With guests tramping through them daily, hotel rooms can easily fall below standard. Catherine Quinn discovers 10 health and safety precautions every hotelier should know about
Most hoteliers take pride in their well-appointed rooms, clean, pressed sheets, fluffy white towels and exacting standards. But with hundreds of guests passing through daily, these high-traffic areas require constant attention, and any lapse in a cleaning or maintenance schedule could lead to health and safety issues.
Health and safety regulations don't just mean keeping things spotless either - it's often the bigger picture that's overlooked. "I come across lapses in health and safety in hotel rooms which have led to falls from windows, or slips and trips on carpets and tiles," says health and safety consultant Neal Etchells. According to Etchells, while good cleaning is essential, other hazards are sometimes overlooked. So a hotel room may have a shiny-clean bathroom… complete with a leak which causes guests to slip on the floor.
Hoteliers should be sure to conduct a regular risk assessment of their rooms, and keep staff well trained on what to spot on their daily rounds. Running a tight ship also means consulting with experts to advise on health and safety as well as keeping your insurance up to date and comprehensive. But there are also some key points you should be aware of.
1. Eliminate Dust
To keep your hotel super-clean and, more importantly, free from pests and mites, regular dusting is a must. According to Etchells, one of the problems he most routinely addresses is too much dust. "Commonly issues arise with dust and subsequently mites in carpets, causing allergies and sneezing fits," he explains.
Executive housekeeper Elena Philip of Discovery at Marigot Bay, St Lucia, suggests best practice is to dust the main surfaces of rooms daily, including door frames, window frames, skirting boards, furniture and fixtures. High areas such as the tops of wardrobes should be cleaned fortnightly to ensure there are no cobwebs or dust.
2. Check the Electrics
Faulty wiring on kettles, broken plug sockets and damaged lamps or TV sets can all represent potentially fatal hazards in a hotel room. So have your staff regularly check for faults in equipment and damage to electrical cords, switches and sockets.
Air-conditioning units and exhaust vents can sometimes be neglected in cleaning routines, but it's vital that they're attended to regularly. Not only can the units become unhealthy harbourers of dust and mites if left to build up debris, they can malfunction and become an electrical hazard. Etchells warns that poor air supply can also lead to other problems such as dust allergens, or the room being too humid.
3. Look Under the Bed
It's amazing what guests leave behind, and while this might include valuables to be returned, it can also include less pleasant finds. "Always make time to pull out the bed and lift up the valance," says Andrew Thomason, general manager at Lower Slaughter Manor, Gloucestershire. "Lately we found a very expensive diamond ring. The owner travelled back the next day to claim it and left a substantial tip for housekeeping. But we've also recently found a couple of pills under the valance, which could be serious.
"In the past, thorough checking, including all drawers and the tops of wardrobes, has unearthed syringes and the odd prophylactic. Hoteliers should also check outside the windows, on ledges and beyond. Although our rooms are non-smoking, occasionally guests will sneak a cigarette, leaving debris on the outer sill."
4. Look for Bathroom Dangers
It goes without saying that bathrooms should be spotless and lavatory facilities well cleaned regularly. In Etchells's experience, legionnaire's disease, as well as leaky fixtures causing hazardous slippery floors, are regular health and safety issues. In the case of the former, you must ensure that your water supply is housed in conditions cool enough to prevent the bacteria forming.
You should also have a clear and thorough cleaning routine. "When cleaning a bathroom, always start clockwise or anticlockwise, according to the bathroom set-up, with the toilet first and finish with the wash basin so the cleaner can wash their hands at the end," says Jawahir Purmeswur, executive housekeeper at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Mauritius. "Cleaning chemicals must also be stored in properly labelled containers and kept under lock and key," she adds.
5. Vacuum Thoroughly
While surface dusting is essential, the main place for dust mites to breed is in carpets, which can harbour huge amounts of dust and mites. Carpets left undusted will also attract other pests such as silverfish and moths.
"Moths feed on keratin, so somewhere like underneath a wardrobe, with dust and hair, is a perfect spot for them to lay their eggs," says Rentokil's technical director Savvas Othon. "They can then get into guests' clothes or curtains, so they can be an expensive problem."
