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Cleaning up the jobsite, protecting the environment, and ensuring safety

Jobsites come in many sizes, types, and classifications. It could be a small residential bathroom remodel or multi-billion-dollar sports stadium. It doesn’t matter on which side of this spectrum it lands, all of them struggle with maintaining a clean and safe environment for the project labor while also effectively raising the bar on recycling.

As in any project, the bottom line is that you must have a plan. The acronym “CREDO” works well – Cleaning procedure, Recycle waste materials, Environmental control systems, Deliver a spotless finished project to the owner, and Orchestrate a safety strategy.

Cleaning procedure 

Formulating a procedure for maintaining the jobsite during the project is critical to a successful outcome. Construction debris strewn on the floor not only looks unsightly, but it is an accident waiting to happen. Posting signs that help everyone remember the plan keeps the importance of a clean site top of mind for workers, which encourages them to do their part. 

Sloppy work by other trades can seriously affect the quality and outcome of a tile project. The substrate must be properly cleaned and prepared prior to the installation of tile.

The cleaning plan can also provide increased jobsite efficiency by saving time. When a trip to your vehicle or to another part of the site is needed, take your waste materials with you and place them in the dumpster. It will save a trip in the future.

Getting rid of clutter that invades the workspace saves time. It takes more time for a worker to sidestep materials that are not currently needed in the process. Find a home for them so that they are more easily found when needed and won’t be damaged. Staging the tools needed for the job can also save significant time by placing them as close as possible to the work area. When using a wet saw, place an empty five-gallon bucket next to the saw to receive tile cuts rather than stacking them on the saw table or tossing them on the floor. On the next trip close to the dumpster, take the bucket with you and dump it.


10-12% of jobsite waste comes from cardboard which can easily be recycled into new products.

If not controlled, a jobsite can generate a large volume of waste materials. Implementing recycling measures can go a long way in minimizing the amount of material that needlessly ends up in the landfill. Something as simple as a well-marked collection box or bin can be effectively employed. Items such as wood, metal, paper (shredded or not), plastics, and aluminum beverage containers can be easily gathered once everyone on the jobsite is trained and reminded to participate. Just think of the huge volume of plastic water bottles and beverage cans that are carelessly tossed in trash which could easily be placed in the recycling bins.

Recycling bins similar to those shown can effectively clean up a work site and simultaneously train tradespeople to participate.

Additionally, approximately 10-12% of a project’s total waste comes from cardboard. While it is necessary to protect the products in transit and while in storage, this waste can be significantly diminished by ordering materials in bulk quantities rather than individual packaging. Salvaged cardboard can be accumulated and banded into bales that are sent to a recycling center.

But recycling jobsite materials doesn’t end with the above-mentioned items. Porcelain tile waste from cuts and broken tile can be substantial and likewise should not end up in the landfill. Crossville Inc., has met this challenge by creating its “Tile Take Back” program that recycles not only salvaged porcelain tile products, but also porcelain plumbing fixtures. These products are sorted, ground, and processed along with in-house by-products from the manufacturing process for inclusion in the production of new tile. This recycled content aids in the classification of the Green Squared® – SCS Global Services program, launched by the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) in 2012. Green Squared also contributes to LEED v4 credits.

Environmental Control Systems

Once separated, these materials can be recycled rather than clogging up the landfill.

As of September 23, 2017, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) implemented strict guidelines on the generation, control, and disposal of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) on the jobsite. RCS contains very small particles that are at least one hundred times smaller than sand found at a playground or the beach. Under these standards, employers must limit the worker’s exposure to silica and implement measures to protect workers on the jobsite.

Employers can either use the control methods laid out in Table 1 of the construction standard, or they can measure workers’ exposure to silica and independently decide which dust controls work best to limit exposures to the Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL) in their workplaces.

The simple and longtime jobsite actions of sweeping the floor with a broom or dusting off a horizontal surface with a fox tail brush are no longer permitted. Under the standard, the use of a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtered vacuum with an efficiency rating of 99.7% is required to remove any accumulated silica dust. Alternative options include the use of portable dust extractors or air scrubbers to maintain a safe working environment.

Some equipment used to cut tile can make this dust containment and control easier, such as saws designed to contain dust, or adapters that can be used with vacuums that contain dust emitted when mixing setting materials. There are also setting materials that are engineered without silica that lessen the exposure on the jobsite. 

Wet mopping floors can also be effective in controlling silica dust, but this should only be done after the visible dust and other contaminants are removed by a HEPA filtered vac. Otherwise, the bonding capacity of the substrate may be compromised. 

Deliver a spotless finished product

While first impressions are critical to a new relationship, the last impression may provide even higher dividends. Having the site viewed by the owner in a clean and ready-for-occupancy condition at completion will win friends and may yield favorable consideration on the next project. 

Orchestrate a safety strategy 

Crossville Tile’s Tile Take Back program has placed processed tile waste along with tile manufacturing by-products back into the materials used to produce new tile.

A clean site is a safe site. This statement may be a bit corny and often overused, but it is true. Debris left on the floor, especially in traffic areas, is a recipe for failure. Accidents do happen, which is why they are so named, but controlling site conditions will go a long way to significantly reducing their probability. Cleaning up the traffic areas is common sense and provides a safer work area. Electrical cords and hoses can be a part of this situation and are best kept out of frequently traveled areas. When it comes to doorways, the best method may be to redirect them above the door header by use of rope, tape, or another appropriate fastener. 

In the end, if less material ends up in the landfill, the cost of waste removal is reduced and profits grow, the savings acquired by reducing lost-time accidents will likewise add to the bottom line of the balance sheet and ultimately, the safety of the workforce is paramount.  

Scott Carothers
Academic Director at Ceramic Tile Education Foundation | + posts

Scott Carothers is the Acdemic Director for the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) and is responsible for the creation of the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program, and is involved in the creation of the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) program as well as providing training to others in the tile industry.

Carothers has been involved in the ceramic tile industry for nearly 40 years and was the owner of a successful retail and installation firm prior to CTEF. He has served as President and Chairman of the Board of the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), Chairman of the NTCA Technical Committee, was named the NTCA Tile Person of the Year in 2005, and the NTCA Ring of Honor recipient in 2013. He is a voting member of the ANSI and the TCNA Handbook committees.

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