Cleaning is a task necessary for keeping people and the environment safe from infections, allergens and other harmful agents. However, it can be hazardous with harmful consequences when done unsafely. Slipping on wet floors, falling from height, and exposure to harmful substances are some of the hazards common during and after cleaning.It’s therefore vital to consider some basic safety precautions when planning for cleaning services to protect the cleaning operatives, the public and the environment from harm.
PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)
PPE refers to any kinds of special clothing or items worn or used to carry out certain tasks to protect cleaning operatives against health or safety hazards at work.PPE may include items such as respiratory protective equipment, safety goggles, high-visibility clothing, helmets, gloves and long sleeves and safety footwear. PPE addresses hazards such as physical, electrical, working at height, chemicals, biohazards, and airborne particulate matter. For appropriate use of PPE, trained operatives need to assess the areas that need cleaning, the cleaning products used, equipment needed, and the individuals involved. This will help determine exactly what PPE is needed, how and when it’s used, and how it’s cleaned and stored.
When selecting and using PPE, only products which are marked “CE” in accordance with the Personal Protective Equipment (Enforcement) Regulations 2018 should be considered. The “CE” mark is verification that the PPE is fit for purpose and meets the European Safety Standards.
PPE should only be used as a last resort after all practicable control measures within the hierarchy of control measures – Elimination, Substitution, Engineering Controls, Administrative Controls – have been considered and used or discarded. This is because PPE only protects individual workers, is prone to failure or misuse such as wearing the wrong PPE for the job, and workers wearing PPE may get a false sense of security.
Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)
Respiratory Protective Equipment is used for protection against inhalation of harmful dusts, fumes, sprays, smokes and other infectious substances in the air. It is also used when cleaning confined spaces with insufficient oxygen and when doing diving work.Workers using RPE are protected from health risks such as occupational asthma, lung cancer, respiratory irritation and allergies caused by inhalation of hazardous airborne substances.Studies of cleaning workers have found increased rates of adult-onset asthma and work-aggravated asthma compared to people in other professions.
There are two types of RPE: respirators, also known as filtering devices, which use filters to remove contaminants from the air being breathed in, and breathing apparatus which supplies clean, breathable air from an independent source (e.g. air cylinder or air compressor).Respirators are the most commonly used RPE in the cleaning industry, which include dust masks, filter masks –which filter out airborne particles –and powered air-purifying respirators with cartridges or canisters which filter out chemicals and gases. When a worker is in an environment that is immediately dangerous to life or health, a breathing apparatus is the best equipment to use.
When selecting RPE the wearer needs a basic understanding of the hazardous substance and its amount and form in the air, the type of work being carried out andany specific wearer requirements, such as other PPE. Additionally, ensuring that the space where the cleaning task is taking place is well ventilated protects both the cleaning operative and others.
Safety goggles, safety glasses with side shields, or face shields, may be required when there’s a potential for exposure to chemical splashes, fumes, vapors or mists that may irritate the eyes, flying objects such as sand, dirt, and fragments that may injure the eyes, and heat and UV light glare that may cause damage to the eyes.
A study found that U.S. Poison Control centres received 319,508 calls for household cleaning product-related eye exposures from 2000 through 2016. Most eye exposures were associated with bleaches, followed by wall/floor/tile cleaners, disinfectants, laundry detergents and glass cleaners. In most cases, chemicals that cause the worst eye damage are caustic (alkaline) which include drain cleaners, washing detergents, oven cleaners and ammonia. Protective eyewear shields the eyes from dangerous particles from such chemicals that may be floating in the air, which can cause irritation or long-lasting visual damage like blindness, cataracts and scars. Some safety goggles have feature channels along the brow line to keep water and sweat away from the eyes.
All safety goggles, safety glasses and face shields must meet the EN 166 safety standards approved by the European Safety Standards.
High-visibility clothing is a type of PPE designed to make the wearer more visible and noticeable in their work environment.In Facilities Management, many cleaning operatives work alongside moving vehicles and equipment, and wearing high-visibility garments like reflective trousers and jackets allow drivers and machine operators to see them sooner and more readily, thus increasing the margin of safety. Safety work wear must be conspicuous in appearance and reflective, especially when or where there is poor lighting and low visibility. High-visibility headgear can also be worn to increase visibility in situations where the wearer’s body, or part of it, is obscured by trees, traffic barriers, construction material and other objects.
The three accepted and widely used colors of high-visibility apparel are yellow-green, orange-red, and red. Fluorescent materials in these colors offer daytime visibility enhancement even under low natural light at dawn, dusk or whenever there’s fog or cloud cover, while reflective and retro reflective materials (in the same colors) are most effective under low-light conditions like night.Reflective material reflects light back out in different directions while retro reflective material reflects light directly back to the source. In case of an oncoming vehicle at night, for example, the driver will be able to see the light being reflected from the reflective or retro reflective material on the worker’s garment from a distance and avoid any accidental encounter. Extra reflective strips are an additional bright feature to some high-visibility clothing.
