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The Link Between Safety and Good Housekeeping

Jonathan Wells /
Inspection in Plant Workshop

There are plenty of reasons to practice good organizational housekeeping. It ensures business runs smoothly, boosts morale, and creates a positive impression for visitors, just to name a few.

But the primary reason to clean things up—the reason we’re here—is safety. Housekeeping is a crucial part of any environment, health, and safety program. It’s perhaps the most powerful strategy for eliminating the #1 form of workplace accidents: slips, trips, and falls. It also minimizes the spread of illnesses and the possibility of chemical exposure.

You don’t have to take our word for it. Here’s what the Occupational Health and Safety Administration has to say:

“Uncluttered working conditions are essential to the safety of all workers and should be maintained at all times in both work and office areas. Proper housekeeping management provides for an orderly arrangement of operations, tools, equipment, storage facilities, supplies, and waste material. Good housekeeping is evidenced by floors free from grease and oil spillage; properly identified passageways; unobstructed accesses and exits; neat and orderly machinery and equipment; well-nested hoses and cords; properly stored materials; removal of excess waste material or debris from the working area; walkways free from ice and snow; surfaces, including elevated locations, free from accumulated dust; and adequate lighting. Maintaining these conditions contributes significantly to lower incident rates.”

This isn’t just OSHA offering friendly advice. If a state or federal inspector visits your facility and sees a cluttered or dirty working environment, your organization could face serious penalties.

How serious? Recent regulatory actions offer a glimpse. In 2019, Dollar Tree was fined $503,200 after inspectors discovered issues such as blocked emergency exits and improper stacking of merchandise—issues directly related to poor housekeeping.

Safety: the 6th “S”

If you’ve read along with this series so far, you’re familiar with the 5S system—an agile methodology for organizational housekeeping:

1. Sort

2. Set in Order

3. Shine

4. Standardize

5. Sustain

Many companies go a step further and follow a 6S system, with safety as the 6th “S.” The idea behind 6S is to not only prioritize safety as an outcome of the program, but to embed safe practices within housekeeping. In other words, the goal is to create a safer environment and stay safe while doing it.

Here are a few examples of 6S in practice:

  • Setting up workstations to improve ergonomics so workers aren’t using the same muscles all day and potentially suffering repetitive motion injuries.
  • Marking intersections to ensure forklift operators won’t collide with each other or pedestrians.
  • Using signs to label storage cabinets containing cleaning chemicals so that workers are aware of the presence of hazardous substances.

How Poor Housekeeping Affects Safety: Common Issues to Watch Out For

Slip, Trip, and Fall Hazards

Keep an eye out for equipment and materials that could cause someone to fall: unsecured air hoses, long extension cords, parts laid out on the floor, spills that aren’t cleaned up, and so on. If any of these hazards are present, it may be only a matter of time before someone trips or slips and falls. Keep in mind that many falls lead to severe injuries to workers’ backs, hips, and knees, causing people to miss work for extended periods of time.

Fire Hazards

Fires have numerous causes: exposed wiring, poor chemical storage, loose papers in a file cabinet—the list goes on. Organizations can reduce their fire risks by labeling and documenting all known flammable or combustible materials. Second, any excess materials that could catch on fire should be stored away from electrical equipment or disposed of if possible.

Blocked Aisles

Aisle clearance minimizes the risk of falling objects and forklift accidents. If you’re like most EHS professionals, you’ve probably seen one or a dozen videos in which a forklift operator drives down an aisle and collides with a rack, causing the whole structure to tumble down. (If you’re not familiar, there are hundreds of these videos on YouTube). Such videos show the importance of keeping aisles clear. Ensure pedestrian walkways are at least 28 inches wide, unencumbered. All forklift paths should be clear by at least 10 feet.

Blocked Exit Paths

This one is simple, and yet many organizations fail to address it properly, risking thousands of dollars along with workers’ lives. Always make sure there’s nothing blocking any exit out of a facility. Don’t stack boxes or store objects directly in front of doors or exit paths.

Obstructed Emergency Equipment

As with exit paths, you can’t afford to have anything blocking fire extinguishers, eyewash stations, electrical panels, and other emergency equipment. Any second wasted could cause a catastrophe, life-altering injury, or death. If there’s an electrical issue, you need to be able to shut off electrical panels as quickly as possible. If there’s a fire, you need to be able to access an extinguisher without moving anything out of the way. If someone is exposed to a hazardous chemical, they need to be able to access the eyewash or shower station rapidly—within 10 seconds. Keep in mind that anybody who needs an eyewash probably can’t see. If there’s a pallet of materials in their way or electrical cords draped across the floor in front of the eyewash station, there’s a good chance that person will collide into something or trip.

Insufficient Hazard Communication

If your workers aren’t aware of potential hazards, they don’t know how to keep themselves and others protected. Hazard labeling, communication, and management can save lives. The following need to be present anywhere workers could be exposed to hazardous substances:

1. material safety data sheets (MSDS or SDS for short) for every chemical on the jobsite

2. a written hazard communication plan

3. comprehensive hazard communication training for all workers who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals

(For more about hazard communication, click here.)

Start cleaning and improve your organization’s housekeeping. KPA’s workforce safety and compliance team can help—contact us.

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