Cleaning chemical mistakes aren’t just annoying. They can be deadly. Here’s how you can avoid those mistakes and keep everyone safe.
In 2019, the manager of a fast-food restaurant in Massachusetts died after inhaling fumes from accidentally mixed cleaning chemicals. Ten customers and employees also suffered respiratory injuries. In 2020, a woman in England died after mixing bleach with another bathroom cleaner. It’s clear that cleaning chemical mistakes aren’t something to take casually.
What a lot of people don’t realize, however, is that it’s incredibly easy to make mistakes with cleaning chemicals. And though not all of those mistakes will lead to injury or death, they can result in other issues that indirectly compromise the safety of your team and your customers.
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Don’t Let These Cleaning Chemical Mistakes Harm Your Team
Mistakes. Accidents. Whatever you want to call it, most of our mistakes in life occur for one of two reasons: we don’t know better, or we aren’t paying attention. Even though that may sound harsh, the truth is that it’s incredibly easy to get distracted and not pay full attention to what we’re doing. And there are plenty of things we don’t know (for example, we slip and fall on a patch of ice we didn’t know was there).
Mistakes happen. There’s also a lot we can do to avoid mistakes, especially when it comes to cleaning chemical mistakes. Here are some ideas to either implement or reinforce across your commercial cleaning business.
1. Don’t mix chemicals. One of the easiest ways to avoid potentially harmful cleaning chemical mistakes is to avoid mixing cleaning solutions. For example, bleach and ammonia are well-known as a deadly mix, but it’s easier to combine these two than most people realize. Bleach is found in numerous cleaning products and may be listed as sodium hypochlorite, sodium hydroxide, or oxidizing agents, among others.
2. Dilute properly. If you buy concentrated cleaning solutions (vs. ready-to-use), ensure they are correctly diluted. Too much water will weaken their effectiveness, forcing your team to work extra hard to remove dirt and stains. On the other hand, too little water will result in a cleaning solution that is difficult to rinse and may become slippery, sticky, or corrosive.
3. Read the label. This might seem redundant, especially if you use the same cleaning products year after year. But things change. Manufacturers update their products, and the instructions may change. Additionally, the label should alert you to any possible hazards.
4. Follow the instructions. There’s a reason your cleaning products come with instructions. They are there to help you and your team stay safe, and ensure the proper dilution of the product, which leads to the most effective use of the product.
5. Use a color-coded cleaning system. Not everyone can read the labels on cleaning solutions. They may not understand the language, or the print is too small to make out. A color-coded system bypasses this issue and allows your team to identify items that should and shouldn’t be used together. For example, using a color-coded system can alert your team that only red-labeled cleaning products should be used with red microfiber cloths.
6. Use products for their intended purposes. One easy way to avoid chemical cleaning mistakes is to use products for their intended purposes. For example, many tile floor cleaners are formulated specifically for tile floors. It won’t be effective if you use it to clean the toilets. That’s a matter of efficiency, true. However, if someone uses floor cleaner in the bathroom and someone else comes along later to find they need to do the job again, they may inadvertently mix a new cleaning product with the residue of the one previously used, leading to potentially dangerous chemical interactions. That’s what happened in the case mentioned earlier with the manager at the fast-food restaurant.
7. Communicate. Even with color-coding, using products correctly, and all the other steps we can take to ensure cleaning chemical mistakes don’t happen, the one thing that is as powerful as all of these is communication. If I don’t know that you’ve used bleach on a surface, what will keep me from coming along 15 minutes later and cleaning that same surface with an ammonia-based cleaner? Of course, communication can be tricky when you have a crew of people in different parts of a facility. One solution is to use QR codes or NFC tags attached to a specific room or space. Your team can simply check off the required tasks in an area as they are completed. Then, anyone else who scans that code or tag can see that the work is already completed and can move along to a different area that has not yet been touched.
Navigating and understanding the correct use and protocols surrounding cleaning solutions can be tricky but not impossible. With extra care and attention to the task and products at hand, along with following the precautions and steps mentioned above, cleaning teams can work safely to avoid cleaning chemical mistakes and clean with confidence and ease.
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