Why Good Housekeeping is Essential for a Safe Workplace

Howard Mavity, Fisher and Phillips LLP
Tags: workplace safety

Whether I am auditing a facility or onsite to defend against Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) matters, housekeeping is quite literally the first thing that I consider. In 30 years, I have yet to find an occasion where poor housekeeping did not translate to or foreshadow a variety of cultural, leadership and compliance problems.

There should always be a standard of good housekeeping, even if you are at a waterlogged mud hole of a construction site or an alloy plant. No company is exempt from the requirement to maintain good housekeeping, although the standard for a cement plant is a tad different than for a technology-based employer.

The Legal Standard

OSHA maintains standards on a wide variety of bathroom-related and hygiene issues for general industry, construction and other settings. OSHA seldom cites for these standards, but when they do, either the employers forgot that a bathroom was still in use or they truly do not care about employees. Employers should not underestimate the effect of filthy restrooms and especially showers on morale. Such issues are often a key complaint in union drives. However, filthy bathrooms are a more specific issue. I'm talking about how a construction site looks when you drive onsite or a plant floor as you enter the aisles.

OSHA's standard 1910.22(a)(1) states, "All places of employment, passageways, storerooms and service rooms shall be kept clean and orderly and in a sanitary condition." OSHA also maintains standards on a variety of walking and working surfaces, access to extinguishers and electric panels, or related to egress and exit. As you might expect, OSHA's principal focus is on trip hazards, exposed nails and sharp objects, blocked access, combustible dust accumulation, etc.

When OSHA compliance officers see lousy housekeeping, you know they will more closely scrutinize training and audit requirements, lockout and handling chemicals. They figure that if you don't care enough to fix broken control-room windows, pick up discarded broken tools or stage materials properly on a jobsite, you aren't likely to ring the bell with your powered industrial truck training.

It also looks bad when you get cited for "housekeeping," especially if it really is for sanitary reasons. A site has to be pretty nasty to earn a 1910.22(a)(1) citation where no trip or similar hazard is presented. By the way, the blocked exit or fire extinguisher on the floor type items have cost many retailers hundreds of thousands of dollars in citations.

Consequences of Poor Housekeeping

Housekeeping sets the tone. If the workplace doesn't focus on housekeeping, employees, vendors and others will not care about it or any other area requiring purposeful action not narrowly related to "production." Therefore, you can assume that continuous quality improvement won't readily occur, and safety processes will only be written procedures with little day-to-day effect on work.

Some construction studies conclude that on a "messy" jobsite, materials get moved and restaged six to seven times for no good reason. How can you instill accountability in your frontline supervision, and how can you build an engaged employee culture where employees do the "right thing" regardless of whether someone is watching them? Seemingly little things matter.

3 Steps for Better Housekeeping

1. Become purposeful. Define "good housekeeping," make a written plan, establish cleaning schedules, build an accountability structure and add housekeeping categories to self-audits. Do not assume that your normal housekeeping employees or operators will get it done.

2. Train supervisors to be sensitive to issues that destroy morale and a productive culture. Come up with supervisor-driven processes for them to discuss these issues. Include housekeeping in employee attitude surveys.

3. Use housekeeping as an early warning sign for a host of labor and employment issues.

Remember, cleanliness is next to ... profit.


About the Author

Howard Mavity has practiced law for nearly 30 years and is the founder of the Fisher and Phillips Workplace Safety and Catastrophe Management Practice Group. He has extensive experience working on safety-related matters and has managed approximately 460 fatality cases ...