Are your cleaning products creating a health and safety mess?
By Michael Selinger
Here’s a bitter irony of life: sometimes you’ve got to use a hazard to deal with a hazard.
If you work in hospitality, supermarkets, or healthcare, you can’t let bacteria, fungus or other nasty little pathogens spread.
But what about the chemical products you use to wipe them out?
The ads you see for them are benign enough – a housewife brandishing a mystery wonder liquid, searing away dirt and chasing off cartoon critters.
But the dangers if you use them wrongly are serious.
For instance, did you know that mixing two different brands of drain cleaner could cause an explosive reaction?
And you might remember a thing or two about mixing bleach and ammonia if you did high school chemistry. But it’s possible your workers won’t – and if they’re not trained, they could be inadvertently huffing toxic gas on your watch.
Hazardous chemicals should come with instructions on appropriate and safe usage – too often, these are lost in a cupboard somewhere, and workers end up using chemicals without understanding the risks and how to avoid them.
And before too long, an attempt to keep things clean could become a bigger mess.
Below, Michael Selinger, Editor-in-Chief of the Health & Safety Handbook (and co-author of its extensive chapter on Chemical Safety Management) has a short and very informative summary of the basics when dealing with hazardous cleaning products, and what often goes wrong when business try to clean up.
Michael’s Chemical Safety Management Handbook chapter talks further about the use of safety data sheets, how to handle a chemical spill, and offers checklists and templates to guide you in the purchase and storage of hazardous chemicals.
Everyone wants a clean workplace – make sure you’ve got a clean conscience as well.]
The right procedures for cleaning products in the workplace
Here’s a common scene: a worker, wearing latex gloves or something similar, with a bottle of chemicals and some wipes attempting to clean a part of the workplace.
Workers are often asked to use hazardous substances in this way, usually with cleaning products readily available from suppliers or even supermarkets.
But how safe are these chemicals, and what duty of care do you have to your workers?
The problem often starts when a company stores hazardous cleaning chemicals so that they can be used on an intermittent basis, often by people not trained in how to safely use them.
Workers can be inadvertently exposed to serious injuries if this is not properly managed. Inhalation of noxious fumes or exposure of skin and eyes to hazardous chemicals each present real safety hazards.
It is important that you review what steps your organisation has in place for managing the risks of common cleaning products. If they are not adequate, don’t delay: that means it’s time to put in some new procedures.
Handling cleaning products
This is often done without following manufacturers’ instructions. It is very important that you ensure workers obtain and read the instructions for use, and consult any safety data sheets before handling the cleaning product.
There will be safe handling precautions set out on those instructions and they should be carefully followed.
Workers may accidentally spill a quantity of cleaning product and look to clean it up themselves. Fair enough, you’d think. You don’t want anyone slipping over.
The risks in that case are that the worker will be exposed to a hazardous substance, or expose others if they don’t warn them of the spillage.
You should put in place steps to make sure that if a spillage occurs, it is cordoned off. Warning signs should be placed around the spill, and appropriate people contacted to arrange the clean-up.
In some cases, cleaning products are stored in ways which pose a risk not only because they are not securely stored, but also because they allow chemical odours and fumes to be generated.
There is also the risk that if you store hazardous substances with non-hazardous substances, a worker might make a mistake and expose themselves to the hazardous substance rather than the non-hazardous substance.
Be sure to store your hazardous substances in a clearly separated space (a bucket with a bunch of ‘cleaning’ substances in it won’t do!)
As well, you should ensure that the hazardous substances are kept in undamaged containers with secure caps or lids. It is also critical that they are properly labelled, and that records are kept of the location of all hazardous substances.
Finally, it is very important to have good first aid treatment available in case someone has contact with an unknown hazardous substance.
In particular, your first aid officer should be trained on how to treat skin or eye contact or accidental inhalation. They should also understand the essential actions to be taken if any of the cleaning products that you might use at the workplace are swallowed or ingested.
Ensure that only trained cleaners use the products. If other people are going to use them, ensure that they have sufficient personal protective equipment, and at least some basic training in how to use and clean up any spill of hazardous cleaning products.
There are simple remedial steps you can take to ensure that people are not exposed to risk from cleaning products used in the workplace. All it takes is putting a procedure into place now, and ensuring that your workers follow it.
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