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Staying Safe With Corrosive & Toxic Cleaning Chemicals

Corrosive & toxic cleaning chemicals
01 May 2018 | Updated 17 May 2018

Cleaning products are an everyday necessity in the workplace but they can also be toxic or corrosive. Here, Lauren O'Connor from the PPE, tools and cleaning products supplier Zoro discusses what employers in the facilities management industry need to do to keep both staff and guests safe on site.

If you work in facilities management services, you'll already know that providing a cleaning service is often an essential aspect of the job. But to ensure a good level of cleanliness and hygiene, cleaning staff may need to use some powerful products and cleaning agents, which can present a serious risk to health when used incorrectly.

It’s not just the cleaning staff who are at risk, either - anyone else that visits or works on a site that has been cleaned with hazardous products could be in danger, too. To help you make sure your cleaning routine is safe for everyone involved, I've detailed the measures you need to take to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries.


Why do cleaning products present a risk?

Many chemical cleaners can present serious risks. The severity of this varies from product to product but generally speaking, almost all cleaning agents can be harmful if used improperly.

You can find out which hazards a product presents by checking the manufacturer's label. This will normally use symbols to show how potentially harmful a particular product could be. You can learn more about these symbols on the HSE website.


Create a risk assessment before starting a new job

As with any potentially hazardous job, you'll need to carry out a risk assessment. This should establish the hazards and outline how you plan to reduce and control the risk of an accident occurring, including any preventative measures you or your staff will need to undertake. When carrying out your risk assessment, you'll need to think about which accidents or health problems could be caused by exposure to dangerous chemicals - and how likely they are to happen.

Once you know the risks, you'll need to consider what preventative measures you can take to reduce them and then ensure these are carried out. For instance, it may be sensible to substitute a dangerous chemical for a less harmful one or to ensure that all chemical storage areas are kept locked at all times.


Store chemicals safely when not in use

Chemical cleaning agents need to be stored safely and securely to prevent spillages, cross contamination, chemical reactions and theft. You'll also need to ensure that all products are kept in their original containers, as these are specially designed not to react with the chemicals inside. It will also keep the manufacturer's labels close to the products, so your staff can easily refer back to these when in doubt.

If you store cleaning products on the site that you manage and maintain, storage is especially important, as you need to ensure that your clients are safe. Your staff must make sure that no harmful cleaning chemicals are left out in areas that may be used by clients or visitors, so they'll need to be vigilant about storing chemicals in the proper place after use. You'll also need to ensure that all storage areas are securely locked and only accessible to authorised staff.


Make sure your staff have the tools and knowledge to stay safe

As an employer, it’s up to you to make sure that your staff have the right knowledge, training and tools to stay safe when working with chemicals. That means you need to train them on safe chemical handling and you'll also need to provide, maintain and pay for any personal protective equipment such as gloves or aprons and in more extreme cases, respirator masks. Water resistant, slip-proof footwear is also a must during cleaning work.



Your staff will need to ensure that areas are well ventilated when using cleaning products that produce toxic fumes or vapours. Special care must be taken not to mix products during cleaning, as chemical reactions between different agents can create poisonous gases (for example, bleach and ammonia can create highly toxic chloramine vapour). Potentially reactive products will be clearly labelled, so check the manufacturer's guidelines before using them with any other cleaning agents.


Skin care

While some cleaning products won't cause any damage to the skin if used infrequently, they can still cause conditions such as psoriasis or eczema if they come into contact with the skin on a regular basis. Strong, well-fitted chemically resistant gloves should be worn when using liquid cleaning products of any sort and all cleaning staff should wash their hands thoroughly and use hand creams after cleaning work.


Protect clients by leaving all areas in a safe condition

Certain cleaning chemicals and fluids can still pose a risk to any clients or visitors who use a building after the cleaning process has finished, so it’s important to safeguard the health of those who will be using the facility afterwards, too.

For instance, some more aggressive chemical agents will continue to produce strong fumes even after they’ve been applied to a surface, so cleaning staff must remember to ventilate an area after cleaning has taken place. Extra care also needs to be taken when using corrosive cleaners or disinfectants on surfaces which clients or visitors will come into direct contact with such as taps, table tops, or toilets, as any residue left behind could cause skin damage or irritation.


Slips, trips and falls

Finally, wet floors can cause falls, so you'll need to emphasise the importance of cleaning any spillages promptly and clearly signposting any wet floors.

A clean facility will always impress your clients but you'll need to make sure that your staff know how to use potentially hazardous cleaning substances in a safe way. It's your legal duty as an employer to keep your staff and visitors safe, so take our advice on board.

Remember, this is by no means an exhaustive guide, so take a look at the HSE's guide to controlling hazardous substances to learn about your responsibilities in more detail.

Picture: Cleaning staff may need to use some powerful products and cleaning agents which can present a serious risk to health when used incorrectly.


Article written by Lauren O'Connor | Published 01 May 2018


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