The federations fight back

15 May 2020

As the novel coronavirus continues its rampage around the globe, the trade associations are stepping up to the mark. It is a sad fact that commercial textile care flies so far under the radar of public perception, it is vir tually invisible, despite its importance in keeping so many other businesses going.

In the UK, David Stevens, CEO of the Textile Services Association (TSA) wrote in an open letter to UK Government: “Overstretched laundries being asked to ramp up even more, while 75% of industry is shutdown. The laundry industry is in desperate straits. Seventyfive per cent of it is on its knees, because its work has dried up. That’s the 75% that used to look after the hospitality, sports, leisure and similar markets. The other 25% is also on its knees – not through lack of work, but because it’s working flat out, with demand ever growing. That’s the part looking after the NHS and other key industries.

“Both parts of our industry are desperate,” said Stevens. “On the one hand, the hundreds of laundries looking after the hospitality and similar markets have seen their work disappear, literally to zero… Meanwhile the laundries working for the NHS and other essential services such as food producers, pharmaceutical manufacturers and laboratories are being are being required to ramp up their operations.”

He followed up a week later with a second strong message to Government ministers which said: “We represent more that 29,000 employees of which 24,000 have been furloughed, as per our most recent industry survey…However, as the numbers suggest, we are an industry in crisis. The survey also discovered that over 50% of our members have received no additional government aid and 70% do not expect to survive the next 90 days without support. This would be catastrophic for the hotels and restaurants sector who depend on our industry to supply them with the clean towels, bed and table linen they need every day, over 15m pieces a week. They cannot reopen without us.”

Under the umbrella of the International Textile Services Association, (ITSA), the national trade associations are pulling together in the crisis, sharing knowledge and experiences. The European Textiles Services Association (ETSA) is working hard to consolidate efforts (see page 4).

The German textile services association, DTV, has reported its membership is undergoing similar experiences DTV knows the difficulties member companies are facing very well due to two surveys that show there are two main problems. “There are the companies which have customers mostly in the HoReCa sector that have lost up to 99% of their orders.

“On the other hand, companies with a large client base in hygiene, health, medicine and care have more work to do. The challenge they have to take is to get appropriate access to personal protective equipment and disinfectants.”

In North America, four Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA) healthcare laundry operators – all serving hospitals located in the epicentres of the pandemic in the U.S. – shared lessons with industry colleagues during an 10 April TRSA webinar on how they’re working to protect employees, while at the same time providing maximum assistance to customers and end users through the use of sound business practices that can deliver the best outcomes for everyone.

According to a TSA report, shared on the ITSA website, sometimes that means saying no to customers who want delivery of 10,000 barrier gowns at a time when supply chains are exhausted. The lead times for delivery of such goods from overseas can take six weeks or longer. It also means working closely with customers to make sure that safety procedures, such as not allowing soil to arrive at the laundry in loose form or in open bags, due to the risks that poses to laundry route and soil-sort personnel. Fortunately, most hospital clients understand the reasons behind these practices – but Covid-19 has mandated even more than the usual amount of customer consultation at a time when hospital staff and managers are operating under extremely stressful conditions.

Four TRSA operators taking part in a webnar described the extensive efforts they made early in the crisis that began developing late last year to protect laundry staff. Several cited information provided by TRSA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on sanitising various surfaces, making hand sanitiser available to all employees and encouraging regular handwashing. In addition to training soil sort and other plant employees in the use of PPE, they said they’ve extended the use of masks and other protective gear beyond the floor to office staff to maximise the odds of preventing Covid-19 infections among laundry employees.


A trawl through LinkedIn and Twitter over the past few month or so has thrown up many heartfelt messages of support to frontline workers in the Covid-19 pandemic, but perhaps none so heartfelt as this, from Anja Uranjek, international sales and marketing manager at Krebe Tippo, who singles out the dedication of laundry staff for praise.

