Image: European Cleaning Journal
Lauren O’Connor from Zoro, supplier of cleaning products and personal protective equipment, takes a closer look at your responsibilities as an employer when it comes to your staff working with cleaning agents.
Each year there are an estimated 13,000 deaths in the UK linked to past exposure to chemicals and dust at work, according to statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Among the potentially hazardous chemicals used in the workplace, cleaning agents are one of the most widely used across a huge range of industries.
As an employer, you have a duty of care to your employees to ensure that you do everything that is reasonable possible to protect their health and wellbeing. So, if your staff work with cleaning agents, you will need to take the right steps to make sure they are properly safeguarded. These can be both preventative and control measures, such as adopting procedures with the lowest risk, supplying the right equipment, and providing appropriate training.
Below, I’ll cover five key points that you need to consider when protecting your staff when they are using cleaning agents. Read on to find out more.
Undertake a risk assessment
The first step towards protecting your employees is to undertake a risk assessment. Though this should be something that you’re constantly reviewing for your whole workplace, you may wish to carry out an assessment with a focus on the use of cleaning agents. This process with help you to identify hazards around working with cleaning agents, as well as ways to eliminate or reduce them.
You will need to take a walk around the areas in which cleaning agents are stored or will be used, noting down any potential hazards you can see, as well as who is at risk. Remember to read the manufacturer’s instructions before doing so, as they may highlight safety concerns that you could miss otherwise. Be sure to talk to your employees too, as they can have an insight into any tasks involving cleaning agents that you might not be aware of.
Next, you should look at the controls that are currently in place to deal with potential hazards to see if they are still adequate. If not, you will need to come up with new measures to deal with them, preferably to eliminate the threat altogether. For example, if the fumes from a cleaning agent can be hazardous, moving them to a location that is very well ventilated would be more favourable than providing respiratory protective equipment.
You can find detailed guidance about how to carry out and record a full risk assessment on the HSE’s website.
Establish procedures for handling cleaning agents
Some of the risks that you identify during your assessment may concern the handling and storage of cleaning agents. To address these, you will need to establish a set of procedures for your staff to follow when they are transporting, using, and storing chemicals. These procedures should be communicated to your workforce through training, which is covered later in the article.
As part of your procedures, you will need to establish the best ways of handling chemical agents to reduce risk. Think about ways to minimise contact with potentially hazardous substances, as well as ways to avoid unwanted spillages, then advise your staff about the best technique to do so. Consider methods of improving hand care, such as providing hand wash stations, so employees can remove contaminants swiftly.
Storage of cleaning agents is also important, as this is where they will spend most of their time when not in use. Your staff will need to keep a rigorous inventory of the chemicals you have on your premises and where they are located. This will help you to track when products go out of date, as well as ensure that they are being stored alongside other agents that pose no risk if mixed.
An up-to-date inventory will ensure that you will be able to spot when something has gone missing. You can supplement this by keeping potentially hazardous chemicals in a secure location that only trained cleaners can access, reducing the risk of theft or misuse by an unqualified person.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions at all times
Each of the cleaning agents you use should come with a set of instructions from the manufacturer that dictates how they should be diluted, mixed, and used safely. You need to follow these to the letter, because misuse can often lead to accident or injury. For example, one cleaning agent might be perfectly harmless on its own, but if mixed with another, it may become hazardous – a detail that will be documented on the manufacturer’s instructions.
Be sure to include hazards identified in the instructions when you are carrying out your risk assessment. You’ll also need to include controls to address these hazards in your procedures. Some of these steps may include purchasing pre-mixed chemicals to eliminate any risk of mixing or diluting altogether, or providing specialist measuring devices to prevent staff from using the wrong quantities.
Ensure you have the right PPE and that it’s always availableThough it’s preferable to completely eliminate the risks of using cleaning agents, you can issue personal protective equipment (PPE) to your workforce as a last line of defence. Equipment like rubber gloves, safety goggles, respirators, and coveralls can help to reduce the risk to your employees.
It’s important to make sure that any PPE you provide is appropriate for the job. For example, one task may not be particularly hazardous and may only require gloves, whereas another may need full skin protection. However, you also need to consider whether equipment is comfortable and practical for the job. For instance, if a task is quite fiddly, bulky protective gloves might not be the way to go, and you may need to opt for something thinner and more fitted,
Any PPE that you provide always needs to be available when it is needed. Your staff should be made aware of when they need to use it and where it is stored for quick and easy access. As an employer, you also have the responsibility for maintaining PPE and replacing any damaged items. You should make your staff aware that they should report any defective equipment as soon as they notice it, so that it can be immediately replaced or repaired.
Provide the right training for your workforce
No risk assessment and cleaning agent procedure can be properly implemented without providing your staff with the necessary training. Your workforce will need to be made aware of any new controls that you are putting in place so they can safely go about their work. Any training that you provide should be suitable for its intended audience.
Be sure to cover any dangers of using, mixing, or diluting particular products, as well as guidance about how to handle and store cleaning agents. You should also make it clear when any PPE you have provided should be used and how your employees can access it. You can supplement your training regime by putting up safety posters and providing reference material.
Cleaning agents can be hazardous if not handled safely. However, by following our advice to carry out a risk assessment and implement effective safety controls, you will have taken a big step towards having a safer workplace.