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Housekeeping – how essential is it to your workplace?

'Housekeeping in the workplace’ essentially refers to the routine upkeep, maintenance and cleanliness of the work environment. Workplace housekeeping activities include keeping work areas organized, maintaining aisles clear of debris, swift clean-up of spills and waste materials and maintenance of building facilities and equipment all of which help safeguard worker safety and health, prevent workplace injuries and illnesses and make work operations more efficient.

OSHA references housekeeping in several occupational safety and health standards. Listed below are a few:

In General Industry* 29 CFR 1910.22(a)(1) states that the employer must ensure all places of employment, passageways, storerooms, service rooms, and walking-working surfaces are kept in a clean, orderly, and sanitary condition.

In Construction* 29 CFR 1926.25(a) states that during the course of construction, alteration, or repairs, form and scrap lumber with protruding nails, and all other debris, shall be kept cleared from work areas, passageways, and stairs, in and around buildings or other structures.

In Shipyard Employment* 29 CFR 1915.81(a)(1) states that the employer shall establish and maintain good housekeeping practices to eliminate hazards to employees to the extent practicable.

In Longshoring* 29 CFR 1918.91(a) states that active work areas shall be kept free of equipment, such as lashing gear, and materials not in use, and clear of debris, projecting nails, strapping and other objects not necessary to the work in progress.

It is clear to see that good effective housekeeping is a key component to maintaining a safe work environment. Why? According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2015, slips, trips, and falls (STFs) accounted for 27 percent (309,060 cases) of the total occupational injuries and illnesses (the incidence rate for STFs was 27.9 cases per 10,000 full-time workers). And poor housekeeping frequently contributes to slip trip and fall accidents in the workplace because of work areas and walkways that are cracked/damaged or uneven or obstructed by trash that has not been thrown away, spills, equipment lying around, unused and broken items, etc.

Good effective housekeeping can reduce and even eliminate:
1. Trip and slip incidents when walkways, platforms, stairs and working surfaces are free of clutter, grease and spills;
2. Fire hazards when there is a reduction or elimination of waste (cardboard, paper), dust (wood, metal, plastics), debris, and other unnecessary flammable materials;
3. Injuries as a result of being struck by objects when there is organized and careful storage of materials, proper stacking of merchandise, tools, and equipment;
4. Injuries such as cuts, punctures, lacerations to parts of the body from protruding nails, wire or steel strapping when there is daily workplace cleanup and tidy up;
5. Employee exposure to hazardous substances, such as dust and vapor buildup, when there is a regular facilities and equipment maintenance and cleaning schedule;
6. Illnesses from the risk of exposure to harmful contaminants (e.g. germs and hazardous/toxic substances) when there is cleaning and restocking of supplies in common areas (such as change rooms, washrooms, lockers, breakrooms, etc.).

Good housekeeping practices help ensure neat, organized, and safe worksites, which can reduce stress, improve employee attitude and morale and thereby help productivity. Good housekeeping is also a basic part of accident and fire prevention. Besides, a clean and uncluttered worksite makes a good impression on government representatives, a vendor or a potential customer. Workplaces with sloppy housekeeping often get more closely scrutinized!

OSHA’s new revised guidance on Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs references general housekeeping as a component of regular workplace inspections. So it is important that an effective workplace safety and health management system also include housekeeping policies and procedures in which each employee plays a vital role. Housekeeping should also have management’s commitment and support so employees realize its importance.

Housekeeping practices are among the easiest and most visible safety measures to implement in the workplace. It also requires paying attention to important details such as the layout of the whole workplace, aisle marking, the adequacy of storage facilities, and maintenance.

So what are some basic steps you can take to maintain good housekeeping in your workplace? Much depends on the type of work done. For instance, housekeeping for a metal fabrication company would be quite different than for a healthcare facility. There are three steps that would help a company maintain good housekeeping in the workplace:

Step 1: Worker training
Educate workers about general housekeeping procedures such as:
a. Ensuring that all trash (e.g. recyclables, manufacturing/construction process waste) is placed in proper bins during the work shift and at the end of the day;
b. Ensuring that walkways and working surfaces are free of debris, including solid and liquid wastes, and other items such as tools that are not in use;
c. Ensuring that workers understand that any potential hazards identified should be reported to supervisors as soon as possible so that, for example, items that are causing an obstruction can be relocated and damaged equipment or machinery can be fixed promptly;
d. Ensuring that if workers observe materials protruding from shelving that could either fall onto or injure anyone walking by, they need to reposition them or if they are too bulky to handle and cannot be rearranged so they fit on the shelf, inform the supervisor. Workers should never stack material to a height where it becomes unstable and might fall or overload the weight capacity of shelving.

Step 2: Routine maintenance and housekeeping schedule
Develop and implement a schedule for routine maintenance and housekeeping to include:
a. Organizing of storage areas;
b. Sanitation of change rooms/ clean rooms;
c. Cleaning and restocking of supplies in common areas (e.g. lunch areas and bathrooms);
d. Ensuring that emergency equipment is easily accessible (e.g. eyewash units, fire-fighting equipment, electrical disconnect switches);
e. Ensuring that exits, stairways, walkways and working surfaces are not obstructed, slippery or cluttered;
f. Ensuring that machinery, equipment and systems are serviced according to manufacturers’ instructions so as to prevent malfunction which can cause injury/illness;
g. Ensuring that dusts (e.g. grain, wood, metal, plastics) generated in the workplace are cleaned up periodically and not allowed to accumulate.

Step 3: Worker Responsibilities
Housekeeping is a team effort. Assign each worker a task or work area, and assign a frequency for conducting those tasks. For example, workers should be responsible for keeping their work areas clean, organized, and free of debris/clutter or unused materials/equipment during and especially at the end of their work shift. Any hazardous materials and waste products should be stored or safely/responsibly discarded when no longer used. Supervisors should also inspect the workplace at regular intervals and at the end of the work day to ensure that good housekeeping practices are effective.

Effective housekeeping is an ongoing operation; it is a project that is never finished. A workplace must maintain good housekeeping throughout the workday. Although this effort requires a great deal of management and planning, the benefits are hundredfold!

Some of us are organized, neat and tidy and some of us are messy, sloppy and disorganized. How we are with housekeeping at home is up to each one of us; however, how we are with housekeeping at work also impacts our co-workers and work mates which could result in our own injury or that of another.

Remember, a clean work area is a safe work area.

Good Housekeeping

*There are also other OSHA standards that cover housekeeping.