6 Tips for Effective Workplace Safety
The word “housekeeping” calls to mind cleaning floors and surfaces, removing dust, and organizing clutter for some people.
But in a work setting, it means much more. Housekeeping is crucial to safe workplaces. It can help prevent injuries and improve productivity and morale and make a good first impression on visitors. It also can help an employer avoid potential fines for non-compliance.
The practice extends from traditional offices to industrial workplaces, including factories, warehouses, and manufacturing plants that present special challenges such as hazardous materials, combustible dust, and other flammables. Experts agree that all workplace safety programs should incorporate housekeeping, and every worker should play a part. Also, housekeeping should have management’s commitment, so workers realize its importance.
Prevent slips, trips, and falls
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, slips, trips, and falls were the second leading cause of nonfatal occupational injuries or illnesses involving days away from work.
OSHA’s Walking-Working Surfaces Standard (1910.22(a)) states that all workplaces should be “kept clean and orderly and in a sanitary condition.” The rule includes passageways, storerooms, and service rooms. Floors should be clean and dry. Drainage should be present where “wet processes are used.”
Employers should select adequate flooring (e.g., cement, ceramic tile, or another material), as different flooring types hold up better under certain conditions. Then, develop and implement housekeeping procedures using appropriate cleaners. “Things like oils and grease – if you don’t use the right kind of cleaning protocols, you’ll just spread slipperiness around rather than getting it up and off the floor.
To help prevent slip, trip, and fall incidents, we recommend the following:
Report and clean up spills and leaks.
Keep aisles and exits clear of items.
Consider installing mirrors and warning signs to help with blind spots.
Replace worn, ripped, or damaged flooring.
Consider installing anti-slip flooring in areas that can’t always be cleaned.
Use drip pans and guards.
Also, provide mats, platforms, false floors, or “other dry standing places” where useful. Every workplace should be free of projecting nails, splinters, holes, and loose boards.
Eliminate fire hazards
Employees are responsible for keeping unnecessary combustible materials from accumulating in the work area. According to OSHA's Hazardous Materials Standard, combustible waste should be “stored in covered metal receptacles and disposed of daily” (1910.106).
The National Safety Council “Supervisors’ Safety Manual” includes these precautionary measures for fire safety:
Keep combustible materials in the work area only in amounts needed for the job. When they are unneeded, move them to an assigned safe storage area.
Store quick-burning, flammable materials in designated locations away from ignition sources.
Avoid contaminating clothes with flammable liquids. Change clothes if contamination occurs.
Keep passageways and fire doors free of obstructions. Stairwell doors should be kept closed. Do not store items in stairwells.
Keep materials at least 18 inches away from automatic sprinklers, fire extinguishers, and sprinkler controls. The 18-inch distance is required, but 24 to 36 inches is recommended. Clearance of 3 feet is required between piled material and the ceiling. If the stock is piled more than 15 feet high, clearance should be doubled. Check applicable codes, including Life Safety Code, ANSI/NFPA 101-2009.
Hazards in electrical areas should be reported, and work orders should be issued to fix them.
Dust accumulation of more than 1/32 of an inch – or 0.8 millimeters – covering at least 5 percent of a room’s surface poses a significant explosion hazard. . This dust accumulation is about as thick as a dime or paper clip.
An industrial hygienist should test the workplace for exposure if air quality and dust are concerns.
NFPA 654 – a standard on preventing fire and dust explosions – addresses identifying hazard areas, controlling dust, and housekeeping. The standard states that vacuuming is the “preferred” method of cleaning. Sweeping and water wash-down are other options. “Blow-downs” using compressed air or steam are allowed for inaccessible or unsafe surfaces.
Industrial vacuums can clean walls, ceilings, machinery, and other places. You want to use wet methods or have high-efficiency vacuum systems. You don’t want to use just a shop vac or dry-sweep it – definitely not using compressed air to blow it. Then you’re just re-suspending the dust and distributing it all over.
Avoid tracking materials
Work-area mats – which can be cloth or sticky-topped – should be kept clean and maintained. This helps prevent the spread of hazardous materials to other work areas or homes, Gray said. Check all mats to ensure they are not tripping hazards.
Additionally, separate cleaning protocols may be needed for different areas to prevent cross-contamination. Avoid using the same mop to clean both an oily spill and in another area, for example. If the materials are toxic, industrial hygiene testing, uniforms, and showering facilities might be needed. Employees who work with toxic materials should not wear their work clothes home.
Prevent falling objects
Protections such as a toe board, toe rail, or net can help prevent objects from falling and hitting workers or equipment. Other tips include stacking boxes and materials straight up and down to keep them from falling. Place heavy objects on lower shelves, and keep equipment away from the edges of desks and tables. Also, refrain from stacking objects in areas where workers walk, including aisles.
Keep layout in mind, so workers are not exposed to hazards as they walk through areas.
A cluttered workplace can lead to ergonomics issues and possible injuries because workers have less space to move. When an area is cluttered, you’re likely going to have a cut or laceration injury. You’re not going to have as much room to set up your workstation as you should and move around. You’re going to be twisting your body rather than moving your whole body. The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation recommends that workers return tools and other materials to storage after using them and dispose of materials no longer needed.
Keep aisles, stairways, emergency exits, electrical panels, doors clear of clutter, and purge untidy areas—empty trash receptacles before they overflow.