Cleaning - an occupational hazard

Related tags Risk Occupational safety and health

Beer line cleaners, washing-up liquids, dishwasher detergents and rinse aids, oven cleaners, disinfectants and bleach, toilet cleaners and descalers...

Beer line cleaners, washing-up liquids, dishwasher detergents and rinse aids, oven cleaners, disinfectants and bleach, toilet cleaners and descalers are all high on the 'danger' list. And the most common health risks when using any of these are likely to be through contact with the skin or eyes, breathing in or swallowing.

Many cleaning chemicals are hazardous because of their corrosive content - most are either alkaline or acid - and so can cause skin or eye burns if accidentally splashed onto the body. So touching the face, skin or eyes after handling cleaning chemicals can cause irritation, inflammation or chemical burns.

Spray cleaners which are chemically based can also cause breathing problems if over-sprayed, used without adequate ventilation or sprayed onto a hot surface.

It is essential, too, that any spills on floors or work surfaces are immediately cleaned up.

Then there is the risk from fumes. When substances are mixed they can trigger off adverse chemical reactions - for example if cleaning products containing bleach are mixed with acidic toilet cleaners or ammonia then harmful gasses will be given off.

Most of the risks can be kept to a minimum, however, by adopting correct procedures and training staff on the use and handling of cleaning chemicals and ensuring that personal protective clothing like gloves, face visor, fume masks and aprons, are available when substances are being used.

Personal protective equipment should be based on risk assessment and issued only after staffs has been fully trained in why it is needed and how to use it, and correctly maintained and disposed of.

It should be borne in mind that product safety data sheets on chemicals are not COSHH risk assessments, although manufacturers and suppliers of hazardous substances are required by law to provide safety information on the products. Companies have to write their own risk assessment on each chemical - or better still, call in a Venners' expert to do the job.

Legal requirements applying to the use of cleaning chemicals call on the employer to assess the risk arising from the use of hazardous substances and must also include the health and safety risks arising from storage, handling or disposal of any of the substances.

All hazardous chemicals used must be listed and a record kept describing their use and a description of the type of hazard they represent.

All members of staff should be informed, trained and supervised in the use of cleaning chemicals - it is not enough to simply issue safety data sheets. This will ensure for example, that they will never mix cleaning chemicals and also when diluting will always add the concentrated liquid to water and not the water to the concentrate.

Finally, it is well worth bearing in mind that there is often no suitable substitute for some good old fashioned "elbow grease".

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