CONCORD, N.C. — During a recent trip speaking to cleaners and CSRs, I was struck by the lack of thought given to items that are of questionable serviceability.
Many cleaners give little or no thought to factors such as contact with bodily fluids, sentimental value, one of a kind/irreplaceable, and known to be contagious. These are all considerations in determining how aggressively we pursue stain removal or if we even accept an item for restoration.
There are occasions and items that are beyond the technical limits of the industry, or that we cannot restore to the level of the customer’s expectations. There are items that contain staining matter which, because of volume or due to worker exposure, may prompt one to give consideration to passing up the opportunity to clean the item or items.
This column is intended to prompt readers to think about their policy on handling certain items. Any reference to regulatory documents is just that and is not intended to be a substitute for your own research and decision-making. Use them as a basis for comparison with your policies and procedures.
I recommend that every owner, operator and manager read the OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) document 29 CFR 1910.1030. My interpretation of the document hinges on the phrase “reasonably anticipated” to be contaminated. It appears that special handling and employee immunization are only required when it is “reasonably anticipated” that you are receiving (maintaining contracts) from dental offices, medical labs, mortuaries, etc. working garments (such as scrubs) that contain blood and other bodily fluids.
As I understand it, garments that come in loose and over the counter from the general public do not require special handling precautions. Read the document and interpret it for yourself. I share my interpretation for the sole purpose of getting you started thinking about your own policies and protocol. There is a big difference between what is required and what is reasonable and prudent. Going beyond what is required to what is reasonable and prudent is the purpose of this writing.
Keep boxes of latex gloves at the front counter as well in the work area used by the cleaner/spotter. One spot of dried blood from a paper cut requires a different approach than a lap area soaked with semi-dried blood.
Approach with caution all garments that come into your plant in a plastic bag. Reject any item that is presented for cleaning in a bag marked “Bio-hazard” if you have not put into place policies for handling such items and have not immunized your employees.
Blood is a common stain for cleaners, but it is not the only bodily fluid with which we have to deal. I seldom hear the term “albumin,” which is a “nice” term for a wide range of bodily fluids. All such stains qualify as protein stains, but any bodily fluid can spread a customer’s infection. Even if the stain has dried, the risk is lowered but not eliminated. The steam of a spotting gun will reduce the chance of transferring the infection, but it will not completely eliminate the risk.
The excretory system functions to remove impurities from the body, and there are times when these impurities can be potentially infectious. These stains are often called “human filth,” and contact is always to be avoided. These water-soluble stains are prime candidates for wet cleaning.
There are times when the customer will say they are bringing in something that contains contagious matter, such as a jacket containing vomit: “My son has the flu.” It is necessary to protect yourself with latex gloves when handling these types of items to prevent becoming infected or subjecting other employees to this risk.
While the examples I’ve cited are aimed at preventing physical harm to yourself and employees, there are some items that can damage your reputation and impact your bottom line.
Many times a customer will bring in a really old textile piece, things such as a tapestry, quilt, formal gown, cocktail dress, and especially wedding dresses. The piece can be filled with aged stains and operational “land mines.” You can be sure that the customer has a highly defined mental picture of “like-new” results, even if the item was bought at a yard sale. Old, untreated stains; dark water circles; degradation of fiber; and improper storage should be taken into consideration before accepting the item for cleaning.
On occasion a customer will bring you an item such as a “family” christening gown. (I once received one that was 150 years old.) Not only does this type of item have sentimental value, it is irreplaceable. When you accept the item, you are implying that you can safely return the item in better condition than you received it. Hand-painted velvet banners, vintage accent pieces, and religious artifacts are other items included in this category. You must think about all potential outcomes and the possibility of damage in handling. The first rule is “Do no harm.”
Condition yourself to think about the potential for unsatisfactory results. You must provide a safe work environment for your employees. You recondition textiles for the public for a fee. You must protect the medical health of your employees, as well as your reputation and bottom line, while balancing this protection against the potential for the profit of providing your service.
Stop and think about the serviceability of the items coming to you for restoration. Communicate to all employees the concerns involved in handling all these items. Provide training and protection for your employees. Be proactive in your approach.