You’ll see more benefits than just a clean work environment.
By Randy DeVaul
It’s spring time! It seems that more than a few places were slammed by colder-than-normal temperatures for part of this winter, and the anticipation for warmer weather kicks into high gear as spring unfolds. But with spring comes spring cleaning – the house, the garage, the basement, the attic. Yes, we even do the windows.
There is one other place that will greatly benefit from this need to clean: our workplace. There are numerous advantages to a clean workplace. Though this article is not all-inclusive, it will show how a good cleaning and a well-maintained work environment will improve your safety performance, lower your workers’ compensation claims, enhance your bottom line and review “peripheral” advantages as well.
Some injury statistics have shown that 70-plus percent of all injuries at a facility were directly related to housekeeping issues. The fact that poor housekeeping could lead to both numerous and serious injuries should not be surprising. What was surprising was that the company knew housekeeping practices – or actually the lack of them – were causing the injuries, but no one made any effort to change those practices.
As humans, we can justify just about any action we want. Some of our more popular excuses for not performing good housekeeping tasks include:
- “It’s not my job to clean up after someone else.”
- “I’m too tired (or don’t feel like it) – I’ll get it later.”
- “I’m too busy to do that right now – it can wait.”
- “Why put it away? I’ll need it again tomorrow (or later).”
These excuses are unacceptable. A plant’s actions or inactions in maintaining a clean work area greatly affect its employees’ safety and health and the environment as well. Each person is responsible for maintaining his or her own work space, and the manager is responsible for ensuring the employees do it. The OSHA General Duty Clause or MSHA’s Housekeeping Standard, and Canada’s Housekeeping and Maintenance standards place the responsibility squarely on the manager or agent of the company.
Housekeeping is not an unsafe condition that causes injuries. Housekeeping is a practice that is well within the employer’s and the employees’ control. It involves teamwork and effort, but it is neither complicated nor unattainable to make it a goal for improvement.
Take a few moments and analyze your injury causes from the past year. Anything indicating that the injury was a result of an employee not paying attention or wasn’t watching where he or she was going should immediately be reviewed. Those are generally not acceptable reasons for an injury occurrence, but simply a lack of a thorough investigation of the event. A report indicating an injury was caused by someone slipping, tripping or falling should also be reviewed. Look at the injury list; sprains and strains of joints, back injuries and other twisting or impact-related injuries should catch your eye as well.
Look at the events leading to the injury and the injury itself. Grease on the floor, roll stock or tools left on stairs, welding leads crossing stair treads, hoses across entryways or stairs, dirty wrenches, cluttered work tables or work space, blocked fire extinguishers, grease on ladder rungs, “stuff” on shoe soles, wet floors, icy surfaces, etc., all relate to housekeeping practices.
So once you have a glimpse of the past, look at your present. Walk around and focus on your work environment through ‘housekeeping’ eyes. What do you see? Are bags of material stacked too high and falling over into walkways or travel ways? Is there grease and oil left on the floor uncovered for equipment and people to track through? Is your grease covered with absorbent but left to lie around for days or weeks? Are tools scattered about or aerosols and other materials left open on work tables or scattered throughout the work area? Are cords and hoses strung across the floor and over stairs? Are people climbing on grease-caked ladders? Do you have oily and greasy rags lying about? Are spent welding rods rolling across the floor? Do you allow drinks and food in the work area where they can become contaminated by materials, vapors or sprays? Is the trash overflowing and nobody cares? Are the backs of your forklifts or inside of your vehicle cabs full of extraneous materials?
This is just a partial list, but as you look, you may see an accident waiting to happen. Once you have identified hazards, you have a responsibility to correct those hazards. So the next step is to look at the future to answer the question: “How do I fix this?”
Let your historical data tell some of the story for you. Gather information on how many injuries over the past year or three years or five years (you pick) were a result of housekeeping problems. Get the workers’ compensation claim costs for the same timeframe. There is most likely a deductible that you pay before workers’ compensation policies kick in; that is all money directly off your bottom line. If you are self-insured, it is all off your bottom line. What is your company’s profit margin? Then calculate how much production, services or sales you have to have simply to catch up or break even with what your injuries cost.
Once you have that information, take it to the streets. Call a meeting with your managers and review your findings with them. Help them understand how they can help reduce injuries and costs and save on their own department budgets simply by implementing good housekeeping practices. Get your managers’ buy-in to hold employees accountable while you establish a way to hold the managers accountable.
Next, call a meeting with your employees and review similar information. Focus on how injuries can be prevented and how improving in certain housekeeping practices can impact their bonuses or profit sharing or, at least, their exposures to risk. Share with them the costs of an injury – not just to the company, but primarily on them, their families and their co-workers.
Questions you can ask include: If you get hurt and it requires a trip to the emergency department for X-rays, how does that impact you? Lead the discussion on losing time and production, perhaps someone else from the family having to leave work and come to the hospital, perhaps that person will miss more work because of having to stay home and ‘nurse’ the injured worker. Will the injury require rehab? If so, how and when will the injured person get there? How will that injury affect or impact quality of life or lifestyle choices while healing?
Once employees realize it isn’t just about company money but will impact their lives and their families, you will start to get cooperation. Explain how focusing on housekeeping practices at work will make them safer and less likely to be injured. Show them that you will support their housekeeping efforts through the line managers and that everyone at all levels will work toward improving housekeeping practices.
One comment you can use to remind your people of their decisions and working together to improve is: “You should never be willing to compromise the value of your own life for the sake of a meaningless shortcut!” When your employees understand that the decisions they make every day directly affect their lives, it helps them make better decisions. Your managers should never be willing to compromise the lives of their employees because of condoning or ignoring poor practices.
Don’t be satisfied with letting 2007 go by with injuries that are caused by poor housekeeping. But injury and cost reduction is not your only benefit gained by improving housekeeping practices. Because it does take everyone’s attention and teamwork to maintain it, you’ll begin to build camaraderie in your crews. Each person will know how his or her actions will affect the entire crew or shift. Get some friendly competition going with rewards or recognition for most improved area. This can be as simple as mentioning a crew in your newsletter to providing lunch or a small gift for each member of the crew.
Yes, it is time for a good cleaning. But you don’t have to wait until spring – make housekeeping routine. Together we all make a difference; it is a quality-of-life choice. Make the right one!
Randy DeVaul is an internationally published writer and author from Westfield, N.Y. With 25 years in safety and emergency response services, he is the creator of “Safe At Home.” He has written three performance-based safety books and is now writing “Safe At Home: Protecting You and Yours In and From Your Home.” Comments are welcome at [email protected].