Many organisations spend huge money on developing health and safety strategies, policies, mission statements, even going for OHSAS 18001 yet many forget to sweep the floor and empty the bins.

Bedrock of good health and safety

Good housekeeping is one of the key bedrocks of health and safety (the others include safety leadership, planning, competence, training, empowerment and effective management).

What does good housekeeping look like?

Everything in its place and a place for everything

Clear walkways, corridors, staircases and aisle ways

Effective management of rubbish and waste as and when it occurs.

Management of wet, slippery or greasy floors and leaks.

Safe accessible storage

Whose job is it to clean up?

It is everybody’s job in their own area. Workers and managers who create and tolerate poor housekeeping do not live like this at home. Why do they drop their standards at work?

I look at the floor

When I audit any organisation the first thing I look at in any room is the floor and I ask myself “Can I see the floor?” Sometimes I cannot because of clutter, pallets of supplies, waste cardboard or shrink-wrap or simply a badly laid out workplace not allowing for free movement of those who work there. Why do I want to see the floor? Because then I know how people move around from machine to machine, from desk to desk, from workbench to workbench, how supplies are brought in and hopefully how waste and surplus materials are taken out.

I do not care if the floor I am looking at is painted concrete, tiles, special floor finishes like you would find in pharmaceutical or food manufacturing or if it is pure Axminster carpet. In many industrial settings I would expect to find marked walkways (as in a warehouse, laboratory or manufacturing area) and where they exist they should be kept clear. Whereas in an office environment I would hope to see clear walkways between offices, desks and printing equipment and no files on the floor.

Normal operations and emergencies

Consider this: the walkways that employees use for normal operations (moving about in the course of their work) become emergency evacuation routes if there is an emergency be it a fire, bomb scare, chemical spill etc. So if you are willing to tolerate walkways or aisles (in a warehouse situation) that are cluttered, which create an obstacle course for those working there to navigate past then what is going to happen when those same employees try to evacuate? What are they likely to do if they smell smoke and possibly see real flames? Whether we like it or not they will run down walkways and corridors to get out and if they are cluttered then they are going to suffer injuries before they ever reach a final exit if they get there at all……

All Male Workplaces

In the course of my work I have visited many all male workplaces and sometimes the toilets are filthy because men do not clean them. We all know that they would not live like this at home yet they drop their standards at work simply because they can.

Impact of poor housekeeping

So what are the downsides of poor housekeeping?

Increased slips, trips and falls

Risk of poorly stacked items falling on employees

Lower levels of hygiene and cleanliness possibly leading to infections or even rodents.

Inefficiencies as employees cannot locate what they need as it could be anywhere on any one of 6 pallets etc. leading to poor productivity

Risk of slower evacuation in any emergency

Good housekeeping does not just relate to the management of waste and rubbish, it also includes management of wet, slippery, greasy floors and staircases leading to injuries and to the issue of storage.

Leaks leading to slips and falls

If equipment is inclined to leak then measures should be taken to (a) prevent the leak, (b) contain the leak and (c) clean up the leak so it does not spill out into a walkway causing someone to slip and fall.

Never enough Storage

Every organisation I know is short of storage space and some unwisely decide to store equipment, supplies, and old files etc. in corridors, on staircases and in other walkways simply because the space is there.

This reduces the capacity of these walkways to take the numbers of employees that need to walk around during normal operations but equally it reduces the numbers that can evacuate safely.

Overall message

If you tolerate (or even condone) an untidy workplace you are sending out a message that being untidy and sloppy here is ok.

Here are 12 basic yet highly relevant tips for good housekeeping and beyond – use them as you wish:

  1. If you open it, CLOSE IT
  1. If you turn it on, TURN IT OFF
  1. If you unlock it, LOCK IT AFTER YOU
  1. If you break it, REPAIR IT
  1. If you can’t fix it, CALL IN SOMEONE WHO CAN
  1. If you borrow it, RETURN IT
  1. If you use it, TAKE CARE OF IT
  1. If you make a mess, CLEAN IT UP
  1. If you move it, PUT IT BACK
  1. If it belongs to someone else, GET PERMISSION TO USE IT FIRST
  1. If you don’t know how to operate it, LEAVE IT ALONE
  1. If it doesn’t concern you, DON’T MESS WITH