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close this bookLow-Cost Ways of Improving Working Conditions: 100 Examples from Asia (ILO, 1989, 190 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. Workstations
View the document2. Materials handling
View the document3. Housekeeping, storage and access to work locations
View the document4. Job content and work schedules

3. Housekeeping, storage and access to work locations

It is very important, from the point of view both of operational efficiency and of the working environment, to keep the premises of the worksite tidy and in good order. Means of access and exits must also be free from unnecessary obstacles. Good housekeeping contributes not only to better work flow but also to safety, health and comfort. It is an essential support to a good working environment.

Clear transport areas, easy access to worksites and storage areas help to achieve better work flow and internal transport. Bad housekeeping can often slow work down or create additional work. Badly stacked materials may fall and cause damage, delays and serious injury. A fire may be started if combustible waste is not regularly removed or if excessive quantities of flammable materials are kept in workshops.

Moreover, bad housekeeping can cause a very wide range of accidents. These include falls on slippery, greasy or damp floors; hitting or tripping over materials, machine parts or other obstacles left lying in passageways; cuts from objects protruding from work tables or cabinets; punctures from nails or other sharp parts on the floor; and failure of lifting or handling aids. Health risks also arise from dust and chemicals which should be cleaned up.

There are many low-cost measures which help maintain good housekeeping. If passageways and traffic areas and exits are properly marked and defined, this already helps a great deal. For the storage of raw materials, finished products, tools and accessories, special areas can be set aside. Storage racks at appropriate places can help keep working areas clear. Adequate receptacles for waste and debris should be conveniently placed. If these measures are designed so that they make it easier for people to maintain cleanliness and order, then their cooperation is easier to ensure. Just talking to people about tidiness or leaving it to the last few minutes of the working day will not be very helpful. Wherever necessary, day-to-day responsibility for clean workshops, sanitary facilities and yards should be assigned to specific groups of persons.

Case 19: Markings on the floor

In a metal fabrication factory in Metro Manila, the Philippines, which employed about 60 workers, there were no clear-cut passageways or specific work areas. This created an atmosphere of disorganisation and constant, imminent hazards. The owner made a study on how he could re-arrange the work areas. The first step he took was to install floor markings using yellow paint. This made it possible to clearly designate work areas and passageways.

Figure 42: Cluttered workplace before changes.

These markings greatly helped the workers to work in the proper areas. The workers were consulted on how to define these areas. The passageways, marked in the central part of the plant, facilitated the workers' movements. The owner went on to install small signs for each work area, such as 'welding area', 'assembly area', etc. Areas were also defined for storing metal sheets.

Figure 43: Welding area with markings on the floor.

The cost included about US$ 10 for paint, US$ 6 for labour for one day and US $6 for signboards. The total direct cost was about US$ 22. The results achieved were remarkable. The workers felt that there was now improved order and system in the work areas. The movement inside the plant was facilitated and its cleaning made easier. The owner reported that the markings taught the workers to arrange operations within designated areas and thus to keep order and cleanliness. He expected fewer accidents as a result of these changes.

Similarly, floor markings were effective in maintaining housekeeping in a printing factory in an industrial estate in Madras, India. Forty workers were working in the print shop. The manager had been complaining that the passageways, especially those leading to the main exit, were cluttered with piles of raw and printed materials. Yellow markings were painted on the floor which helped designate work areas and passageways. The cost was less than US$ 10. The manager noted an improvement in the flow of work and space utilisation. An unexpected byproduct was increased ventilation that allowed more fresh air to reach machine operators.

Figure 44: Floor markings for better housekeeping in a print shop.

Case 20: Access to work locations

There were many obstructions in the passageways of an engineering factory in Pakistan employing about 50 workers. These obstructions mainly consisted of disorderly piles of materials and finished products which made it difficult for the workers to get to their work locations. These obstructions often led to injuries.

Markings in yellow paint were made on the floor to demonstrate access to the work locations. At the same time, storage racks for finished goods were placed along the access routes. The management, with the co-operation of a supervisor, gave a short training class to the workers to familiarise them with the advantages of good access to work locations and of preventing injuries. This included an on-the-spot demonstration of a clear passageway versus an obstructed one. The supervisor also started to take initiatives in housekeeping. As a result of the training, markings, racks and the access route remained cleared.

Figure 45: Difficult access to an engineering work location.

The direct cost incurred included US$ 10 spent for paint, a brush and stencils as well as labour for painting the markings and US$ 20 for providing the storage racks. Savings were not immediately obvious, though they could include reductions in injuries and sickness absences and increased efficiency. The manager also mentioned that the workers had become more safety-conscious.

