The tools we use can be our greatest enemies, even when we try to be careful. Here are just a few chemical cleaning safety tips that can take a quick and unexpected turn if you aren’t careful.
As long ago as 2013, the United States Department of Labor estimated that six percent of custodial workers suffered harm related to cleaning chemicals on the job, despite most organizations putting chemical cleaning safety protocols in place. While six percent isn’t a huge number, it becomes significantly magnified when we’re talking about worksite injuries—a figure that ideally will be much closer to zero.
The unfortunate and challenging reality is that no matter how many chemical cleaning safety tricks you implement, none of them are 100% effective if people don’t take the time to do their parts. Further, some tips and tricks may be outdated or incomplete, missing out on critical details that could put a person right back in the path of danger. Some of the injuries sustained by cleaning professionals related to chemical use or contact can be severe or even permanent, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to adhere to chemical cleaning safety rules at all times, and for employers to update their policies regularly to meet ever-changing demands and new and unforeseen dangers.
Drilling down into some policies, we’ll take a look at exactly why cleaning and custodial work are considered high-risk professions and at how innocent carelessness or unanticipated acts of nature can turn chemical cleaning safety into the very nightmare that cleaning professionals set out to avoid.
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How chemical cleaning safety can get you into trouble
1. Personal protective equipment (PPE) issues
The most obvious chemical cleaning safety tip is to wear the appropriate PPE for any given job. That might include face coverings, disposable gloves, and safety goggles, to name a few. But having PPE alone may not be enough. For starters, it must be used properly, and employees need to be trained on this. Face masks should cover the nose and mouth at all times. Disposable gloves need to be taken off inside-out and never re-used. And no matter the situation, someone wearing PPE should never put their hands to their faces without removing relevant PPE and washing their hands first.
Those are human errors. But what else can go wrong? A glove may have a hole in it. A mask may get wet without the wearer realizing it. There are plenty of manufacturing errors or on-the-job events that may reduce or eliminate the protection of PPE. While these are uncommon and unfortunate for those affected by them, it does point to the importance of each employee checking their PPE before putting it on and then adhering to guidelines on how to use each piece of PPE properly for full effectiveness.
2. Mislabeled products
Good chemical cleaning safety protocol dictates that all chemicals should be labeled appropriately and dated to demarcate effectiveness. But what happens if someone doesn’t apply a label or they label something improperly? The results could be catastrophic in a worst-case scenario. If an employee presumes the proper chemical based on color or placement in storage, very unfortunate things can happen. To help ensure this doesn’t occur, we suggest a check-and-balance approach to labeling chemicals. At least two people should be involved in the process, and one should check their work in a safe and controlled environment.
3. When ventilation turns against you
Another common chemical cleaning safety tip is to ensure that there’s sufficient airflow in a workspace so that toxic fumes don’t fill the air that workers are breathing. One way of doing this is to turn on HVAC systems. But what happens if an HVAC system is recycling air through a facility? Or worse, what if someone accidentally places an open chemical container near an HVAC intake? The room may fill with even more dangerous fumes than there were before. To ensure safety here, we recommend opening windows when possible and always making sure that open containers aren’t left near vents of any kind.
4. Malfunctioning equipment
An employee may be well-trained in using a floor buffer, but accidents happen and equipment breaks. These scenarios are difficult to predict, but can be mitigated by performing proper routine maintenance on all equipment and conducting regular evaluations of your machinery to ensure it still meets all safety standards.
5. Improper data
Most janitorial companies have some version of a material data safety sheet that should be updated regularly to help track safety situations. If someone forgets or intentionally neglects to add something to the sheet, it could seriously affect the next person or people to work with those materials, including cleaning chemicals. Again, check and balance. Two people can update material data safety sheets at once to make sure nothing is left off or recorded improperly, and sheets should be reviewed at the end of each day to ensure thoroughness. (Protip: A cleaning inspection app may be able to help with this.)
6. No fun in the sun
A product says that it should be stored at room temperature, so that’s exactly what you do. To keep the product out of the way while you’re using it, you put it on the window sill where anyone coming into the room can clearly see it. Only, the sun is pouring through the window today, raising the temperature not only of the room, but especially the cleaning product sitting right in its direct rays. Now there could be a problem. It’s little details like this that can turn chemical cleaning safety into very preventable accidents.
7. Consolidation becomes combustion (or something just as bad)
A good chemical cleaning safety regimen should dictate that chemicals not be mixed, even if they are the same. That seems like a straightforward directive to adhere to, but many people don’t because they’re confident that the two chemicals they’re mixing are the same. Until…boom! They’re not. Or, more common, two chemicals are mixed and create severely toxic fumes that the human body has no capacity for. Either way, dangerous situations could be easily avoided by abiding by this simple directive.
Safety should always be your top priority. Sometimes that means looking beyond the obvious and making sure you and your team aren’t making simple mistakes that could lead to big problems.
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