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How to keep your employees safe when working with cleaning agents

As an employer, it’s up to you to keep your staff safe on the job. Lauren O’Connor works with Zoro, a supplier of cleaning products and personal protection equipment for a wide range of industries. Here, she talks about how you can ensure the safety of your staff when working with potentially hazardous cleaning agents.

As an employer, you have a duty to keep your employees safe on the job — in fact, it’s the law. So, if your staff regularly use chemical cleaning agents as part of their work, it’s vital that you have an up-to-date safety protocol in place, and that all employees are aware of their responsibilities.

Here, I’ve compiled a guide on how to ensure the safety of staff who use cleaning products regularly, including what you should be doing to reduce the risks presented by chemical cleaning agents. I’ll discuss the essential health and safety directives you should have in place, and advise on which PPE (personal protection equipment) you should provide to limit the risk of accidents and long-term health problems that the misuse of cleaning agents can cause. Just read on to learn if your business is up to standard.

1.    Create a health and safety assessment for your business
Before your company undertakes a cleaning job, you should create a comprehensive risk assessment that addresses every possible risk your employees may face during work. This must include the risks posed by chemical cleaning agents, such as:

  • Headaches, dizziness, asphyxiation, or long term respiratory illness caused by toxic fumes and vapours.
  • Damage and irritation to skin, including chemical burns, caused by corrosive chemicals.
  • Severe eye irritation and damage to eyesight.

You can usually assess the risks presented by certain chemicals by checking the manufacturer’s advice. Remember that the definition of ‘chemicals’ includes any hazardous by-products that are created during work processes: for instance, the dust involved in certain cleaning jobs can count as a dangerous chemical. These substances will need to be included in your risk assessment.

The assessment should also detail any potentially harmful equipment or machinery, and any risks related to buildings and premises (e.g. any stairs your employees will need to use). While the specifics of your assessment will depend on the nature of the job in question, you should always try to make your assessment as thorough as possible. You can find some examples of risk assessments for different industries, including cleaning, on the HSE website, which should give you an idea of what is expected from you.

2.    Ensure that cleaning agents are handled responsibly
After you have completed a risk assessment, you’ll need to put a health and safety procedure in place. This details how you plan to protect employees from the hazards you identified in your assessment, and what protocol your staff will need to follow to keep themselves safe.

Zoro-CleaningFor businesses that require prolonged use of chemical cleaning products, this means creating a safety protocol for the storage and handling of cleaning agents, and making your employees aware of it. You’ll need to outline how cleaning products need to be stored, and how they should be transported and handled.

For instance, your staff will need to keep an up-to-date inventory of all the cleaning products they currently use. This way, they’ll be able to track the use by dates of each product, and keep an eye on anything that’s gone missing. You should also outline how dangerous chemicals will be stored: most will need to be stored overnight in a secure place that only authorised employees have access to. All cleaning products must also be kept in their original packaging, as this is usually where the manufacturer’s guidelines for correct usage are displayed.

3.    Provide the right PPE for the job
During many cleaning jobs, your workers will require additional protection to keep them safe from hazardous chemicals. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to provide your employees with any PPE (personal protective equipment) that they’ll need on the job.

The PPE you’ll need to provide will vary depending on the cleaning products used. For instance, some industrial cleaners may require safety glasses and respirator masks during use, while others may only need protective gloves. When in doubt, check with the manufacturer, who will be able recommend the right PPE for use with a certain product.

As an employer, you’re also responsible for maintaining your PPE, and replacing any worn out equipment. Additionally, wherever possible, you should try to make sure that your PPE is comfortable and practical — after all, your staff will have to wear it all day.

4.    Ensure chemicals are used according to the manufacturer’s guidelines
All chemical cleaning agents come with a stringent set of instructions from the manufacturer on how to use them safely and efficiently. It’s absolutely vital that these are followed to the letter: neglecting the manufacturer’s guidelines can lead to serious accidents. For instance, a chemical may be relatively harmless at a certain level of dilution, but may cause serious skin damage if the wrong concentration is used. Other cleaning agents may be fine when used alone, but can be very dangerous when combined. For instance, when bleach and ammonia are mixed, it produces poisonous chlorine gas, according to NIDirect.

Health and safety guidelines are only effective if your staff are aware of them, so you must ensure your staff are properly trained before beginning any work with hazardous chemicals. It’s a good idea to produce a set of written guidelines that your employees can refer back to when in doubt, and to display posters around the workplace reminding them of the correct safety protocols.

Implementing a health and safety plan for dealing with hazardous cleaning products can seem complicated at first, but it needn’t be a difficult process. Just follow these step-by-step guidelines, and you should create an effective health and safety plan that keeps your employees safe on the job.

About Sarah OBeirne

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