Figure 46: Easier access to work locations due to marking and clearing access routes.

A similar experience was reported in a garment factory in Bali. It was difficult for workers to approach their sewing machines, as the machines were crowded into a small space. With common sense measures, such as re-arrangement of the layout of machines and clearance of passageways, access to each work location was made far easier than before. Instead of arranging the sewing machines in a haphazard manner, they were now neatly arranged in rows with ample space in between. As a result, greater comfort and safety were achieved. The morale of the workers also became appreciably higher with less crowding and better housekeeping. The costs for these improvements were minimal compared with the results achieved.

Case 21: Handrails to clear space

In a Singapore electronics factory, it was found that goods were often stacked close to an emergency exit that was near a loading site. Repeated admonitions to the workers not to do so did not help. Lines were then drawn to demarcate limits beyond which goods should not be stacked, but these were ignored most of the time. Handrails were then constructed around the doors to create a clear rectangular space around the emergency exit. This proved effective. The exit doors were always found to be clear with no goods stacked up beyond the handrails. The fire hose placed near the exit was no longer blocked. The cost of building the handrails came to about US$ 250.

A similar idea was used at an engineering workshop in India which employed 40 workers. The approach to the main switches in an emergency was obstructed by bad housekeeping. Although there were handrails in front of the switches, materials and waste products were piled up along the handrails so that it was difficult to reach the switches. The manager placed a large wooden table along the handrails after removing all the obstacles and cleaning up the premises. No particular expenses were incurred. This table, along with the handrails, helped maintain easy access to the main switches.

Figure 47: Handrails to keep an emergency exit clear of obstacles.

Figure 48: Handrails in front of main switches. A table put in front of the rails to avoid piling up of materials.

Case 22: Storage shelves

In a garment factory in the Philippines with about 60 workers, the manager and production supervisors found the inventory and monitoring of finished and semi-finished goods difficult as they were scattered around. There was no centralised storage area and workers tended to pile the goods in various places in the workroom. The manager had to wait until the end of the day when supervisors submitted inventory reports.

The flow of goods and the existing storage system were reviewed. The manager drew up a new storage scheme, which included the use of storage shelves. Signs were also put up to identify semi-finished goods. The work area was re-arranged so that the storage area was accessible to the workers involved. Tags were put on the products.

The cost of the storage shelves, inclusive of materials and labour, was about US$ 300. The indirect cost for transferring the stocks to the shelves was minimal since this work was done as part of the normal production process.

The use of shelves with proper markings greatly facilitated the flow and the inventory of finished and semi-finished goods vis-is the production target of the day. In the past the manager had not seen the need for utilising shelves in the factory. Storage of materials had been left to improvised procedures. With increased production, the manager was forced to find a more effective system. Shelves were an excellent solution.

Figure 49: Newly-made storage shelves.

Case 23: Hire-net storage racks

In a shoe factory in the Philippines, storage of raw and unused materials and shoe lasts of various sizes was a problem due to lack of space. As the factory was surrounded by residential houses, it was impossible to expand the factory building. Easy access to the stored materials and lasts was also important as they could become necessary any time according to new orders.

To solve the problem, storage racks for shoe lasts were made of metal frames and wire nets. These racks could be piled up in such a way that any of the lasts could easily be taken out through the open upper front portion of the racks. The items could be easily seen through the wire nets. These racks were useful for storing a considerable amount of lasts and keeping the storage space in a corner of the workshop trolley. The racks cost approximately US$ 200.

A similar experience was reported from an engineering unit with 13 workers in India. The unit was producing satellite antennas. To eliminate haphazard piling of materials and semi-products in the shop area, racks were fabricated for stocking materials and semi-products. The racks cost US$ 420. The manager felt that the new practice of utilising racks contributed to better quality of the final products.

Figure 50: Wire-net storage racks for shoe lasts.

Case 24: Waste boxes

In a garment factory in the Philippines, cloth remnants were scattered all around the work area. This impeded the free movement of workers. After discussion in a meeting called by the manager, a wooden box was provided for each worker. Every day one of the workers was responsible for emptying the boxes at noon and after 5 p.m. in addition to his or her regular work. This assignment was rotated among the workers.

This measure was implemented a week after the workers were fully oriented to the change. The measure proved successful. The cloth remnants were now always placed in the box.

The total cost of constructing the boxes was US$ 102. Production increased by an average of 7 per cent. It was estimated that about US$ 15 a day was saved as a result of this measure.

