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Ergonomic Risk for Housekeepers

- July 12, 2018 by Brian Piñon, CSP (View all posts by Brian)

Housekeepers are exposed to a variety of risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders. This blog will review common exposures and controls for reducing the risk of injury.

Awkward Postures

Housekeepers may be exposed to awkward postures like stooping and extended reaching while making beds, changing trash can liners and scrubbing toilets, floors, mirrors, shower walls and bathtubs. A common solution is to provide workers with long-handled brushes that allow workers to more easily reach surfaces that are above the shoulders and below the knees. Long-handled brushes can eliminate awkward postures when light scrubbing or wiping is required, but have been shown to prompt workers into awkward postures when more force is needed to adequately clean a surface. It is recommended that they be provided to workers, but use should not be mandated. Workers should also be trained to place trash cans on an elevated surface before changing the liner, and to squat or kneel when tucking sheets under mattresses.


Housekeepers are often required to lift bulk linens, wet towels, mattresses and furniture. To reduce the weight lifted, limit linen bag size and require team lifts for rearranging furniture and turning mattresses. A 2013 study found that squatting to lift a mattress while tucking in sheets reduced the compressive forces on the low spine by 37% over the frequently used method of conducting the task while stooping over. Workers who squat or kneel to tuck in bed sheets avoid an awkward posture but also tend to lift the mattress less because the hand and forearm can be inserted under the mattress to act as a wedge. Another option to be considered is supplying handled mattress wedge tools that can eliminate lifting during the bed making task.

Nightstands are often an obstacle to bed making within hotel rooms. Housekeepers are forced to either manually move them aside or lean out over them while lifting the mattress corners at the head of the bed for sheet tucking. This is an exposure that should be assessed on a case by case basis. The weight and dimensions of the nightstands should be considered to determine whether it is safer for workers to move or lean over them.

A common recommendation for reducing the frequency of mattress lifting is that hotels utilize fitted bottom sheets. The presumption is that the elastic bands on fitted sheets can be pulled over mattress corners, eliminating the need for lifting. In 2011, a study found that after being laundered, fitted sheets had shrunk enough that housekeepers had to lift 3 mattress corners to put them on. Unless easier to use models can be found, flat sheets are the better choice. It is recommended that workers be trained to tuck in flat bottom sheets at the head of the bed and then tuck the remainder in at the same time as the top sheet.


A 2013 study found the average initial push force exerted by workers on a fully loaded 290 lbs. housekeeping cart with 8” hard rubber wheels to be 26 lbs. This is well below the Liberty Mutual MMH Table’s 55 lbs. design goal limit for a 25 ft. push conducted once every 30 minutes.

The force required to get a cart moving from standstill, and keep it moving, is substantially impacted by the caster wheel material and diameter. Carts found to be substantially heavier, or those with smaller wheel diameter or softer wheel material should be further assessed to determine whether they pose a hazard to workers. Casters should be regularly cleaned and maintained such that they provide the least amount of rolling resistance. To reduce cart weight, it may also be a good practice to frequently unload soiled linens as they accumulate. Workers should be trained to push rather than pull, as this more efficiently spreads the force required over a wider range of muscle groups. To reduce the force required to push and pull vacuums, lightweight models should be selected.

Work Rate

Excessive work rates increase the risk associated with awkward postures, lifting, pushing and pulling. It is recommended that employers establish a procedure for workers to contact their supervisor to obtain peer assistance or reduction in quota when encountering excessive room mess. It is also recommended that workers be encouraged to report musculoskeletal symptoms at onset and a process be established for assessment and intervention.



Wiker, S. F. (2011) Evaluation of Hotel Housekeeper Physical Workload and Overexertion Injury Risk Reduction Proffered by Use of Fitted Bottom Sheets for Hotel Bed Making. Report No. 1-2011 Ergonomic Design institute, Seattle, WA.

Wiker, S. F. (2013) Evaluation of Musculoskeletal Disorder Risk in Hotel Housekeeping Jobs. Ergonomic Design institute, Seattle, WA.