ergonomic injuries can cause back painOSHA has issued a formal Hazard Alert Letter to Hyatt Hotels, notifying the company of ergonomic risk factors faced by housekeepers in the course of their daily work. The letter recommends steps for Hyatt to take to reduce the ergonomic strain of housekeeping labor.

The Hazard notice concludes a year-long investigation process of Hyatt properties nationwide led by OSHA, instigated by injury complaints that were filed by housekeepers in 2010 on behalf of 3,500 Hyatt workers in eight U.S. cities, like Chicago, San Antonio and Indianapolis. The landmark multi-city filing of complaints was the first of its kind in the private sector. Since that time, OSHA and its state counterparts have issued 18 citations against Hyatt and 3 citations against one of its subcontractors, proposing combined fines of over $118,000 for alleged violations of various safety regulations protecting housekeepers and other hotel workers. Hyatt has appealed and in some cases settled the citations against it. In addition, State OSHA plans in California and Hawaii have issued similar ergonomic hazard notices to Hyatt properties in those states.

"OSHA's letter validates reports by Hyatt housekeepers about pain and injuries sustained while cleaning luxury hotel rooms," according to UniteHere!, a union representing workers in the hotel, food service, airport, gaming and textile industries. "Over time, lifting heavy mattresses and other cleaning activities can lead to debilitating injuries, surgery and even permanent disability. Hyatt housekeepers at some hotels clean as many as 30 rooms a day, leaving room attendants as little as 15 minutes per room to scrub bathroom floors, change bed linens and more. In a study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine examining 50 hotel properties from 5 different hotel companies, Hyatt housekeepers had the highest injury rate of all housekeepers studied when compared by hotel company."

"For years, we have asked Hyatt to make simple changes that would ease the toll on our bodies," says Maria Soto, a housekeeper at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio, who has been injured cleaning rooms. "Now our voices are being heard, and the federal government is joining us in calling on Hyatt to make our jobs safer."

The Hazard Alert Letter recommends remedies that Hyatt can implement across its U.S. operations, like use of long-handled mops and fitted sheets, to minimize the amount of bed lifting and straining housekeepers do daily. The letter also outlines Hyatt's responsibility to record injuries of subcontracted workers at its hotels, addressing a loophole that stems from the hotel chain's use of contract workers to clean hotel rooms. Hyatt stirred controversy in 2009 after firing nearly 100 housekeepers in its Boston hotels, replacing them with contracted workers making minimum wage and increasing the quota of rooms cleaned each day.

"By issuing the Hazard Alert at a corporate level, OSHA is telling Hyatt that the dangers of housekeeping work are real, that there are reasonable solutions, and it's time for Hyatt to put them into practice across the country," said Pamela Vossenas, UNITE HERE's health and safety expert.