If you were to paint a picture of what safety looks like, it would include clean floors, tidy surfaces and everything in its proper place. But that’s not just because it makes for a pretty picture. Proper housekeeping is essential to workplace safety and includes removing all hazards and waste materials from work areas.
Housekeeping will not only prevent incidents and injuries but it also helps boost morale, productivity and quality of work. The benefits of housekeeping are not limited to construction sites either, this safety practice extends to all workplaces, including industrial factories, manufacturing plants, warehouses as well as retail stores and offices. Here are five easy ways to keep safety-first workplace housekeeping on track.
Clean as you go
Taking a clean-as-you-go strategy not only saves time but helps create good housekeeping habits. Certainly, anything that could pose a risk to someone’s health (like an obvious hazard or spill) should be cleaned immediately. But for less urgent tasks, it’s still a good idea to encourage employees to put things away as soon as they finish using them. Cleaning as you go reduces the amount of time and energy that needs to be mustered up after taking a break and significantly reduces potential injuries by being proactive. By using the momentum built up to perform tasks, workers will be surprised by how much easier it is to continue through to the cleanup.
Taking the time to put things away properly and clearing the workspace of clutter can also alleviate potential ergonomic issues and lower the risk of slips, trips and falls. It reduces the potential for rushing if you’ve saved the cleaning for the end of a shift. Incorporating human factors training can help shape the impact of risk when a person’s state of mind influences their behavior. States like rushing or frustration can appear very quickly when workers are carrying out general housekeeping practices, so having the training in place to manage those states of mind goes well beyond injury reduction and helps with production and quality improvements while reducing equipment damage and downtime.
Eliminate hazards in plain sight
Part of cleaning as you go includes eliminating the hazards you see at a quick glance but don’t necessarily associate with being a potential hazard. In particular, it’s important to eliminate hazards that are in plain sight. Storage shelves shouldn’t be blocked (or partially blocked) by boxes or other items. The same goes for walkways and aisleways—things can easily encroach in aisleways and it usually isn’t until space is required for a machine or something slightly bigger that people realize that an obstruction—and possible hazard—is there. Another commonly missed hazard when housekeeping doesn’t happen routinely is a blocked emergency exit or materials stored in areas that are not designated for storage. Even if a door isn’t used regularly, it’s important not to store things in front of it since it’s an alternate way out of the building in case of a fire.
Other hazards that often hide in plain sight are waste bins that aren’t emptied regularly. If this task is contracted out, it’s easy to overlook because it’s someone else’s responsibility. For this reason, it’s important to assign a person who is on the job site to oversee waste management daily. The obvious reason being that excessive waste can overflow and create multiple hazards. But depending on the waste, even a small accumulation could cause respiratory problems. One thing a lot of people don’t realize is that leaving an oily rag in a waste bin can start a fire because as oil dries, heat is produced, causing it to ignite.
Work area mats are another unforeseen hazard that is often overlooked. They are often required to prevent tracking various substances throughout a facility. It’s important that these are secure to ensure they’re not tripping hazards. But most importantly, they need to be cleaned (or have a service to come in and swap them out regularly) to prevent the spread of hazardous substances that can be brought in on people’s shoes.
Store materials properly
Often, ineffective or inefficient storage creates a host of hazards that might not be given a second thought until it’s too late. Don’t store things in stairwells and electrical/server rooms, and don’t block fire exits. Racking systems provide a good place to store things. Ensure all heavy items are stored on lower shelves and install toe boards/rails to prevent objects falling from overhead. Keeping items in same-sized boxes or crates will create sturdy building block-type storage.
When safety inspections occur, make sure that there is a place for everything and that everything is in its place. Portable ladders are often found leaning against walls or tucked in areas that are not meant to have ladders stored. If an electrical panel or fire extinguisher is blocked by the ladder, it not only creates a fire hazard but it’s also a violation of OSHA regulations.
Set a schedule
All workers should have a role in housekeeping. Supervisors are responsible to designate the day-to-day activities for workers, arrange for training accordingly and follow up with meetings to identify any areas that require maintenance or improvement. This is one of the many reasons why it’s important for supervisors to have strong awareness and communication skills. When you set a schedule for housekeeping during working hours, it sets the expectation that it’s a job requirement. It will also ensure that you’re providing adequate time for essential housekeeping duties throughout the day because trying to cram in housekeeping at the end of a shift has proven ineffective.
A formal written plan and allocating work time to perform housekeeping functions ensures it’s not overlooked. For the longer-term solutions, consider including these duties in your preventive maintenance plan. Supervisors can implement corrective actions like creating a storage space to relocate items that are causing an obstruction, maintain machinery and equipment to prevent malfunctions, or outline a routine housekeeping schedule for tasks that might not receive regular attention otherwise. These tasks can include everything from checking and replacing indoor and outdoor lighting on a set schedule according to the type of bulbs to inspecting roof outlets, gutters and downpipes to confirm there are no blockages or damages that will lead to greater risks if the weatherproofing failed.
Employees and management should conduct regular inspections of workspaces together. During these inspections, workers and supervisors should have an open conversation about current housekeeping standards. With regular cleaning and organization, these inspections can improve processes if more mats need to be provided or evaluate the frequency of the waste disposal schedule. It’s important to pay attention to less obvious hazards like controlling dust in order to prevent fire and explosions, especially on shelves, in basements or storage or boiler rooms that don’t get a lot of foot traffic.
These inspections will not only benefit housekeeping practices but they can help identify damaged tools, find unreported hazards or leaks. A record should be kept during regular inspections for monitoring and auditing purposes.