This means rooms should be well vacuumed daily and staff should also regularly move heavy objects like wardrobes to clean dust which may have collected. Othon recommends hoovering under large furniture once a week to keep pests at bay.
6. Hire the Right Staff
"The best advice I can ever give anyone is to hire the right people from the start," says Siobhan Delaney, general manager of the Dylan hotel in Manhattan. Appointing cleaners and maids with an eye for detail and commitment to high standards can make a big difference. This also means treating your staff well, and having clear procedures in place to make their jobs as straightforward as possible.
"Our maintenance manager has to check at least five rooms every day, going through everything with a fine-tooth comb," says Delaney. "Hotels should have a really comprehensive preventive maintenance procedure to get the best from their staff."
7. Use the Right Tools for the Job
The right tools for the job will not only save your employees time, but also greatly improve the cleaning process. This doesn't necessarily mean buying in the latest cleaning equipment - often the simplest steps are most effective. "Have a colour system for your cleaning cloths: red for the toilet, yellow for the bathroom, green for glasses and crockery, blue for dust in the room," says Christopher Rossbach, executive housekeeper at the Swissôtel Zurich in Switzerland. "And always use cloths rather than sponges, which keep germs in the texture and cross-contaminate areas."
Sometimes tricks of the trade can be useful too. "Our top tip is to use the new micro ‘glass' cloths to clean mirrored surfaces with a small amount of warm water," says Ian Elliot, head housekeeper at London's Sheraton Park Tower hotel. "This means no glass cleaner is required, so it's both cost-effective and kinder to the environment."
8. Train Staff to Spot Bedbugs
"We see a lot of bedbugs in hotels," says Othon. "The problem is, no matter how clean you keep your rooms, bedbugs can still make an appearance, since they don't thrive in dirty conditions. People bring them in from outside in things like suitcases, so there's really nothing you can do to prevent them. But you should train your staff to spot the early signs - things like blood spots on the bed or headboard, or the actual insects themselves. People think bedbugs are very hard to see but in fact they're about the same size as an ant."
Training staff to spot these early signs could mean the difference between an isolated incident and an infestation across your entire hotel. It pays to be vigilant.
9. In Case of Fire
A thorough fire procedure is a must, but is frequently overlooked in hotel rooms, says Etchells. You should check smoke-alarms frequently and run fire drills to ensure staff are aware of best practice. Where hotels more often fall down is in the simpler aspects of fire regulations. Evacuation routes in case of fire should be prominently displayed for all guests, for example, and neon exit signs kept in working order.
Obstructed fire exits are more of a hazard, and managers should ensure they remain freely accessible. People with disabilities should also be able to use the exits easily.
10. Hold the Room Service
While many guests enjoy room service, the remains of late-night meals are often left lying around. "Guests have a tendency to wheel room service trolleys into the corridor after their meal," says Othon. "They're often left there until the next morning. And they're in a perfect spot for mice to scamper along the empty hallways eating the leftovers."
Rather than leaving trolleys overnight, hoteliers should consider running a midnight sweep of corridors to retrieve trolleys that have been wheeled out of rooms. They could then advise guests who keep their trays in their rooms to leave them outside for collection.
You can't be too careful
No new regulations have come into force recently that specifically affect hotel rooms, but several are nevertheless relevant, says health and safety consultant Neal Etchells.
First, changes to the Disability Discrimination Act mean that establishments open to the public now have considerably more responsibility to accommodate disabled guests. While access routes for wheelchairs are important, especially for fire exits, remember that only a small number of people with disabilities are wheelchair-bound. Consider simple but effective provisions such as offering large-print room-service menus for the visually impaired, or having your room telephones made suitable for guests with hearing aids.
The smoking ban will probably have a knock-on effect on hotel rooms. While it's still at the discretion of the owners whether to permit smoking in rooms, common sense dictates that legislation is moving towards prohibiting rather than allowing smoking in public places.
The Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 means that hoteliers - and, indeed, any employers - are far more likely to be held personally liable for accidental death, so it might be worth reviewing your insurance to ensure you're covered.
Finally, Etchells warns that the general tendency of guests towards litigation should make hoteliers even more vigilant. You're now far more likely to face an expensive lawsuit for incidents like trips and falls attributed to your negligence, so make doubly sure your insurance is adequate and a risk assessment conducted regularly.