Cleaning and custodial work continue to be classified as high-risk jobs by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) because of the many accidents involving cleaning chemicals that occur each year. According to the DOL, an estimated 6 percent of custodians in the U.S. experience a job-related injury each year caused by exposure to cleaning chemicals. These often include irreversible eye injuries. Other injuries are typically skin-related (for example, burns) or are the result of inhaling chemical fumes.
To diminish accidents from improper handling of cleaning products, Enviro-Solutions, a manufacturer of green cleaning chemicals, is encouraging cleaning professionals to develop a cleaning-chemical safety program.
Key components of such a program include:
*A complete list of all cleaning chemicals used in the facility. This documentation should detail how many gallons (and multiple-gallon containers) are stored, where they are stored and the potential hazards of and necessary precautions for each specific chemical.
*Material safety data sheets for each chemical used or stored.
*A policy of keeping all cleaning chemicals in their original containers and never mixing chemicals, even if they are the same “type.”
*Defined practices for storing chemicals in well-ventilated areas away from HVAC intake vents. This helps prevent any fumes from spreading to other areas of the facility.
*Installing safety signage in multiple languages, or using images that quickly convey possible dangers and precautions related to the chemicals.
*Training or testing to ensure all cleaning and custodial workers know exactly what the following “signal words” mean:
Caution: The product should be used carefully but is relatively safe.
Warning: The product is moderately toxic.
Danger: The product is highly toxic and may cause permanent damage to skin and eyes.
Chemical Decluttering, Storage
Safety programs should address the proper disposal techniques for chemicals that have not been used for a prolonged period of time. A good guideline is to consider disposing any chemical product that has not been used for six months, according to Enviro-Solutions.
Most chemicals should be stored at moderate room temperature away from direct sunlight. Temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit or below 60 degrees Fahrenheit not only increase safety hazards but can reduce the effectiveness of some products, such as bio-enzymatic cleaners.
Finally, administrators should realize that chemical safety is an ongoing concern. Once a cleaning-chemical safety program has been established, managers should hold regular chemical safety meetings with custodial workers and others who handle chemicals to ensure proper chemical use, Enviro-Solutions advised.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.
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