenance design” to lower down the running cost for the client. “All timeless buildings that we see around us are user friendly and are good examples of ergonomic designs,” he observes.

Giving a housekeepers view on contemporary designs, Swarnalata Mankikar, Executive Housekeeper, ITC Gardenia, said, “Often, the modern and contemporary designs are impractical in terms of maintenance. Simplicity is the key coupled with a unique design element which sets the hotel apart infrastructurally. The ultimate purpose is to create aesthetic appeal that lasts.

If you are planning a hotel you must balance functional, layout, and aesthetic issues to develop a property that simultaneously meets the needs of the guests, the staff, and the owner, observes Vaishali P Sinha, Director – Housekeeping, Meluha The Fern. “The purpose of work place ergonomics is to increase the comfort, safety and efficiency of workers by fitting the environment to them not the other way around, giving consideration to both the individual worker and the company as a whole,” she added.

Involving housekeeping experts
In order to mitigate the issues of ergonomics that could crop up at a later stage, it is ideal to involve experts who have good sense of housekeeping and maintenance at the very design stage of the project itself. This would help designers and procurement people to have sensitivity to the issues related with maintenance, upkeep, etc. But, it is generally ignored in most of the projects.

Confirms Sinha, “Executive housekeepers have limited control on the initial planning and design of a hotel. I feel that housekeepers should be involved in the initial stages to ensure that the aspects of the property are maintained well over the years through proper cleaning and maintenance. This will reduce unnecessary capital expenses on expensive equipment and outsourcing specialised cleaning.”

“If I was to say that all designers and planners do involve the housekeepers as a part of design review it would not be correct, but the awareness has started and definitely it will have a rippling effect and will lead to culmination of a functional design,” said Madhu Chandhok, Founding Partner & Director, pip2020, a consulting firm. “In my opinion housekeepers are design keepers and they also need to be proactive in getting themselves educated on these aspects too. The various heights and weights, for example, a furniture piece which may need to be lifted shifted during operations by the housekeeping staff needs to be well thought at the design stage,” she added.

Mankikar of ITC Gardenia has a different experience to tell, “The hotel architect and interior designer in collaboration with the housekeeper always take into account the factor of ergonomics. While interior designers are responsible for the initial product design, it is the housekeepers who are responsible for the maintenance thereafter. The housekeeper is always involved in the initial design process along with the interior designer in order to offer expertise on usage of the right kind of material in the right area.”

“Involving housekeepers during the project stage is of prime importance at Lemon Tree Hotels,” says Sareena Kochar, VP – Housekeeping. “We have a say in the overall make-up of the interiors, right from the conceptualisation and interior finalisation period. The ID specifications for the mock-up rooms are shared with housekeeping, for constructive inputs. These inputs are jointly reviewed by the management and project team before finalising/approving the interiors,” she informs.

“Responsible hospitality always takes into consideration work procedures, tools and equipment which are comfortable and efficient to use, and also creates a hazard-free environment,” says Namrata Marwaha, Corporate Housekeeper, The Leela Palaces, Hotels & Resorts.

Project teams are now adept in all these standards, feels Bhavana Alvares, Executive Housekeeper, Vivanta by Taj, Bengaluru, and hence these are inculcated from the very beginning of the project. “Housekeepers do come into the picture when capital and furniture, mattresses and operating items have to be ordered,” she informs.

Pic Courtesy: Karcher Cleaning Systems

Branded v/s non-branded
Are the housekeepers in branded hotels more empowered in comparison to independent hotels when it comes to ergonomics? Brands always boast of standardised design and products while independent hotels are believed to have designs and material procurement as per the whims and fancies of the owner concerned. Housekeepers we spoke to also agreed upon this distinction and more convenience while working in branded properties where everything is standardised.

“A brand whether domestic or international has fixed detailed standards and processes which any associated unit must adhere to. In terms of housekeeping, hotels that are associated with a brand will have the same cleaning products and equipment used in maintaining the hotel as well as key operating procedures. This ensures a flawless service design and customer expectations across the country or even on an international level would be the same,” says Mankikar of ITC Gardenia. through a centralised system which also oversees quality assurance. On the other hand, standards and quality tend to vary from property to property in non-branded segment,” she stated.

“Cleaning standards in hotels are radically similar in branded and non-branded hotels. However branded hotels have standardisation across properties which may or may not be flexible,” observes Sinha of Meluha The Fern.

