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Store: Five Small Safety Practices Offer Big Paybacks

Dec. 10, 2012
Incorporating good housekeeping procedures into routine daily practices can help enhance safety programs throughout a plant or distribution center. 

Incorporating good housekeeping procedures into routine daily practices can help enhance safety programs throughout a plant or distribution center.  When good housekeeping is viewed as everyone's responsibility, accidents can be reduced and the overall facility appearance can be more easily maintained.

Conducting hazard communication training, checking eyewash stations and posting appropriate signage are all essential components of plant safety that facilities commonly uphold, partially because the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has specific regulations outlining compliance elements.

Housekeeping regulations are not as well defined. OSHA's sanitation standard requires that workplaces “be kept clean to the extent that the nature of the work allows [29 CFR 1910.141(a)(3)(i).]" The housekeeping standard similarly states that places of employment “shall be kept clean and orderly [29 CFR 1910.22(a)(1)]," but the meaning of clean and orderly is left to the interpretation of the facility owner.

It stands to reason that the standard of cleanliness would certainly be higher in a food processing area than it would be in a metalworking shop.  But, establishing criteria and procedures to clean up messes and keeping all work areas clean will help the facility stay cleaner longer and increase safety. The following five practices can help integrate good housekeeping with safety.

1. Clean Up Fluid Transfer Areas
Whether someone is pumping a few ounces of oil from a drum with a hand pump or the facility is receiving a 10,000-gallon bulk shipment from a supplier, the likelihood for spills increases when fluids are transferred.  When the materials being transferred are hazardous, being prepared to quickly and effectively handle leaks and spills—no matter how small or large—is important for compliance with both OSHA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.

Really large spills tend to grab everyone's attention and are typically cleaned up promptly, but smaller spills like a few drips from a faucet or a few gallons that leaked out when hoses were disconnected are often overlooked.  As little leaks and spills accumulate, fluid transfer areas look messier and become increasingly unsafe.  Failing to attend to these nuisance spills as they happen can contribute to a range of hazards, from slippery floors to fugitive emissions that reduce indoor air quality and affect workers' health.  

Stocking spill response supplies such as wipers, absorbents and appropriate personal protective equipment in spill-prone fluid transfer areas and instructing everyone on their use will help to minimize hazards in these areas.  

2. Manage Machine Leaks and Drips

Slips, trips and falls to the same level are the leading cause of lost work time injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Equipment that leaks or drips as part of its normal operation, such as air compressors and machining tools, contributes to unsafe, slippery floors.  

Machines that produce overspray, dip tanks, and coating operations are also common sources of liquids that make floors hazardous.  When leaks and drips from machinery are always present, it is sometimes difficult for housekeeping to keep pace.  It's not practical to stop everything each time a drop hits the floor, but steps can still be taken to reduce slip hazards.
Look for areas where drip pans, berms, squeegees and absorbent mats or socks can reduce slip and fall hazards.   These types of products require little training and do not take much time out of a production schedule to use.

3. Maintain Aisles and Exits
Tragic incidents like the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City over 100 years ago punctuated the need for accessible aisles and unblocked emergency exit routes in facilities long before OSHA was established in 1970.  Today, maintaining emergency exits remains a targeted enforcement area for OSHA inspectors. 

Having exit routes marked on the facility map isn't enough.  The routes must be kept clear and be free of hazards at all times.  Putting raw materials or finished stock items in an aisle or exit route—even temporarily—is a common safety violation [29 CFR 1910.37(a)]. 

Painting or otherwise marking aisles can serve as a reminder that the space is not to be occupied by pallets, boxes, containers, or other items.  Signage can also be used to remind everyone to tuck box flaps and other items into their workspaces so that they don't extend into aisles, creating a trip hazard.  Establishing bins or areas for spent packing materials like shrink wrap, strapping bands and wooden skids can also keep these items from blocking or cluttering aisles and docks. 

4. Minimize Dust
Combustible dust hazards continue to be a problem for many different types of industries.  Different types of processing including foods, plastics, paper, wood, textiles, pesticides and pharmaceuticals can create unsafe dust levels in a facility. 

In addition to OSHA regulations, the National Fire Protection Agency has published five standards to help mitigate combustible dust hazards.  Opinions vary regarding the amount of accumulated dust that is hazardous, but some experts concur that an accumulation of just 1/32" has the potential to cause a combustible dust conflagration.

Bonding and grounding equipment, people and tools, isolating processes that create dust, and using dust collection systems with appropriate filters can help to minimize hazards.   Avoid using compressed air to blow dust from surfaces or dry-sweeping floors because these methods allow dust to become airborne and can increase hazard levels.

5. Eliminate Clutter
Obsolete parts, broken tools, empty boxes and outdated stock are all forms of clutter that take up valuable space in production areas, stock rooms, warehouses and docks. These items collect dust and can be a harborage for insects and small animals. 

Unused and unusable items that are just sitting around instead of being recycled or discarded make it difficult to comply with OSHA's sanitation standard requiring facilities to be kept clean and orderly (29 CFR 1910.141).  Getting rid of these items frees up space and can even help some operations run more efficiently because needed items will be more easily accessible if they aren't buried under things that no longer have a use.

Consider donating items to someone else.  Online waste exchange forums and local nonprofit agencies can be helpful in finding an outlet for unwanted and unneeded items.

It's a Matter of Time

Enlist the help of employees and supervisors from various areas in the facility to identify problem areas and provide good housekeeping solutions that fit into work schedules.   Teaching everyone to clean up messes as they happen, and allowing time at the end of each shift to tidy up are keys to long-term results.

Look for low and no-cost solutions to housekeeping problems. Often, simply storing housekeeping tools and supplies in appropriate areas instead of having them locked in a distant closet can help improve conditions. Signage and checklists can also be helpful as reminders of what needs to be done to keep workspaces clean and safe. 

Implementing daily housekeeping routines helps to improve plant safety by mitigating common hazards. If these small tasks are taken care of quickly they won't become much larger chores. 

Karen Hamel is a technical writer for New Pig Corporation.

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