By Randy K. Logsdon
Rodney Dangerfield made a fortune by exploiting the line “I get no respect.” Housekeeping is the Rodney Dangerfield of occupational safety in many industries, including mining. There may be a number of reasons (possibly excuses) for neglecting housekeeping in the workplace — rushing, someone else’s job, planning? I suggest that one of those reasons is an institutional lack of respect for the role of (even the term) housekeeping in a safe workplace.
We’ve attached descriptive names to most key elements of safe work performance. These are processes and procedures that demand our respect – partly because of the nature of the hazards that they mitigate and partly by the name by which they are identified. These activities carry bold descriptive names such as:
• Hot work.
• Confined space entry.
• Critical lift.
• Fall arrest.
When these elements are included in a work procedure, we share a clear and specific image of the action intended, the intrinsic value, and the expected effect on safety. Contrast these images with that of housekeeping. Imagine someone with a hardhat, safety glasses, steel-toe boots, a tool belt an apron and a feather duster. And what about the “house” in housekeeping? There is no house!
We understand that housekeeping, as a safety action, is every bit as critical as those bold-sounding descriptive handles that we so readily respect. But somehow that respect for housekeeping remains illusive. I see housekeeping (respect the name or not) affecting safety on three levels.
Level 1: Housekeeping helps to control direct hazards that may lead to slip, trip, fall injuries; the danger of falling objects; ignition of combustible and/or flammable materials; exposure to caustics or bio-hazards; and other conditions that may immediately impact personnel in the area.
Level 2: Housekeeping helps to control indirect hazards that may be hidden from detection by clutter and may block access to emergency equipment such as fire extinguishers, electrical disconnects and exit routes. One may be tempted to use an inappropriate (or damaged) tool because the right tool is lost in the clutter. In a rollover incident, the number and type of loose objects free to strike the equipment operator inside the cab is amazing.
Level 3: Housekeeping helps to promote a positive mind-set. Housekeeping helps to defeat frustration. You can readily find stuff. Employees who like their job will perform better and safer than those who hate their job because of repeated frustrations. We know that complacency can lead to errors and subsequent injuries. A well-maintained and orderly workplace diminishes the “Why should I care?” attitude. A well-maintained workplace is simply a more enjoyable workplace.
Systems such as 5-S may be adopted. Over the course of time, these systems generate a culture shift toward improved housekeeping. Such processes also use descriptive terms such as Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. Certainly, to be effective, the activity we call “housekeeping” must be integral to the principal task and incorporate shared responsibility. Housekeeping can be either a huge burden for a few or a collection of brief but timely steps performed by everyone involved. Each person takes a bit of the responsibility (every day, every job) to keep the workplace safe.
Understanding why gets us started but we still have to overcome the stigma of the name. Housekeeping! Even MSHA makes liberal use of the word. It seems that one of the agencies favorite standards to cite is 56/57.20003 Housekeeping. Would a bolder term enhance respect for maintaining a clean and orderly workplace? Would it seem more important? Would a more descriptive acronym help to encourage workers to return tools and materials to their designated places? Would it encourage respect?