Health & safety practices: more than just good housekeeping

Health & safety practices: more than just good housekeeping

General good housekeeping is everyone’s responsibility, whether it’s at your brokerage or the factories, offices or business premises of your clients. It’s important to make clients aware that managing risk and safety in the workplace will help avoid injury, liability claims and business interruption. The South African Occupational Health & Safety Act has a specific section for housekeeping to promote a safe, clean and healthy working environment that reduces the likelihood of accidents and unsafe practices in the workplace. We look at the main benefits and focus areas to help you advise your clients on best practices.

The benefits of good housekeeping practices

Good housekeeping practices have numerous positive benefits, such as:

  • Clean, clutter-free and spill-free work areas
  • Decreased fire hazards
  • Awareness for tripping and related hazards
  • Proper waste management and control of hazardous substances
  • Better hygienic conditions leading to improved health
  • More effective use of space and improved employee morale
  • Improved productivity and better control of what can go wrong.

Fire safety good practice

Fire is a big risk for many businesses so highlight these scenarios to clients that can impact on good housekeeping:

  • Keep building surrounds clear of vegetation, such as dry grass, tree branches or other combustible materials to fight the risk of veld fires in the surrounding area or materials near the building igniting.
  • An effective fire detection system, linked to a local fire brigade, security company or the client, enhances the protection of the premises against fire.
  • Proper training of staff in fire-fighting, use of equipment and safety is an important consideration.
  • Ensuring that the correct permits are in place if any flammable liquids are in use and also to ensure that full compliance exists in terms of the storage thereof. For example, if more than 210 litres of Class II (flash point above 38o C and below 60,5o C) exists, the rules for this must be adhered to regarding storage facilities.
  • If welding activities are performed there needs to be adequate separation between this process and any other activities, such as storage of goods. Failure to adhere to this can lead to a fire in such premises, either where the welding occurs or extended to the storage area.
  • The implementation of a hot works permit system is often found to be lacking. Contractors perform work involving a hazardous process, e.g. angle-grinding and the protective measures required are either not followed or not known, due to the lack of an adequate system. This has led to many losses in South Africa that could have been avoided.
  • Heat extraction systems: During some manufacturing processes, there is heat that is generated, which needs to be extracted, using adequate heat extraction systems. Failure to provide these extraction systems, leads to a risk of fire and compromises the safety of workers, due to excessive fumes in the working environment.
  • Lack of or inadequate distribution of hose-reels within a premises. This is often in contravention of the regulatory codes and also breaches the minimum requirements set out by insurers. This naturally impacts negatively on safety and the ability to deal with fires, as they occur.
  • Spreading of fire: When a small fire occurs, it is important that staff are able to deal with such fire quickly, to avoid further spread of the fire. This means that good, clear and adequate signage for positioning of the fire-extinguishers is essential, since when people panic, the signage assists them in locating the equipment quickly. Often this signage is inadequate or does not comply with SABS standards.
  • Distribution boards need to be clear of any obstruction, making them accessible at all times. In addition, it is important that such boards are protected by SABS/SANS approved power surge protection, given the high likelihood in South Africa of power surge incidents.
  • If clients have diesel or other fuel storage on site, it is essential that these have compliant bund walls, which prevents spillage and additional fire or contamination risk from such spillage. The bund area must be sufficient to contain any leakage from storage above ground level, for example 10% more than the storage capacity of the tanks themselves.
  • Ensuring that electrical reticulation is in good condition and that the required certificates of compliance are obtained, is very important. In South Africa, electrical faults are a primary reason for fires and some of these could have been prevented if thermal scanning had been implemented to trace problem areas.

How to safeguard employees

Employers have duties in terms of the OHS Act to ensure the safety of employees. Good housekeeping requires a systematic approach, training, proper communication and formalised systems, which are regularly reviewed and improved.

Health and safety management systems need to be embedded in all organisations and these are coupled with understanding all the risks within the industry involved. Examples of some measures to ensure safety:

  • Proper training in fire-fighting and procedures to be followed is essential, along with ensuring proper access is always possible to the equipment, through compliant signage and correct placement of equipment.

    Good housekeeping will ensure:
    • Quicker access to fire-fighting equipment;
    • Better trained staff;
    • Clear escape routes;
  • If a property requires a compliant sprinkler system due to the nature of the risk, this assists with the primary function of such system, which is to save lives. An ASIB approved system that has been tested and is properly functioning, is an important tool to save lives and also protect property.
  • Good extraction systems are important in industries that produce fumes, which could be both toxic and/or flammable. A lack of such systems can be detrimental to health of employees, but also contribute to or exacerbate a  fire.
  • Proper demarcation systems are important to ensure that staff are always aware of areas that potentially are dangerous or have processes or operations requiring additional protective gear. Demarcation ensures that safe zones are easily identifiable.

Ensuring safety of customers

Good housekeeping also impacts on the safety of the public, especially in the retail sector. Slip and trip incidents are numerous and can be costly, especially as litigations following such incidents are on the increase.

Poor housekeeping can result in serious injury or death to members of the public (especially to children, frail or weak persons), which is why business owners must ensure good housekeeping standards at all times.

Here are some examples that could affect customers:

  • In industries that require sprinkler systems, for example large warehouse type shopping facilities, such systems are aimed at protecting lives, as well as property. The effectiveness of an approved, tested and properly functioning system can never be underestimated.
  • Cluttered floor spaces can lead to customers tripping, being injured and instituting legal action. Ensuring that such scenarios are avoided, it is essential that all areas are managed in terms of tidiness and demarcation;
  • Areas involving any hazardous products, for example chemicals, should be supervised at all times by qualified staff to ensure that customers are not exposed unnecessarily. Business owners must also always consider where fires can occur, and follow the fire safety precautions we listed previously.

Damage to property

While safety of people is the first priority, poor housekeeping can also increase the risk of property loss – for example if safety systems (like firefighting equipment) are not regularly serviced. Often access to such equipment is blocked by stock or other items, resulting in an inability to respond quickly, which aggravates the ability to contain a fire.

The lack of housekeeping often leads to increased hazard, because property that should not be near one another ends up causing major problems. An example, is keeping large quantities of flammable liquids in an operational or production environment. This adds to risk of injury, death or loss of property.

Since good housekeeping introduces good operational practices and discipline, it also usually results in better response to a crisis situation. Many situations, which have resulted in major loss, usually could have been prevented if proper systems were in place. Again, guide clients through the fire safety precautions listed previously in the article.

Consequential loss

Good housekeeping practices could also avoid the following kinds of consequential loss:

  1. Emotional and financial suffering of families of workers who are injured or killed.
  2. Permanent disablement of workers, which has profound impact on them and their families.
  3. Loss of market share.
  4. Loss of skilled employees due to competitor action following a lengthy loss.
  5. Loss of customer base size (permanently or temporarily) and loss of supplier base.
  6. Breaches in contract due to the loss occurring, resulting in penalties.
  7. Depending on the circumstances, potential lawsuits.
  8. Business interruption, both in terms of financial loss and loss or reduction of human capital.
  9. In some cases, businesses never recover and end up in liquidation, with dependents of the business suffering equally.
  10. While business interruption insurance is effective, it only accounts for the financial aspect.

If you would like more information on Santam’s business liability insurance, speak to your relationship manager or contact us. For more advice tailored to businesses, visit our blog.