Role of modern technology and tools
There is no denying the fact that modern technology has by and large eased the work load and pressure on housekeepers to a large extent over the decades. There are customised solutions available today to help housekeepers do their work more effectively with ease.

Confirming the changes modern technology has brought into housekeeping work, Kochar of Lemon Tree Hotels said, “In the past, housekeeping employees were frequently shuffling from their knees to their feet and back in order to flip a room, resulting in a laundry list of short- and long-term consequences on their bodies. Today, manufacturers and hotels can support employees by purchasing tools that work with them, not against them. Everything from the shape of vacuum cleaners to bathroom cleaning equipment is designed to keep housekeepers off of their knees. Even the chemicals being used today are eco-friendly, user-friendly and require less effort to clean and disinfect surfaces, without causing any damage to the health and environment.”

Technology has advanced so much that even robotic tools have forayed into the housekeeping segment bringing paradigm shift in the way cleaning and maintenance are conducted. “There are robotic tools in the markets currently which promise to reducing manpower but its shelf life needs to be determined,” says Alvares of Vivanta by Taj. But modern equipment are playing its role in effective and efficient cleaning of hotels, she agreed.

The evolving vendor-housekeeper synergies have helped in bringing whole lot of benefits towards improving ergonomics, confirms Mankikar. “Vendors having a deep understanding of a specific unit’s requirement and customising services goes a long way towards building a relationship of mutual benefit. Offering end-to-end solutions coupled with certifications from reputed organisations further build trust with the organisation. Choosing a vendor who can provide qualitative services using the best in modern technology and meet the requirements of the unit are one of the most important responsibilities of a housekeeper,” she adds.

Enabling Ergonomics
By providing right tools and equipment and by employing right systems and procedures, a whole of work associated stress, fatigue and health issues can be tackled. This requires right kind of selection of tools and equipment. This is the era of customisation. Customers are more demanding and look for solutions which are customised to their requirements. Equipment manufacturers and vendors have already woken up to this market demand and more than ready to engage the clients and develop products and solutions relevant to their requirements.

“We understand the hotel industry closely where man hour required is on the higher side. In such an environment ergonomics is quite important,” says Anil Sathe, GM, Karcher Cleaning Systems. Understanding the industry requirements, Karcher has developed extensive range of accessory that offers the right solution for every application, he informs. Giving an idea about few of Karcher branded products which have made a mark in hotel housekeeping and drastically improved the ergonomics of cleaning; Sathe said that the Force High Pressure gun by Karcher uses the recoil force of the high-pressure Jet to reduce the holding force for the operator to zero. Instead of a tense working posture with a closed hand on the trigger, fingers can move freely. This prevents discomfort and extends the work interval. Similarly, their FRV Surface Cleaner has been another product very high in demand in hotel housekeeping. “FRV Surface Cleaner is ideal for splash-free surface cleaning and water vacuuming with no need for rinsing,” he informs.

While mechanisation has been accepted by all to augment and optimise housekeeping tasks in hotels, Tony Chazhoor, MD, IP Cleaning India, a subsidiary of IP Cleaning SPA Italy, believes that just selection of right machine for an application is not enough anymore, but have to “ensure that there exists man- machine harmony through their ergonomics for reaching to the desired results.”

Pic Courtesy: IP Cleaning India

The requirements of the hotel customers are different from other industries, adds Tony, therefore the tools and solutions should also be smart and intuitive. “The machines used such as scrubbers, vacuums, steam generators or the manual tools such as trolleys, mops, squeegees, etc., must be intuitive, lightweight and ergonomic, because cleaning tasks must be rapid and results must be effective.”

Talking about IP Cleaning’s products and solutions, Chazhoor said that they work with the patrons and understand the specific requirements before developing tools and solutions. IPC Trolleys are high in demand in the hotel housekeeping. “IPC full range of Brix trolleys includes specific models dedicated to hospitality areas. For window and surfaces cleaning, IPC Cleano is a very functional and ergonomic tool available in different sizes. Our CT15 Roller, the compact walk behind scrubber drier can easily be converted into a soft floor cleaning machine when it is needed to clean carpets or stone/tile floors. The adjustable and foldable handle allows the machine to reach areas under the table and sofas with the maximum comfort for the operator. IPC Leo or Leo Maxi Vacuum machine models are the most ergonomic, lightweight and superior in their performance. We also have SKY VAC for high reach cleaning (up to 40 feet) and for gutter cleaning. The overall IPC offering is so designed that it’s not only good economics but also good ergonomics.

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