We are almost all familiar with the idea of Health & Safety in the workplace to a greater or lesser degree. However one area that can be overlooked (or at worse, dismissed) are the H & S requirements when it comes to the rules regarding cleaning factories, warehouses, offices and the like.
This is partially because the cleaning is simply a necessary by product of any building’s primary function; rarely pleasant and often regarded as a unimportant or inconvenient.
It is also often a result of outsourcing, more and more companies these days use contractors for the cleaning and maintenance of their buildings and so the Health and Safety aspects effectively become “somebody else’s” problem.
The reality is that maintaining a clean working environment is actually an integral part of maintaining good Health and Safety standards in the workplace as a whole and it remains the responsibility of everyone employed in your workplace to ensure these standards are maintained. The HSE provide a raft of information regarding the legislation around cleaning operations and below we highlight some of the most important areas to consider.
First steps – Cleaning risk assessments
Health and safety risk assessments are a legal requirement in any workplace and as with all projects should be completed at the planning stage of any cleaning job, along with regular ongoing reviews when suitable. Risk assessments aim to identify the hazards that might occur allowing control measures and safe systems of work to be implemented to eliminate risk.
Business owners must take into account that any external contractors need to be provided with comprehensive information on the risks that they may be exposed to while working on the premises at the outset particularly any site-specific health and safety requirements or additional PPE that may be required. Conversely outside contractors need to advise the business owners of any risks associated with the materials or equipment the contractor may need to employ.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (usually referred to as COSHH) are designed to protect individuals from potentially hazardous substances that they may encounter through work. Many cleaning chemicals can cause physical harm through ingestion or inhalation (gases, sprays, vapours or dust) or just through contact with the skin and those handling cleaning materials must:
- Read container labels, noting any hazards, as it is essential that they understand the mixing of certain chemicals is a potentially dangerous practice
- Use chemicals for their intended purpose only, following safe application procedures
- Use the correct PPE when handling chemicals
- Store chemicals in accordance with manufacturers’ recommendations.
Suppliers of cleaning materials must provide Information on the potential effects of chemicals including:
- The proper use of a substance
- Health risks and fire hazards
- How to use, transport and store the substance
- Emergency action and first-aid advice
- Disposal of waste products.
Whenever cleaning chemicals are in use, other users of the building should be excluded from the area while cleaning is in progress. Cleaning chemicals, cleaning products and potentially dangerous equipment should only be used by those trained to do so. Cleaning materials, equipment and chemicals should never be left unattended and should be locked away securely after use in dedicated, locked storage areas.
Keep in mind that many cleaning products used include the following.
- Irritants, such as many multi-purpose cleaners. Although non-corrosive, prolonged contact with the skin should be avoided.
- Harmful substances where there is a risk to health if inhaled or ingested. Contact with the skin should be avoided and PPE, e.g. gloves, goggles and face-masks, should be worn.
- Corrosive substances, such as acids and abrasive cleaning materials can destroy living tissue on contact. Contact with the skin should again be avoided and PPE worn.
- Toxic substances, such as certain disinfectants, may result in acute health risks or death if inhaled, ingested or if they penetrates the skin. Contact with the skin must be avoided, PPE worn, and exhaust ventilation or breathing apparatus used to prevent exposure to dust or vapours.
There is often the temptation to decant cleaning fluids from one container to another, either for ease of storage or to make transportation from one place to another easier, however always bear in mind that
- It must be safe to do so
- Containers should ALL be labelled appropriately
- Chemicals are not mixed unless in accordance with manufacturers’ guidelines.
- Nothing from an unlabelled container is used.
Personal protective equipment
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) covers various items such as safety shoes, high-visibility outerwear, gloves, masks and eyewear and adequate PPE must be issued to staff. All staff involved should be fully trained in its use and are reminded of their responsibilities, including:
- That PPE should only be used at work
- The responsibility to use PPE properly
- The regular inspection of PPE.
Use of powered equipment
Staff must be trained to check and carefully maintain electrical equipment including:
- A visual check to identify obvious damage to the equipment prior to use
- Checking plugs and cables are in good condition, and removing any defective equipment from use
- Ensuring power cables are long enough to reach the workplace
- Ensuring power cables are not strained
- Ensuring adherence to manufacturers’ instructions, e.g. when replacing vacuum cleaner bags, scrubbing rings and buffer pads
- Ensuring power leads are replaced in equipment storage facilities
- Ensuring equipment is cleaned after use.
Ideally equipment should be checked fully both prior to being used and after use and an auditable record of such checks should be maintained.
As you can see there are a multitude of aspects to consider with industrial cleaning no matter what the scale and we have only touched on a few of them, hopefully however this brief guide has given you an insight into some of the more important factors and how to approach them.