Protecting new workers

Whether you’re constructing townhouses in a new subdivision, erecting a condo tower, or just putting an addition on an urban semi, residential jobsites are constantly abuzz with different tradespeople, heavy equipment, trucks delivering materials, and more.

With so much to coordinate, it can be all too easy to neglect the little things—like keeping your site tidy.

Wet surfaces and disorganized power cords may seem like relatively minor problems, but these housekeeping hazards are big concerns when it comes to workplace injuries.

“On a site where the hazards include falling off a roof or being hit by a large vehicle, someone tripping on a loose cable might not seem like a huge deal,” says Michael Douglas, Health and Safety Manager at Mattamy Homes.

“But slips and trips commonly result in ankle, knee, wrist, and back injuries, and often lead to workers being given modified duties.”

Employers and workers must control these hazards as vigilantly as they guard against falls from heights, struck-bys, and other more “obvious” risks. Coordination and accountability are important: tradespeople need to report unsafe conditions; supervisors need to communicate expectations clearly; employers need to have consistently applied policies and procedures to address identified hazards.

Here are a few of the most common housekeeping hazards in residential construction, and the steps you can take to ensure they are minimized on your jobsite.


Uneven surfaces

Rough ground, potholes, and other surface irregularities can be serious tripping hazards. Unlevelled areas around houses—such as where a garage’s concrete pad meets an unfinished driveway—are a concern, especially for workers who may be carrying materials and unable to see where they’re stepping. Rutted roadways also pose a risk: “We had a guy step out of a backhoe and break his ankle, as the ground was uneven where he landed,” Douglas says.

Control it: Identify and report uneven walking surfaces. Block off problem areas—or, at minimum, install warning signs—until the surfaces can be levelled or backfilled. Avoid carrying loads that obstruct your ability to see where you’re walking.


Wet or slippery surfaces

Weather is a big factor at open-air jobsites. Wooden ramps and stairs can get quite slick when wet or muddy. They are even more dangerous in winter, if snow or ice has accumulated on them. Oil and other liquids also create slipping hazards if spilled.

Control it: During or after wet weather, avoid tracking mud into work areas, and work to clear it if any builds up. In winter, Douglas says that employers should have a maintenance program in place for clearing snow and salting roadways, walkways, and access areas—but he emphasizes that tradespeople must be patient and wait for this work to occur. Place warning signs anywhere slippery surfaces remain a risk.


Clutter and untidiness

Loose tools, materials, and debris on the ground can create tripping hazards, especially on tight jobsites. Douglas notes that lumber and bricks are typically the two biggest obstacles, though stray pieces of siding are equally dangerous: they are very slippery if covered by a thin layer of snow or mud. And any cords extending from power tools and portable lights heighten workers’ risk of tripping.

Control it: Workers are responsible for keeping their work area clean and clutter-free. Supervisors need to communicate the importance of tidiness, and employers should provide the means of cleanup, such as a bin of sufficient size. When storing materials, stack them neatly and secure them so they don’t fall into pathways or work areas. Fasten cords to the floor or keep them away from high-traffic areas. Unplug them when they aren’t in use.


Poor lighting

It’s hard to spot slip, trip, and fall hazards if your workplace isn’t lit properly. This is particularly an issue in high-rise construction, but also for those working in basements—really, any spaces with low exposure to natural light. Insufficient lighting can also pose site-wide problems in winter, for those who may arrive on the job before sunrise, or who are still working after sundown.

Control it: Assess any work areas for inadequate or inconsistent lighting, taking into account changing light conditions throughout the day. Install portable lighting units where necessary, making sure to minimize the risk of tripping on any power cables. Workers may also be provided with headlamps.


Overall site standards

Having a plan for maintaining a clean, well-organized jobsite—and communicating that plan to all tradespeople working on the site—can go a long way toward preventing slips and trips in residential construction. Perform daily inspections to identify potential hazards. Then act promptly to report and control or eliminate those hazards. Whether housekeeping is performed on a continuous basis or scheduled for a specific time, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure workers can move around the jobsite safely.


More ways to prevent slips and trips

Use proper footwear: Ensure that your work boots fit well and are properly tied up, and that their rubber soles offer sufficient traction. In winter, consider using strap-on cleats to help improve your boots’ grip on icy surfaces.

Stay alert: Be mindful of hazards (e.g., potholes, erosion of walk/roadways) that may arise after bad weather. Avoid distractions, such as mobile-device use, while working or moving around the jobsite. Focus on the task at hand.

Rest up: Tired workers may have decreased awareness and slower reactions. Employers should design work schedules to minimize the risk of fatigue, and workers should be encouraged to take regular breaks.


Sign up for IHSA’s Preventing Slips, Trips, and Falls eLearning module to learn more about good housekeeping practices. It’s free until March 31, 2024.