State study details grim working conditions for Washington janitors

Photo credit:

Janitors are an indispensable part of the workforce. But they often don’t get the credit they deserve. A recent report from the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) found that janitorial workers also endure poor safety conditions, abusive supervision, discrimination and wage and hour violations in the state.

The four-year Janitorial Workload Study, requested by the state legislature in 2018 to address high injury rates among janitors in Washington, seeks to identify janitorial workload issues that can be modified to reduce the risk of injury to janitors.

Based on phone surveys with 621 janitors and custodians, as well as nine focus groups with janitorial workers, preliminary findings in the study documented a laundry list of on-the-job injuries and exposure to physical, chemical and psychological hazards.

The most common issues raised in nearly all of the focus groups included poor safety climate, lack of safety and health training, inadequate staffing, supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE), abusive supervision and high workload.

Focus group participants recommended improving working conditions through workplace safety inspections, company policy changes, language-appropriate safety and health training for supervisors and janitorial staff, assigning tasks to reduce the risk of repetitive-motion injuries and working to prevent abusive supervision and discrimination.

Between 2003 and 2013, the most common injury types for janitorial workers, according to compensable workers’ compensation claims in Washington, were musculoskeletal disorders (39%), falls from same level (16%), struck by/against an object (12%), falls from elevation (9%) and vehicle-related (5%).

During the second half of the study, expected to be completed by July 1, 2022, researchers will continue worksite visits, conduct a statewide survey of janitorial employers, continuing to develop multilingual and multimodal education and training resources, and create a workload calculator.


Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us if you need help with an L&I, workers’ comp, injury, or other employment law claim. You won’t get better advice.

« | »