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Housekeeping, Safety Go Hand-in-Hand

Construction sites are often hectic with multiple workers, contractors and vendors simultaneously working together on different operations. These sites can present many hazards to construction Laborers.

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LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck

“One of the telltale signs of a company’s commitment to their employees’ overall safety and health is good housekeeping,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck.  “A jobsite with poor housekeeping suggests a lack of concern. If good housekeeping is not practiced, the site tends to become one big, hazardous obstacle course for everyone who works there.”

Poor housekeeping contributes to accidents by hiding hazards that cause injuries. If the sight of paper, debris, clutter and spills is accepted as normal, then other, more serious health and safety hazards may also be taken for granted.

Housekeeping is not just cleanliness. It includes keeping work areas neat and orderly, maintaining halls and floors free of slip and trip hazards and removing waste materials and fire hazards from work areas. It also requires paying attention to important details such as the layout of the site, the adequacy of storage facilities and proper maintenance. Good housekeeping is a basic part of comprehensive accident and fire prevention programs.

Poor housekeeping causes accidents, such as:

  • Tripping over loose objects on floors, stairs and platforms
  • Being hit by falling objects
  • Slipping on greasy, wet or dirty surfaces
  • Striking projecting objects, poorly stacked items or misplaced material
  • Cutting, puncturing or tearing the skin of hands or other parts of the body on projecting nails, wire or steel strapping

Keeping a site clean and organized is an ongoing operation. Periodic “panic” cleanups are costly and ineffective in reducing accidents. Housekeeping must be done regularly, not just at the end of the shift.

The best housekeeping programs “maintain order” throughout the workday by integrating housekeeping into routine jobsite tasks. As you go about your daily work, place trash and debris in the proper receptacles (which should be located conveniently throughout the job site). Remove combustible materials such as wood and paper from the site promptly.

Keep form and scrap lumber with protruding nails cleared away from work areas, passageways and stairs. Remove or bend protruding nails prior to disposal and storage. Keep storage, staging and work areas, along with all stairs and walkways on the construction site, free of obstructions and debris.

Store tools and materials neatly and out of the way in storage bins or lockers and keep flammable or hazardous wastes in covered, segregated waste containers.

Ensure that materials stored on roofs or at heights are secured. Never throw waste, materials or tools from a building or structure. Debris chutes are a safe means of removing this material from an elevated worksite. Guard the area where the material can potentially fall, post hard hat signs around the workplace and watch for falling debris. Place protective guards around or across areas where workers may fall or face an impalement hazard. Control muddy areas using fill, gravel, boards and plywood or other means.

A good housekeeping program plans and manages the orderly storage and movement of materials from point of entry to exit. The costs of these arrangements are offset by the elimination of repeated handling of the same material and more effective use of time. Ineffective or insufficient storage planning also results in materials being handled and stored in hazardous ways. As a construction Laborer, you should try to limit the amount of materials and chemicals onsite to the quantities that you actually need. The orderly arrangement of operations, tools, equipment and supplies is an important part of a good housekeeping program.

The final addition to any housekeeping program is inspection. It is the only way to check for deficiencies in the program so that improvements can be made. When hazards are found that cannot be eliminated, then engineering practices, administrative controls, safe work practices, personal protective equipment (PPE) and proper training must be implemented.

“The benefits of good housekeeping far exceed the small additional effort required,” says Borck. “Good housekeeping sets the tone for a safe construction worksite.”

The professional staff of the LHSFNA’s OSH Division is available to help contractors assess and address housekeeping concerns as well as workplace hazards of all types. For assistance, contact the Division at 202-628-5465.

[Travis Parsons is the LHSFNA’s Senior Safety & Health Specialist.]

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