Profiles in Safety and Health: Hotels and Motels

By Kane, John J.; Personick, Martin E. | Monthly Labor Review, July 1993 | Go to article overview

Profiles in Safety and Health: Hotels and Motels


Kane, John J., Personick, Martin E., Monthly Labor Review


Hotels and motels are homes away from home for business travelers and vacationers, offering both temporary lodging and relief from housekeeping chores back home. In attending to their guests and guestrooms, this Nation's hotels and motels employ about 1-1/2 million workers, most of them either preparing and serving food or cleaning rooms and otherwise maintaining grounds and premises. Working round-the-clock shifts, hotel staff face a variety of safety and health risks, such as disabling falls on slippery floors; bums from preparing hot food or using caustic laundry and cleaning compounds; and sprains from handling furniture and other heavy objects.

This article examines the injury and illness experience of hotel and motel workers from 1980 to 1991. Besides hotels and motels, the industry includes ski lodges and resorts, tourist cabins, and inns (such as bed and breakfast places).(1) The hotel study is part of a Bureau of Labor Statistics series focusing on "high impact" industries, which are defined as industries with the largest numbers of occupational injuries and illnesses, although not necessarily the highest incidence rates.2

According to a 1991 BLS survey, the hotel industry was one of nine industries reporting at least 100,000 injury and illness cases that year. (See table 1.) These industries, however, accounted for three-tenths of the 6.3 million cases reported nationwide in 1991. Clearly, steady declines in the number and frequency of injury and illness cases would require safer working conditions and work practices in high-impact and high-rate industries.

A trend to safer hotels and motels, however, is not evident from BLS survey results during the 1980's. At the start of that decade, the injury and illness rates for hotels and for private industry as a whole both hovered around 9 cases per 100 full-time workers. In 1991, though, the rate for hotels (10.4 per 100 workers) was two points above the private industry rate (8.4 per 100 workers).3

Chart 1 compares 1980 and 1991 changes in injury and illness incidence rates for hotels and motels and for all private industry by type of case, defined as either serious enough for workers to take time off from their regular job duties or less serious cases in which workers typically require medical treatment, but do not take days off from regular work. It shows that the rise in injury and illness rates for the hotel industry over the 1980-91 period resulted almost entirely from an increased frequency of "lost workday" cases. No corresponding rise occurred in all private industry, nor did the incidence of less serious cases change appreciably in either hotels or all private industry.

In addition to becoming disabled more often, today's hotel staff are sustaining disabilities that require longer periods of recuperation. For each disabling injury or illness in 1991, hotel employees spent an average of 20 workdays away from their job or on light duties at work----6 days longer than in 1980. (See appendix for method of counting lost workdays.)

The industry at a glance

Old inns and taverns, such as those recreated in historical Williamsburg, VA, provided temporary shelter and comfort to the founding fathers, merchants, and other occasional colonial travelers who commonly shared meals and even beds in these modest accommodations.(4)

Today, the more than 40,000 hotels and motels in the United States offer travelers about 3 million guestrooms on any given day, ranging from basic lodging in "no frills" budget motels to apartment-size hotel suites.(5) Several hundred "super" hotels, in fact, can accommodate large conventions and meetings during which attendees rent 500 guestrooms or more each day.(6)

In 1991, the hotel industry employed slightly more than 1.5 million workers nationwide. Among the State leaders in hotel employment that year, California, Nevada, and Florida each had at least 125,000 hotel and motel workers and Texas, New Jersey, and New York had between 70,000 and 80;000 workers each.

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