Special Topics in Safety Management

Fundamentals of Good Housekeeping: Clean, Orderly, and Safe

The importance of good housekeeping to your overall operation may not be incorporated into the company’s policy or work rules, but it should at least be firmly planted in everyone’s consciousness—from the CEO to the newest hire.

A clean, neat, and orderly workplace not only contributes to the health and safety of employees but also affects morale and even the overall success of the business.

Clean and Safe

One fairly obvious goal of cleanliness in the workplace is disease prevention. Any location where food and drink are consumed must be kept sanitary, and there must be adequate washing facilities to be used before eating and after handling dirty objects or hazardous substances.

Antibacterial soap may help prevent the spread of cold germs, and disposable paper towels or hot-air hand dryers are considered more hygienic then the cloth-on-a-roller type.

Floors are another essential focus for cleanliness efforts. Prompt cleanup of spills, to prevent slipping accidents, is of course a must. So is the sweeping up or vacuuming of various dusts, metal fragments, and the like that could be inhaled and cause respiratory problems (ventilation ducts must be regularly cleaned for the same reason).

Sticky or greasy areas on floors are also a slipping hazard, and such spots on stair or ladder rails are an invitation to accidents. Lighting units, especially over stairwells, should be kept clean, and clean windows make a valuable contribution not only to visibility but also to morale. You can surely come up with other examples demonstrating that a clean workspace is a safer one.

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Clutter Control

Clutter is not only unattractive but, in a work area, also a serious threat to safety. A pile of oily rags left anywhere but in the proper closed container could ignite—and if the resulting fire was not noticed and extinguished immediately, devastating damage could result.

Danger to workers would be increased if the established exit routes and doors were blocked by cartons, discarded pieces of machinery, or general debris.
For this reason, as well as to prevent slips and trips, assorted debris—paper, wood scraps, lengths of piping, etc.—should be disposed of promptly in the appropriate waste containers. Aisles should be kept clear of obstructions for obvious reasons.

Individual workstations also need to be kept neat, cleared of everything not involved in the immediate project. Not only will it prevent a heavy tool or other material from dropping off a workbench onto the operator’s foot, but it is a practical timesaver: every minute spent rummaging around to find a needed item is a minute of productive work lost.

Order! Order!

Clean floors and work surfaces alone do not add up to complete good housekeeping. If, for example, workers "tidy up" their stations by sweeping a jumble of tools, materials, and unfinished product into bins that fit neatly under their benches, the result may be a neat appearance, but it is certainly not orderly—or safe.

Similarly, storage rooms and cabinets look neat with their doors closed, but inside could be a major safety hazard if materials are not properly ordered. This includes the separation of substances subject to dangerous interactions and the arrangement of materials in such a way as to prevent their falling off shelves and breaking, creating a tripping hazard, or injuring a worker.

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You’ve no doubt heard the maxim "a place for everything and everything in its place." This is an excellent guide provided the "place" is the proper and safe one.
It’s not the easiest prescription to follow, however, as it demands continuous effort on everyone’s part. Putting things in their proper places is an activity that must be carried out as soon as the things are no longer in use—not tomorrow, or even at the end of the shift. Doing so must become virtually automatic, which requires emphasis, instruction, example-setting, and enforcement by supervisors.

Once orderliness has become second nature, it is a tremendous timesaver and production booster as well as an accident prevention plus.

Further Advantages

A further advantage of a clean, neat, and orderly workplace is the impact its appearance has on employees, visitors, and customers alike. Pleasant surroundings help to maintain good morale and attitude among workers. This is further enhanced when family members and other visitors comment favorably on the company being a nice place to work.

The favorable impression on potential customers and clients is important as well. If the condition of a plant’s exterior and interior create an image of company pride and efficiency, it can boost the firm’s amount of business, which is advantageous to employees as well as management.

And, of course, you can’t forget compliance. OSHA has a general housekeeping regulation for general industry, 29 CFR 1910.141(a)(3), plus two specific ones: 29 CFR 1910.106(e)(9) for flammable and combustible liquids and 29 CFR 1910.22(a) for walking-working surfaces. There is also a general housekeeping regulation for the construction industry, 29 CFR 1926.25.