Healthy cleaning practices in the workplace: a matter for employers
Cleaning staff handle various types of chemical cleaning agents on a daily basis. Using these chemicals incorrectly can be harmful to their health. As an employer, it is your job to inform your workers of the hazards and create greater awareness. By ensuring that they are using the right cleaning equipment at all times, you can help prevent injuries caused by ergonomic hazards.
Injuries, skin irritation and burns are only some of the risks associated with the use of cleaning tools (e.g. a vacuum or mop) and cleaning agents (e.g. ammonia or bleach). Health hazards arise when cleaners use certain movements that put stress on the body, or when they fail to read the product label, use the wrong dosage or mix certain products. And that is something you can’t control – or can you?
Greater awareness about health hazards
You can equip your workers with the skills and knowledge to prevent potential hazards. One way to do so is by creating more awareness about these risks. Cleaning products are easy to get by. But people often don’t know the full effect these products can have on our body. Encourage your cleaning staff to carefully read product labels and any other useful sources of information.
At www.gevaarsymbolen.be, you can download a free brochure and overview of the latest hazard warning symbols, effective as of 1 June 2016. The website also offers some useful tips for cleaning staff:
- read and follow the instructions on product and hazard labels;
- always close the bottle or packaging after and during use;
- wear suitable protective clothing (e.g. gloves, mask);
- make sure the area is well ventilated and open any windows when cleaning indoors;
- do not eat, smoke or drink while working with hazardous products;
- keep flammable products away from sources of heat;
- always keep products in their original packaging.
Raising awareness among your employees involves more than merely referring them to reliable sources of information, product labels, user instructions or the poison centre. A Safety Data Sheet (SDS) or safety document must be available for each product. The information listed in these documents must be converted into easy-to-follow guidelines for your workers. Also share the safety data sheets with your occupational health physician to ensure he or she can act quickly when an incident occurs.
Invest in training
Training sessions can be held to provide your staff with the knowledge they need on hazards associated with cleaning duties. It is possibly the best way to go, as you may not be entirely familiar with the ins-and-outs of safe cleaning practices yourself.
Your external department for prevention and protection in the workplace can organise professional training courses for cleaning staff. Participants will learn about the latest hazard warning symbols, how to correctly use hazardous cleaning agents, and how to perform their tasks more ergonomically (e.g. when manually lifting heavy objects). Encourage your employees to participate in these training sessions.
Using the right tools
If you are responsible for purchasing the products and chemicals used by your cleaning staff, then make sure you select them carefully.
- Use cleaning agents that are less harmful, even if they are somewhat less effective.
- Always consider the risks when purchasing new cleaning agents.
Doubts or concerns? Talk to the experts at your internal or external department for prevention and protection in the workplace. Your occupational health physician or prevention advisor can also assist you with selecting the right products in view of specific concerns, e.g. medical problems, industrial hygiene, prevention, first aid, etc.
You can also help prevent risks associated with cleaning duties by making sure that the right cleaning tools and products are available to your workers. An automatic wringer system for mopping, for instance, will not only prevent skin contact with chemicals, but will also reduce joint pains. Also provide the necessary protective gear, such as gloves or work boots.
With special thanks to Davy Vanspauwen, prevention advisor Industrial Hygiene & Toxicology at Mensura, Dr. Chris Linders, head of department Industrial Hygiene & Toxicology at Mensura, and Dr. Ulrik Van Soom, prevention advisor-occupational health physician and M.E.R. expert at Mensura.