Housekeeping + Physical Abilities Testing = Workplace Safety

[fa icon="calendar'] Jun 24, 2015 8:00:00 AM / by Deborah Lechner

"Little Women" author Louisa May Alcott wasn't kidding: "Housekeeping ain't no joke", she famously said. And it's true—both at home, and now in the workplace, where ongoing housekeeping and materials management processes go a long way toward preventing slips, trips and falls in the workplace. But “good housekeeping” is not enough.  There are workplace hazards related to slips, trips and falls that can’t be fully addressed through housekeeping, particularly for employees that must work in external environments - for example, walking outside on uneven terrain, encountering the elements of rain, snow and ice. Even internal environments create fall hazards when a chemical process is used and there is unavoidable overflow or spillage.  And working on ladders or scaffolding also present balance challenges. For these reasons, employers can’t just rely on housekeeping to prevent slips, trips and falls. They need to hire employees with balance abilities that meet job demands.  Here's why, and how, pre-hire physical abilities testing, along with a clean workplace, can help make your workforce more productive, more profitable, and keep workers' compensation claims as low as possible. 

Ongoing housekeeping can prevent injuries

It is not just about keeping your workplace clean: programs should include keeping work areas neat and orderly, keeping halls and floors free of slip and trip hazards, and removing waste materials like paper, cardboard and other fire hazards from work areas. Housekeeping also requires paying attention to important details such as the layout of the entire workplace, aisle marking, adequate storage facilities, and maintenance. OSHA Standard 1910.22(a)(2) states that:

  • The floor of every workroom shall be maintained in a clean and, so far as possible, a dry condition.  
  • Where wet processes are used, drainage shall be maintained, and false floors, platforms, mats, or other dry standing places should be provided where practicable. 
  • The lines used to delineate the aisles may be any color so long as they clearly define the area considered as aisle space. The lines may be composed of dots, square, strip or continuous, but they too must define the aisle area.  
  • The recommended width of aisle markings varies from 2 inches to 6 inches; therefore, any width 2 inches or more is considered acceptable. 
  • The recommended width of aisles is at least 3 feet wider than the largest equipment to be utilized, or a minimum of 4 feet.

These efforts lead directly to preventing workplace injuries. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a failure to do these things can be directly linked to “Slips, trips, and falls (that) constitute the majority of general industry accidents. They cause 15 percent of all accidental deaths, and are second only to motor vehicles as a cause of fatalities.”

Pre-employment tests assure workers' abilities

Pre-employment Physical Abilities Testing determines if workers are physically capable of meeting the essential functions of the job, all while maintaining privacy and medical confidentiality. A well designed physical abilities testing program can go a long way to preventing workplace injuries, lower costs and help employers better match employees to their jobs. In particular, these programs can identify those whose balance is not adequate for performing their jobs and, as such, are likely to slip and fall regardless of the good housekeeping efforts of their employers.

Some would argue that an employee’s physical condition does not affect slips and falls.  If they encounter a spot of slippery oil, for example, these nay-sayers  would argue that employees are going to fall no matter what. Actually that’s not necessarily true. There are many employee-related factors that influence whether an individual will fall when he/she encounters a balance perturbation or an environmental factor that reduces the security between floor/ground surface and the employee’s footing. Obesity, previous injuries, overall conditioning, age, and neurological conditions are just a few employee-related factors that affect balance.  While it would be unfair and illegal to eliminate employees just because they have one of these conditions, it is legal to require a job-related test of balance for employee selection.

Pre-employment testing and workplace cleanliness impacts workers' comp claims and safety

Private industry employers reported slightly more than 3.0 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2013, resulting in an incidence rate of 3.3 cases per 100 equivalent full-time workers, according to estimates from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses conducted by
the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

It’s a significant number, worth the attention of any business. Pre-employment physical abilities testing, which includes balance testing, can help, by matching a company's needs—through job analysis—with potential employees' abilities to lift, pull, push, squat, and climb, for example. In-depth testing also helps determine what factors might affect an employee's balance, helpful in heading off trips and falls before they happen.

Once, employees have been successfully screened, and with safety measures in place with workplace cleanliness practices, these types of slips, falls, and injuries can successfully be prevented:  

Intentional, ongoing safety measures and successful employee screening can result in: 

  • Reduced materials handling to ease the flow of materials and reduce employee exertion
  • Fewer tripping and slipping accidents in clutter-free and spill-free work areas
  • Better control of tools and materials, including inventory and supplies 
  • More efficient equipment cleanup and maintenance 
  • More effective use of space 
  • Reduced property damage
  • Less janitorial work 
  • Improved morale and productivity; all contributors to preventing workplace injuries. 

How to plan for a successful and injury-averse workplace 

Intentional pre-employment physical abilities testing assures that new hires are ready for the job at hand, while a daily housekeeping program plans and manages systematic and orderly storage and movement of materials from point of entry to exit.

Housekeeping is no joke – neither is employee job-related balance; and for today's workforce, housekeeping, coupled with pre-employment physical abilities testing, is essential in preventing workplace injuries.

Are you interested in learning how you can create an injury-free workplace through effective physical abilities testing? 

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Topics: Pre Employment Screening

Deborah Lechner

Written by Deborah Lechner

Deborah Lechner, ErgoScience President, combines an extensive research background with 25-plus years of clinical experience. Under her leadership, ErgoScience continues to use the science of work to improve workplace safety, productivity and profitability.