OSHA's General Duty Clause holds that employers are responsible for ensuring the work environment is safe for all employees. Keeping the workplace clean and free of clutter and debris is one of those responsibilities.
Each company has to create its own housekeeping mandate, but that doesn't mean it's a task that should be taken lightly. Keeping things organized is a simple and effective way to reduce accidents like slips, trips, and falls and encourage good employee behavior.
What sort of things does housekeeping encompass? Well, it depends on your job site and the kind of work that's being done there. Do your workers use a lot of extension cords and power tools? Do the activities produce a lot of dust and particulate matter? Does he job involve keeping a lot of items stacked near work stations? These and other factors will determine what kind of housekeeping tasks are needed.
In general, housekeeping will involve:
- Removing or fastening loose objects on floors, stairs, and platforms
- Securely fastening overhead objects to prevent them from falling and causing injury
- Sweeping floors and keeping them free of debris
- Cleaning spills and taking measures to address slippery or greasy walking surfaces (find out Everything You Need to Know About Sorbents)
- Properly stacking and securing items so they don't fall on nearby workers
- Eliminating or otherwise dealing with protrusions of dangerous objects, such as wire, strappings, or nails that could cause cuts or puncture wounds
A clean and organized workspace looks nice, but it's so much more than that.
The biggest benefit is the reduction in accidents. So many of the things that housekeeping deals with – slippery surfaces, dust accumulation, boxes or crates in unsteady stacks, loose objects or stray cords across the floor – are hazards that won't get dealt with unless there are housekeeping procedures in place.
And it doesn't stop there. Here are some of the other benefits of making housekeeping a part of the work routine:
- Reducing the cost of replacing materials lost due to clutter
- Fires and hazardous spills are less likely
- Improved inventory and equipment control
- More efficient and effective maintenance and cleanup
- A more hygienic work environment
- Better use of available space
- Reduction in property damage
- Increased productivity due to workers being able to concentrate on tasks rather than working around clutter
Implementing a Housekeeping Plan
I'm not gonna lie. Planning and implementing a housekeeping plan and encouraging workers to make it part of their work routine can be time-consuming at the beginning. But once the routine has set in, everyone will find it easy to follow and they might even find it a welcome break from their primary work tasks.
The first step is the workplace layout. This may mean moving materials around so they comply with good housekeeping practices. If the way the materials are organized isn't practical or intuitive, it will be difficult to get workers to adhere to your housekeeping procedures.
Don't be afraid to put up a bit of money up front to purchase the right kinds of shelving, bins, or other organization solutions. Well planned and well designed storage ensures that everything has a proper place and items don't have to be moved more often than they need to be.
In addition to laying out where everything goes, your plan should specify the methods for moving items throughout the workplace. Handling items more conscientiously can prevent some of the clutter and messiness from happening in the first place.
Your housekeeping plan should also detail general safety measures for things like posting signs when floors are wet.
Scheduling Housekeeping Tasks
One common mistake employers make is scheduling all housekeeping tasks for the end of the shift. They'll mark off 10 or 15 minutes to tidy and push around some brooms before everyone punches out.
That sounds like a good way to wind down the workday, but it also means workers have spent hours surrounded by clutter, debris, spills, and all the risks that come with them.
Keep your workers safe throughout the shift by encouraging them to perform housekeeping tasks throughout the workday. Some tasks should be handled as soon as there is a need for them, like wiping up anything that is spilled on a walking surface. Others can be scheduled at regular intervals, like giving the work space a quick sweep every two hours.
Management should also schedule inspections to make sure the housekeeping policies are followed and are adequate. If workers are following the plan but the workspace is still cluttered or disorganized, your safety team should modify the plan to rectify this.
Dust and Dirt
Dust and dirt don't sound like a serious issue, but it should not be left off the housekeeping plan.
Dust and dirt can make it difficult for boots to grip on a surface, which could results in slip and fall accidents.
The dust created from industrial operations is also quite different than the kind that accumulates under your sofa. It can be composed of toxic or carcinogenic substances and, if it's allowed to accumulate, could pose a fire or explosion risk (learn about the 5 Best Practices for Dust Control in Manufacturing).
Accumulations of dirt and dust can also compromise your facility's air quality.
Although they're not a work area per se, employee facilities should also be considered part of the workplace and maintained accordingly. Accidents can happen just as easily in the break room as they can out on the site.
Extend housekeeping tasks to these areas and, where possible, provide lockers for workers to store their personal belongings.