Good Housekeeping is Good Business: 5 Steps to a Safer Worksite

Year after year, the leading cause of accidents and injuries in the workplace is slips, trips, and falls (STFs). The U.S. Department of Labor reports that STFs account for 15 percent of all accidental deaths and are second only to motor vehicle accidents as a cause of fatalities. In addition, DOL statistics show that STFs were responsible for more than 308,000 non-fatal workplace injuries in 2012, the most recent data available.

For employers, these injuries come with substantial costs. Injured workers means missed days at work, higher workers' compensation premiums, decreased productivity and increased spending on the hiring and training of temporary workers.

Naturally, a company can and should invest in effective fall arrest systems and other equipment to avoid STFs. But if you're looking for a low-cost way to improve your STF injury rates, then take a good hard look at your organization’s housekeeping practices.

Elements of an Effective Housekeeping Plan
Housekeeping is the practice of maintaining a clean, clutter-free, organized work site that eliminates or greatly reduces the risk of a slip, trip, or fall. Implementing effective housekeeping practices is critical for businesses of every size, but particularly for hospitals and the construction, manufacturing, and retail industries, where risks of STFs are highest.

Much of good housekeeping is common sense. Unfortunately, not everyone applies the same degree of common sense at the same time. To ensure that all employees understand the importance of good housekeeping practices and how to engage in them, it is essential to have explicit plans, instructions, and routines. Putting the following five steps into action can reduce or even eliminate serious injuries from STFs in your organization.

1. Identify potential causes of STFs at your work site. Slips, trips, and falls occur when there is a loss of traction between an individual's foot and the walking surface or when part of the foot or leg make inadvertent contact with an object, causing the individual to lose his balance. With this in mind, employers should inspect their entire work site or have supervisors review their departments to determine the most likely causes of these type of accidents. Although every workspace differs, the most common types of STF hazards include:

  • wet, greasy or slippery walking surfaces
  • uneven walking surfaces
  • loose flooring or carpeting
  • clutter or trash on the floors or walkways
  • changing from one type of flooring to another
  • sloped walking surfaces
  • elevated work surfaces without adequate rails
  • inadequate lighting
  • damaged or uneven stairs
  • open desk or file cabinet drawers
  • damaged or improper use of ladders or step-stools
  • electrical cords or cables
  • unguarded floor openings
  • ramps or other sloped surfaces without slip-resistant
  • unexpected placement of equipment or furniture
  • wet leaves or pine needles
  • weather hazards: rain, snow, ice, sleet

Employers also should monitor the footwear their employees are wearing to ensure that their soles are appropriate for the environment.

2. Devise a plan to eliminate potential hazards. Once you understand the nature of the potential hazards, develop a strategy to eliminate these problems. This means having a vision of what your work site would look like without these hazards and determining how to achieve this look. The plan may involve:

  • assigning cleaning/tidying responsibilities to individual or groups of employees;
  • reorganizing the workspace so furniture or other objects do not create obstacles;
  • creating and using extra space for storage of tools and materials;
  • repairing damaged floors or walking surfaces
  • creating traction on slippery surfaces
  • developing a policy for keeping electrical cords or wires out of walking space
  • ensuring that employees wear appropriate footwear
  • keeping work areas and passages well-lit
  • confirming that light switches are easily accessible and easy to find
  • developing a sub-plan to reduce hazardous conditions in poor weather
  • devising a clear notification process for employees to report dangerous conditions
  • establishing housekeeping procedures as part of a daily routine.

3. Train employees in good housekeeping practices. To put the housekeeping plan into action, employers should have mandatory training programs for all employees, including temporary workers. These programs should give a clear picture of the end goal of the housekeeping plan (a safe work area and zero STFs) and effectively communicate the importance of good housekeeping.

Make sure training is more than a lecture. Get employees engaged in a discussion about hazards and potential hazards in their work environment and ask for their ideas about how these hazards can be minimized. Help employees to see what's in it for them: Good housekeeping can not only keep everyone safe, but also boost morale and productivity, making for a more pleasant work environment.

By the end of the program, employees should fully understand both their individual and global responsibilities toward maintaining a safe work site. Individual responsibilities include whatever specific housekeeping tasks are expected of them (e.g., cleaning up spills, putting away tools, etc.), as well as the duty to act in a manner that reduces the risk of STFs (no running, distracted walking, etc.). Global responsibilities include developing the habit of noticing and reporting hazardous or potentially hazardous conditions and encouraging fellow workers to abide by housekeeping practices for their own safety.

4. Recognize and reward employees for adhering to the plan. Offering incentives to employees for safe behavior is sometimes a controversial topic. Opponents claim that incentives are ineffective, as they often become routine or cause employees to under-report injuries or near-misses. Yet when implemented correctly, some incentive programs work very well. The key is motivation.

Find out what motivates your employees to adhere to housekeeping plans and create recognition or reward programs around those factors. Be sure to reward and recognize employees that are honest about STFs injuries or near-misses and those who come up with ideas to improve safety. If you only reward those who have had an accident-free year or quarter, it might lead to under-reporting.

5. Stay vigilant. A good housekeeping plan continually evolves. Employers and employees alike must be perpetually on the lookout for STF hazards and consider new, effective ways to increase minimize them. To this end, schedule regular reviews of the work site to assess whether your current plan is covering all the bases and how well employees are adhering to the plan. Also remember to organize periodic refresher training programs and keep employees involved in safety-promoting activities. This will help them remain alert to hazards and get the message that good housekeeping and a culture of safety is a true priority for the company.

Paul Giannetti is a workers' compensation attorney in Albany, N.Y. For more than 15 years, he has fought for the rights of injured and disabled workers seeking workers' compensation, Social Security disability benefits, and recovery for accidents and personal injuries. In addition to the New York Bar, Paul is a member of the Injured Workers Bar Association and Workers' Compensation Alliance. He is also author of the book "When the Dust Settles: Understanding Your Legal Options after a Disabling Accident."

Posted by Paul Giannetti on Apr 09, 2014

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