To some people, the word “housekeeping” calls to mind cleaning floors and surfaces, removing dust, and organizing clutter.  It means much more in a work setting.

Housekeeping is crucial for safe workplaces. It can help prevent injuries and improve productivity and morale, as well as 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.

Prevent slips, trips, and falls

Slips, trips, and falls cause nonfatal occupational injuries or illnesses involving days away from work.

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.

In addition, provide mats, platforms, false floors or “other dry standing places” where useful, according to OSHA. Every workplace should be free of projecting nails, splinters, holes, and loose boards.

Eliminate fire hazards

Employees should be responsible for keeping unnecessary combustible materials from accumulating in the work area. Combustible waste should be “stored in covered metal receptacles and disposed of daily,” according to OSHA’s Hazardous Materials Standard (1910.106).

  • 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.
  • Hazards in electrical areas should be reported, and work orders should be issued to fix them.
  • An industrial hygienist should test the workplace for exposures if air quality and dust are concerns.
  • Dust also can affect equipment’s length of life and quality of products.

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 home. Check all mats to ensure they are not tripping hazards.

Additionally, separate cleaning protocols may be needed for different areas to prevent cross-contamination. For example, avoid using the same mop to clean both an oily spill and in another area.

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.

Clear clutter

A cluttered workplace can lead to ergonomics issues and possible injuries because workers have less space to move.

Workers should be encouraged to return tools and other materials to storage after using them and dispose of materials that are no longer needed.

Keep aisles, stairways, emergency exits, electrical panels and doors clear of clutter, and purge untidy areas. Empty trash receptacles before they overflow.

Store materials properly

Storage areas should not have an accumulation of materials that present hazards for tripping, fire, explosion, or pests.

Some workers make the mistake of storing ladders or other items inside electrical closets where they can block an electrical panel, creating a fire hazard and violating OSHA regulations.

Unused materials and equipment should be stored out of the way of workers. Avoid using workspaces for storage and remember to put everything back in its proper place.

It is recommended keeping a storage space nearby so workers are encouraged to use it.

Use and inspect personal protective equipment and tools

Employees who did not wear PPE when cleaning up spills or other material, such as broken glass or plywood, will suffer cuts or splinters.

Wear basic PPE – such as closed-toe shoes and safety glasses – while performing housekeeping. Determine what type of PPE to wear based on the potential risks.

Regularly inspect, clean and fix tools. Remove any damaged tools from the work area.

Determine frequency

All workers should participate in housekeeping, especially in terms of keeping their own work areas tidy, reporting safety hazards, and cleaning up spills, if possible.

Before the end of a shift, workers should inspect and clean their workspaces and remove unused materials. This dedication can reduce time spent cleaning later.

How much debris or contaminants the workplace releases can help determine the frequency of housekeeping. A company should have a mixture of deep cleaning and more frequent, lighter cleaning that involves sweeping and responding to spills.

Create written rules

Housekeeping policies should be put in writing, that way, they are formal and defined. Written protocols could specify which cleaners, tools and methods should be used.

Think long-term

Housekeeping should be more than a one-time initiative – it should continue through monitoring and auditing. Keep records, maintain a regular walkthrough inspection schedule, report hazards and train employees to help sustain housekeeping. Set goals and expectations, and base auditing on those goals.