If you think of workplaces and chemicals, you’ll likely picture a facility that either heavily uses or produces chemicals. However, many workplaces of all kinds rely on chemicals for cleaning.
And those chemicals need to be treated with respect by your workers, or they may suffer health problems. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), workers who use cleaning chemicals on the job may be affected by:
Chemical ingredients in cleaning products,
How the cleaning product is being used or stored,
The amount/quality of ventilation in the area,
Any splashes or spills,
Any skin contact with the chemical, and
The release of any mists, vapors and/or gases from cleaning products.
Skin contact with certain chemicals in cleaning solutions may cause rashes or skin irritation or, if the products are corrosive, severe skin burns may occur.
Similarly, if mists, vapors or gases from cleaning chemicals are released, workers in the area may suffer eye, nose, throat and lung irritation. Exposure symptoms include a burning sensation in the eyes, a sore throat, coughing, breathing difficulty/wheezing and asthma.
Some cleaning products contain hazardous chemicals that can enter the body through the skin or lungs and cause serious health problems. And if certain cleaning products are mixed together, such as ones that contain bleach and ammonia, workers may suffer severe lung damage and even die as a result.
OSHA and NIOSH say that disinfectants and sanitizers are generally more hazardous than cleaners, so if sanitizing or disinfecting are not necessary, a cleaning product should be used.
Workers who use cleaning chemicals must be trained in safe work practices including the following:
They need to be warned to never mix cleaning products that contain bleach and ammonia,
They must know which cleaning chemicals must be diluted (as opposed to being used full-strength) and how to safely dilute them.
They need to know how to safely use and store products and what to do in the event of a spill.
Workers must know what PPE they need to be using to protect their eyes and skin and appropriate PPE must be provided to workers.
All containers of cleaning products and chemicals need to be properly labeled to identify their contents and hazards.
Operating ventilation systems are needed during cleaning tasks to allow sufficient air flow and prevent buildup of hazardous vapors.
Workers must be provided a place to wash up after handling cleaning chemicals. Cleaning chemicals should never be used to wash hands. Only soap and water should be used.