Figure 51: Arranging waste boxes to help maintain good housekeeping.

Case 25: Trays for oil spills

In the packing section of a vegetable oil plant in India, oil was spilt while being transported over roller conveyors from tin-filling machines to seaming machines. In addition to the waste involved, the spills made the floor slippery. Ten out of the 50 employees of the plant worked at the packing section. To reduce spills on the floor and minimise wastage of the oil, steel trays with handles were provided below the roller conveyors. These trays could be conveniently removed and reinserted after the collection of the oil. The trays were 30 × 90 cm and were made with 20 mm thick mild steel plates. Each cost approximately US$ 100. Thirty such trays were made. The trays prevented spills on floor and thus avoided the danger of accidents.

Since the waste of vegetable oil previously amounted to two litres per day, the yearly saving on oil was over US$ 2,000.

Case 26: Skirting along drains

In a foundry which employed 118 workers in Malaysia, the drains were often choked by raw materials and process wastes washed into them, especially during the rainy season. When the drains were blocked, overflowing water disturbed the work flow. In addition, debris in the drains caused an unpleasant smell which caused the workers to complain.

Debris found in the drains was analysed to determine its composition. It was found that one section of the foundry was mainly responsible for the blockage. Once the problem area was identified, skirting was laid along the drain. The skirting was 10 cm high and 15 cm wide. Then mild steel grill covers over the drain were re-arranged to have smaller gaps of about 1 cm each instead of previous larger gaps. These measures effectively prevented drain blockages.

The cost of installing the skirting was about US$ 100. However, saving in overtime pay for gardeners for cleaning and flushing blocked drains amounted to approximately US$ 150 a month. Savings from the prevention of loss of raw materials was valued between US$ 6-10 per month.

Figure 52: Layout of the raw materials section before improvement.

Figure 53: Drain grills and skirting along the drain after improvement.

Case 27: Prevention of injuries with a simple device

In an office in Thailand, there were huge quantities of file folders placed in a series of steel cabinets which the clerks had to open and close extremely frequently. Sometimes some drawers were left open. The weight of the drawer contents would then tip the cabinet over and sometimes cause injuries to passing workers as a consequence. The office employed ten clerks and was part of a major warehouse in an import-export company.

The office manager drew the clerks' attention to the danger of leaving the file drawers open, but accidents still continued because of the turnover of staff and the rush of work.

The manager then had the warehouse workers fix an L-shaped bar to the back and top of all the cabinets. This bar effectively united the series of cabinets into one unit. The individual cabinets now could not therefore be tipped over if drawers were left open. There was no further falling over of cabinets and therefore no resulting injuries.

Figure 54: Cabinets prevented from tipping over.

The cost of the L-shaped steel bar, commonly used in warehouse shelves, was US$ 0.60 per 30 cm. The line of cabinets extended to 4.5 metres, so the cost of the bar was US$ 9. The labour time costs were minimal as the workers took only a few minutes to install the bar. The clerks took several minutes to clear and replace the files. The punching of holes in the cabinets were not considered a liability as the cabinets had no residual value when they were discarded. The savings made were not easy to estimate, but the most recent injury to the shoulder in that office due to falling cabinets had been estimated to cost US$ 45 in medical treatment and US$ 50 as sick leave for one week.

In other situations, e.g. warehouses, injuries also occur from falling objects as a result of bad and unstable stacking of materials on floors or shelves. Proper measures can likewise help prevent such injuries at minimal cost.

Case 28: Improving access to a frequently-visited work area

Access to a varnishing section situated in a 1.8 metre high mezzanine was a problem in a furniture manufacturing company in the Philippines. The company employed 27 workers and had an area of about 800 square metres. The workers had to carry goods up and down to and from the varnishing section. The section was about 50 metres away from the hand sanding section.

Figure 55: A varnishing section in a mezzanine.

A space of about 20 square metres in a wood storeroom was identified as a place for the transfer of the varnishing section. The place was situated next to the sanding section on the same level. It took two days for the workers to clear the stockroom. Installation of divisions and enclosures in the newly-created space was done by three workers in the following week. The varnishing equipment and other tools were shifted to the new area.

The direct cost involved amounted to US$ 100 for materials and labour. With the new location of the varnishing section, it was estimated chat three minutes could be saved per transfer of a smaller product such as a chair. This meant a saving of 12 working minutes per transfer in the case of carrying a bed as four persons were involved, and saving of 9 minutes per transfer in the case of carrying a table or sofa.

Figure 56: A wood storeroom transformed into a new varnishing section on the ground floor.