Safety helmets are crucial when cleaning operatives are working at height. They protect the head against the floor in case of a fall which can have devastating effects such as Traumatic Brain Injury, and also protect the side of the head, eyes and neck from any untoward impacts, bumps and scrapes when using rope access cleaning method where the worker may sway dangerously against walls.Safety helmets are also designed to protect the wearer against harmful sun rays which may cause heat stroke or fatigue and interfere with the work at hand.
Safety gloves and protective sleeves
Every day, cleaning operatives use their hands to carry and dispense a variety of harmful chemical substances, hence the need to wear chemical and liquid resistant gloves and protective sleeves to prevent skin contact with these chemicals. Such chemicals have been found to cause skin conditions like allergic contact dermatitis, skin irritation, rashes and skin cancer. A study found rates of dermatitis in the United Kingdom to be around 28% for cleaners, compared to 18% for the general population.There’s a significantly higher rate of skin conditions among cleaners compared to other building workers due to frequent exposure to and contact with hazardous cleaning chemicals.
Depending on the specific task, specific protective gloves and sleeves prevent skin absorption of harmful substances, toxic dust irritants, chemical or thermal burns, scratches, bruises, cuts, heat, sparks, electric shocks, abrasions, skin punctures, hand or arm fractures, amputations and biohazards like infectious diseases and blood-borne pathogens that are a threat to health. Protective arm coverings can also be used to keep a worker’s shirt sleeves clean from dust and dirt.
Safety boots protect cleaning operatives from various hazards like stepping on sharp objects or chemical spills which would injure the foot. Their sturdy, durable materials make it difficult for sharp objects to cut through or chemicals to get absorbed. They also protect the feet from crush injuries when moving and lifting heavy objects which may accidentally fall on the feet.They have traction and proper tread with slip-resistant grip that prevent slipping, tripping and falling when working on slippery floors, ladders or uneven surfaces.
Safety footwear offer protection against weather conditions like rain, snow and extreme cold that could cause frostbite, hypothermia and other circulatory problems. These shoes are well insulated and waterproof to keep feet warm and dry. They are also well cushioned to not only provide comfort but to also properly support the ankles and feet to ensure the leg is correctly aligned, which in turn helps with posture and alleviates any strain on the muscles and the back, especially on workers who stand all day on hard surfaces like concrete.
Additionally, safety boots are non-conductive footwear made from leather, rubber or other poor conductors of electricity, making them perfect for prevention against electric shocks.
CAUTION BOARD SIGNS
Safety and warning signs play an important role in safety, prevention and security. They are used to alert the public or fellow workers and subcontractors to the wet floors or other hazards that pose a safety risk. For example, when mopping a floor, caution boards should be placed in strategic areas and should remain so until the floor is dry. This is a control measure against slipping and in this respect,the caution board used should bear the words “WET FLOOR”. Similarly, cleaning tasks that involve the use of electrical machines can pose a trip hazard because of the presence of cables, and a “WORK IN PROGRESS” signboard should be used to alert the public to the existence of the cables.
These caution boards are usually yellow/amber with a black symbol on a yellow background. The bright yellow/amber color easily attracts attention and is easily noticeable.When working at height it is advisable to barricade the working site to alert and protect passers by from falling objects.
TRAINING AND SUPERVISION
Cleaning operatives must be trained on the use of hazardous cleaning chemicals. Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – Hazard Communication Standard (1910.1200), the training covers the health and physical hazards of cleaning chemicals. These include proper handling, usage and storage of cleaning products, the type of personal protective equipment to wear, how to use the hazard information, including labels and Safety Data Sheets, and procedures to follow in the event of a spill.
Cleaning operatives should also get professional training from the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc).BICSc is the largest independent professional and educational body within the cleaning industry, with over 45,000 individual and corporate members around the world. Their mission is to raise the standards of education and to build awareness of the cleaning industry through professional standards and accredited training thereby;protecting the operative, providing a clean and safe environment, preserving assets, promoting sustainability and producing best practice.
Regular biohazard and blood-borne pathogen trainings will also help employees learn about the dangerous bodily fluids they may come into contact with when cleaning restrooms, modes of blood borne pathogen transmission, exposure control plans, and biohazard identification, avoidance and control. This training should include how specific PPE can help protect them.
Moreover, cleaning operatives need to have a good knowledge of COSHH – Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. This is the law that requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to health and ensure the control measures are properly used and maintained.There should be adequate supervision from competent supervisors to ensure that cleaning operatives are adhering to working safely when conducting their tasks.
Employers are required by law to protect employees, and others, from harm. The minimum an employer can do, under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, is to make a risk assessment and take appropriate, lawful action to eliminate or control the risk and provide a healthier, safer environment for their employees.