The term ‘good housekeeping’ in relation to the working environment is not dissimilar to the same term used for domestic housekeeping, only a little more thorough and complex. Where the working environment is concerned, good housekeeping ensures that all those aspects of the working environment, the plant, equipment, staff, working practices and the location of the work being done are optimised.
Good housekeeping ensures the safety and health of a company’s or organisation’s employees is protected to the best possible degree through correct working practices and a safe working environment. This can be found in Module 3 of the Commodious IOSH Working Safely course to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of good housekeeping.
The safety, health and wellbeing of all a company’s or organisation’s employees should always be a number-one priority. For this reason, all processes and procedures that can affect the safety or health of employees also need to be a priority. As a consequence, procedures put in place for ‘good housekeeping’ must be performed continuously. If not, this can have a detrimental effect on the working environment and ultimately lead to accidents. Good housekeeping in terms of safety and health procedures must be constant and consistent to be as effective as possible.
If you begin to ‘let things slip’, perhaps by ignoring one element of the working environment that needs improvement/repair, that can then lead to a pervasive attitude where multiple maintenance/repair tasks simply get postponed until the situation reaches a point where it becomes extremely dangerous to work there.
While sporadic housekeeping can rectify a multitude of problems, the problem is that if not continuous, problems soon return, and you are back to square one again.
Good housekeeping has numerous individual actions that can be delegated to several employees, ideally with one overall supervisor. A programme can, for example, involve checking that all machinery and tools are in good condition and in safe working order, with appropriate safety equipment/grills/guards in place. The programme can include a daily check that all appropriate signage is in place, that there is adequate ventilation, and the temperature of the working environment is appropriate for the tasks being performed. Good housekeeping also involves, where appropriate, checking on the quantity and quality of personal protection equipment (PPE) and that it is being worn properly and at appropriate times.
Any potential hazards should be identified and reported, or simply rectified if it only requires a simple task, such as moving a cable on the ground that could be a trip hazard. A good housekeeping programme can also break down the tasks into daily, weekly and monthly segments. For example, paintwork does not require daily checking, but safety equipment does. Fire-fighting equipment may only need checking weekly or monthly, while lighting should be checked daily for failed bulbs, etc.
The 5 Ss of good housekeeping were originally adopted from the Japanese system, which involved the words seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. Translated into English, these words are sort, set in order, clean, standardize, and sustain, though the %S system has been adapted to “Organisation”, “Neatness”, “Cleanliness”, “Standardisation” and “Discipline”.
When looked at more closely, good Housekeeping in the field of safety and health is predominantly associated with eliminating the risks and instances of slips, trips and falls, as well as spills.
Housekeeping here focuses on several key areas ranging from floor surfaces to footwear. As an example, areas such as staircases, steps, potentially slippery surfaces, vehicles and building entrances are all ‘high risk’ areas for slips, trips and falls, so clear and adequate signage, painting of steps to highlight their presence, and ensuring that surfaces are free from cavities that could cause someone to trip are all examples of proactive measures that form part of a good housekeeping practice.
A slip risk assessment and prevention process can be highly effective at reducing the risk of slips at work:
This may seem quite basic, yet you would be surprised how many people slip at work and have to take time off as a consequence. As an example, slips, trips, and falls cause 40% of all reported major injuries and can also lead to other types of serious accidents..
The two most adopted ways of minimising slips and falls at work are to ensure that appropriate footwear is worn at all times, and that flooring is kept dry.
While the main focus may be on slips and trips, and thus the working environment becomes heavily scrutinised, it is essential not to forget to check the plant, equipment and tools. It is vital that these are all in good working order and are ‘fit for purpose’. In addition, principally with plant and machinery, operators must be fully trained to operate them, and regular training is advised as part of good housekeeping. Regarding plant and machinery, items such as operating notices and safety guards should be checked to ensure they are all present and correct, as a further example of good housekeeping.
It can be easy to focus on the immediate working environment, employees, plant, equipment, and tools. However, three other critical areas of the working environment are key elements of good housekeeping:
As part of the good housekeeping program, it is important to check that the working area is sufficiently well lit, either through natural light from outside, or internal lighting usually suspended from the ceiling. Beyond this, it is also important to ensure adequate ventilation, especially if the work involves the emission of any noxious fumes. Simply opening doors and windows is unlikely to be sufficient, so mechanical ventilation systems will need to be checked, and especially any associated filters. Lastly, there is building quality. Workers do not need parts of a building falling down on them, nor do they want to work in a damp environment, or where paint is peeling off the walls and ceilings, as that can fall into the machinery.
The greatest cause of a fire spreading is a build-up of rubbish and waste material. For good safety and health housekeeping, all rubbish and waste material should be collected and disposed of correctly at the end of every shift or working day. In many instances, this may mean placing it all in appropriate bins for recycled material.
In addition, clean floors mean there is less chance of someone slipping or tripping over a build-up of ‘clutter’.
Part of good housekeeping is to recognise human nature at work. Given the choice of taking rubbish in a sack 400 yards away, or secreting it away in a storage cupboard, at one point in time, the temptation may just prove too great. When carrying out fire safety checks, it is important to inspect all storage areas where waste material can be conveniently stored. If there appear to be favourite places where this occurs, then good housekeeping also involves the creation of notices that should be placed in areas where rubbish is incorrectly stored.
On the floor at the back of workbenches is also another common place for a build-up of waste material, and depending on how dusty the working environment gets, it may well mean that the top of cabinets and other areas that cannot be easily checked visually, should be inspected at least once a month.
Beyond improving workplace safety and health culture, there are three other knock-on or bi-product advantages of good housekeeping.
Here at Commodious we specialise in providing online courses that cover many aspects of Health & Safety at work. If you would like to learn more about any of these, please feel free to get in contact with us.