ISHN conducted an exclusive interview with Phil LaDuke, who presented a talk on “Your Mother Doesn’t Work Here: Housekeeping and Safety” at the National Safety Congress & Expo, Sept 15-17, in San Diego.

What is the point you’re making in terms of housekeeping by saying, “You Mother Doesn’t Work Here”?

Good housekeeping is the single greatest tool for creating a safe workplace; it's easy, it's cheap, and it's incredibly effective, and yet whenever I go into a factory, a mine, an oil and gas site or even a hospital the people there try to defend the mess as absolutely necessary. It's not necessary and it is dangerous.

Describe a couple of essential elements of good safety housekeeping.

 For me the quintessential good safety housekeeping is 5S. 5S is a tool used in lean principles that boils down to having a place for everything and everything in its place. 5S requires the organization to rid itself of unnecessary junk that tends to accumulate over the years; to label and footprint everything; and to keep things policed up. It not only makes the workplace look better, it makes it safer and more productive.

In your experience, what is commonly overlooked or neglected in safety housekeeping?

Hands down, blocked pedestrian routes. Blocked routes force pedestrians to walk where they aren't intended as they step around obstacles. This puts the worker in the position where he or she must work out of process (because the process says he or she should be on the pedestrian path). 

Working out of process is the single greatest threat to worker safety, because we tend to have safety precautions that assume the worker is "in process;" in the case of blocked pedestrian walkways, industrial vehicle drivers aren't expecting the pedestrians to be walking in areas designed for vehicle traffic.

What role should the safety pro play in housekeeping?

He cannot be expected to be the janitor, right, and do all the cleanup himself. This is bigger than the safety pro. EVERYONE plays a role in housekeeping. 

Housekeeping isn't just about sweeping up and emptying trash bins, it's about putting your tools back where they belong when you finish using them, removing all trash and obsolete facilities when you decommission equipment, keep your tools and stock neat and orderly, and picking up not only after yourself but others as well. When you walk by trash on the floor pick it up. Housekeeping is the manifestation of pride in your workplace and job.

 Phil La Duke is a partner at Environmental Resources Management (ERM). Phil is a business writer with more 50 works in print. He is a thought leader in safety, a noted speaker, safety columnist, contributor, iconoclast, and blogger who prods and provokes his readers in a sometimes desperate attempt to get them to consider another point of view. Phil’s opinions are often controversial, but are always uniquely and unequivocally his own. Phil LaDuke

He increasingly catches the ears of safety practitioners all over the globe. He can be reached at, via his blog, followed on Twitter @Philladuke or @workersafetynet ; or by calling him at 313.244-2525