Workplace Housekeeping – Dealing with Chaos and Mess

Scenario: You have several members of staff each with a similar amount of space. While most seem to manage, one is in constant chaos, blaming it all on their workload and environment. Where should you start?

At risk

A recent safety inspection has identified that housekeeping standards in the workplace are well below par. This is causing several specific hazards including: (1) tripping; (2) ergonomic problems around and beneath desks or around workshops / stores; (3) manual handling risks arising from difficulty to stored items; (4) fire hazard from the combustible storage and the risk of damage to electrical equipment; (5) inappropriate access to hazardous substances which should be locked away; and (6) stress for employees working there.


Doing nothing isn’t an option as you realise that you will be liable if there’s an accident. But getting anything done about it seems to meet with a brick wall. When the points were raised with staff, they blame it all on a lack of space, the wrong storage, too much work, etc. But spending lots of money isn’t really an option and in any case, you doubt that it will get to the root of the problem.

It’s you, not me

The majority of poor housekeeping is the result of mindset rather than the physical environment.

The main factors involved are:

  • the standards which the individual finds acceptable
  • the standards imposed (and measured)
  • the level of empowerment given to the employee to resolve the problems.

In other words, if you don’t set the standards you expect, you will get the level of tidiness which each individual think is OK. The resources and decision-making power you delegate will also have an effect.

Set out your stall

Where your requirements are already clear, e.g. within your health and safety policy, you can take measures to enforce your standards with the staff concerned. If not, you will need to go back to basics as follows:

Tip 1. Write to all staff with responsibility for premises pointing out the legal requirements, e.g. “to comply with the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and other applicable regulations, all workplaces must be kept in a safe condition”. Explain that it is their responsibility to ensure compliance within their area and that a breach in standards exposes the company to a risk of legal action.

Tip 2. Describe the standard you expect in detail, for example, all floors to be kept free of stored items, all storage to be on shelving or in cupboards, confidential records filed, all corridors and fire exits to be unobstructed, fire extinguishers to be accessible, no combustibles stored in plant rooms, cleaning materials to be safely stored, etc.

Tip 3. Ask the managers to come back to you by a set date with any requested resources they need. Also ask them if there are any obstructions to achieving what you have asked.

Tip 4. Implement a routine inspection programme, including self-monitoring checks on, e.g., a weekly basis, and independent checks periodically.

Unless you take charge and set the example, you will get the standard of tidiness which individuals think is OK. Outline the legal responsibilities and your expectations in detail, e.g. unobstructed corridors, chemicals stored, etc. Ask the managers what additional resources they need to do what you ask, then inspect periodically.

A clean workplace can be achieved without spending a fortune and it contributes to a safe workplace for all!


H&S MANAGEMENT - The cost of non-compliance

Research has shown that it’s much cheaper to comply with your health and safety duties than leave it to chance. What’s to know?

Statistics. Safety consultancy Arinite has studied health and safety fines issued in 2016*. It identified that in total, £32,438,677 worth of fines were handed out. It also analysed how much businesses are spending on compliance. It found that small and medium-sized businesses can expect to pay between £5,000 and £40,000 per year to keep their house in order.

What does this cover? The investment includes maintenance in health and safety systems, e.g. policies, procedures, risk assessments etc., insurance, and the provision of competent health and safety advice.

More expensive. The consultancy then took the £40,000 figure away from the average fine. It concluded that if you’re fined it will cost you at least £75,000 more than if you had taken appropriate steps to become compliant. The difference between the cost of compliance and the potential fine is much greater for larger businesses.

Additional costs. It shouldn’t be forgotten that as well as fines, you also have legal costs, lost time, increased insurance costs, potential reputational damage, loss of business, etc. to factor in. As fines are getting larger all the time, the numbers will continue to stack up in favour of compliance over leaving it to chance.

Money well spent. Another important factor to consider is how the courts view those who have ignored their compliance duties. If there has been cost cutting at the expense of safety or a company has a persistent poor safety record, any penalty will be greater. If it can be proved that reasonable effort has been made to be compliant, the penalty you face will reflect this. Tip. Maintain records of how much time and money has been spent on compliance. For example, investment in competent advice, training, personal protective equipment, safer machinery etc. If things go wrong, this evidence may be useful in proving that you have invested in reducing the risks.

 If you’re fined it will cost you at least £75,000 more than if you had taken appropriate steps to become compliant. Keep records of what you spend on safety.

*To see the full research, please click on the following link


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