Remarking that so many different people with different languages, cultures, mentality on one planet are all facing the same problem, she refers to: “A problem no one took seriously at first. A problem that surprised us all. And the problem that has forced us to take a moment and think about life.

“Everyone is fighting this ‘war’ in their own way. But a lot of people are fighting it in the front line and these are the people we call Heroes today. Complete healthcare systems, firefighters, police, military, safety organisations and many, many others. Tired, exhausted, in pain with deep worries they don’t stop even for a second to think about themselves. And they will stop at one point, when they will be finished and they will win. And we will win because of them. Because our supporting job is actually not that difficult – to stop, to obey, to listen, to think and to take care of some simple rules. (Some of which actually shouldn’t be thought of as something new, like washing and disinfecting hands, for example.)”. Uranjek goes on to say: “And there are some heroes that are not seen in media reports…Their importance is not public knowledge, but their work is so crucial for our wellbeing it’s scary to even think about it not being there. These are laundry workers. People taking care of soiled hospital and other linen. These workers are an enormous part of maintaining hygienic standards in healthcare systems all around the globe. They deserve our Respect with a capital letter because they also risk their lives for us not just now, but always.

“Thank you for doing your work. You are not transparent for us, in our business. We see you and we think of you always. We develop the machines that you are using and what we can do is study your work to the point where we understand how to produce a machine that will make your work easier and optimised. We want to help you keep your health and prevent the pain as much as possible.

“So, this is not a marketing advertisement of how you can ‘save yourself and the world, only if you buy our machines’. We don’t believe in this way of advertising, not today.

“This is a letter, to all the people, in different situations, today, to show that we are thankful for each and every effort that you show in these difficult times. And to the laundry workers. That we appreciate you so much. And we will keep doing our jobs in hope we can make yours a bit easier.”

“Thank you.”


A really positive result to come out of the crisis is that some of the amazing essential workers are at last getting the recognition they deserve. Now the Textile Services Association (TSA), wants to remind the country of another group of amazing people. They are key workers who support the healthcare key workers. They are the 4,000 laundry workers who are washing the NHS’s soiled linen. Most of them work in commercial laundries around the country and they’re doing a vital job that’s both hard and largely unacknowledged.

“I hope that when we all clap for our healthcare workers on Thursdays at 8pm, these guys will be in people’s thoughts too,” says David Stevens, CEO of the TSA.

A new commercial laundry for healthcare will cost many millions of pounds to build. “The only way to ensure a hygienic product and guarantee decontamination is by using a combination of heat and chemical disinfection, all precisely controlled using the latest technology,” says Stevens. “Staff have to stick to strict procedures. One area we have seen a massive uplift in is demand for scrub suits – over a million have been added to the stocks in just over two weeks across NHS Trusts.”

Synergy LMS Healthcare is one of the major laundry services providers to the NHS. The company has just brought online a brand new multi-million-pound healthcare laundry facility at Mere Grange, St Helens. Sue Swales, group customer experience director, cannot praise the team there enough.

“We have a large number of healthcare laundry workers on site and they wear full PPE for their safety” she said. “These individuals are all doing an incredible job in really worrying times. They have really gone the extra mile to get our new facility up and running, from a standing start, to a very short, high pressure timescale.

“Everyone at Synergy is working hard to support the NHS throughout this time,” she says. “Infection control is now more important than ever. That’s why laundries serving the NHS have to have the highest hygiene standards. Our staff work really hard to ensure we adhere to strict healthcare guidelines.

“There’s no doubt that they and all the 4,000 laundry workers servicing the NHS deserve a big shout out.”

The TSA is currently working with the government to investigate how the laundry industry might help solve the PPE shortage, by switching to re-usable products that can be laundered and re-used with absolute safety.

“We have 24,000 laundry workers who have been furloughed,” says Stevens. “Their laundries serviced the hospitality and sports industries. We can repurpose these commercial laundries to help the NHS get through the crisis.”


CRUCIAL ROLE: Anja Uranjek praises the laundry workers of the world

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