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EHS OutLoud Blog

Housekeeping, Anyone?

football.gifBack on July 25, we experienced a collective sigh of relief and avoided a potential national crisis of boredom. The National Football League (NFL) lockout was finally over. Can I get an AMEN? Now we can return to a state of normalcy and move on with cheering our favorite teams, booing our rivals and updating our fantasy teams.

I look forward to hearing one of my favorite commentators, Chris Berman (ESPN), say “Rumblin...Bumblin...Stumblin,” as he describes players running over, around and through the defenders. This catch phrase works well for football players who are paid to do what they do on the playing field. Not so much in the workplace, and on our construction sites.

I recently walked a construction site where the phrase “Rumblin….Bumblin...Stumblin” would have been appropriate when describing all the potential safety hazards (slips, trips and falls, not to mention fire hazards), due to poor, and I dare say non-existent, housekeeping procedures. There were multiple piles of trash, wood, rebar, nails, concrete chunks, metal framing, wood framing and the list goes on. I felt like I was in a scene from one of those movies where mankind had been wiped out and all that was left were the lucky few who possessed the anti-virus.

When I quizzed the contractors about the policy and procedures regarding housekeeping on the job, they went on the defense and started stating all the reasons it hadn’t been taken care of. I remember using those same excuses with my mom and dad when I got in trouble for not cleaning my room or making my bed.

I showed them OSHA standard 1926.25(a) & (b), which states: During the course of construction, alteration, or repairs, form and scrap lumber with protruding nails, and all other debris, shall be kept cleared from work areas, passageways, and stairs, in and around buildings or other structures. Combustible scrap and debris shall be removed at regular intervals during the course of construction. Safe means shall be provided to facilitate such removal. Notice the term “shall” which can be defined as: indicating that something must happen or somebody is obliged to do something because of a rule or law (Encarta Dictionary).

I think we often forget that housekeeping in the workplace, or on the jobsite, is an OSHA standard and not just a suggestion. The term “housekeeping” is used to describe the proper cleaning of any project or work related debris on the job site, along with the surrounding area of the job site. The term also refers to the safe and proper storage of materials. Messy job sites can result in slips, trips and falls on same level, as well as to lower levels. These absolutely can be avoided.

I found it interesting, and somewhat shocking, when I came across some recent statistics that show a majority of general industry accidents are due to slips, trips and falls. About 15 percent of accidental deaths are caused by slips, trips and falls, second only to automobile accidents. It’s the third-leading cause of workplace injuries, and is the single most common cause of visits to the emergency room. Slips and falls lead to an estimated 104 million lost workdays a year. When all is said and done, the average cost of a slip and fall injury is about $28,000. Maybe we should start paying a lot more attention to keeping our work areas clean and clear of hazards.

Like most of you, I’m not a big fan of slipping or tripping and falling. At a minimum, it’s embarrassing, but more importantly, it causes a lot of injuries and even deaths. I’d much rather set up shop on my couch every Sunday for the next few months and watch the guys who get paid to rumble…bumble…stumble around their workplace.

Guest blogger Aaron J. Morrow, CHST, works as a project HSE manager and is a safety consultant, an OSHA 500 trainer, a Cal/OSHA 5109 trainer and a construction risk insurance specialist.

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